Poster Abstract: Low-cost spay/neuter research in Worcester County, Massachusetts

Animal Welfare in Veterinary Medical Education and Research

November 8-11, 2009
The Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center at
Michigan State University

Valerie Benka
Animals and Public Policy, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University

Despite thousands of low-cost spay/neuter programs in the United States, there remains a dearth of information about the role and value of these programs in the community. Only in the past decade has one organization (The Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education [FIREPAW] in conjunction with Maddie's Fund) begun to research and publish data on low-cost sterilization programs. That research has focused on quantitative factors after a program's launch: the number of companion animals entering shelters and rescues, the number adopted, and the number euthanized. Although valuable, the numerical data alone are limited. They can mask critical questions about the people who use low-cost programs, why they use these programs, and what they would do without them. Moreover, a solely quantitative approach does not address the status of the animals themselves, including their source of acquisition, the conditions in which they live, and what happens to them after they are spayed or neutered. Exclusively quantitative data can also fail to address the mission underlying most lost-cost clinics: whether they actually impact the number of animals born, sheltered, abandoned, and/or euthanized.

Research conducted in conjunction with the Second Chance Fund for Animal Welfare's Quick Fix Clinic (, a predominantly feline spay/neuter program in central Massachusetts) was divided into three components: Quantitative analysis—Since 2006, clients of Quick Fix Clinics have been asked to complete an anonymous, multiple-choice survey with questions about income, number of veterinary visits prior to the spay/neuter clinic, and reason for not previously spaying or neutering the animal. At the end of 2008, 1,009 surveys had been completed (94 in 2006, 362 in 2007, and 553 in 2008). A quantitative analysis of this survey data was performed. Interviews with current/recent clients—Phone interviews with more than 100 clients who attended Quick Fix Clinics between April and August 2009 were conducted. Questions were qualitative and went into more depth than was possible with a multiple-choice surveys. Questions addressed reasons for attending the Quick Fix Clinic, whether cat owners had explored alternatives to the clinic (and, if so, what), the source of the cats attending the clinic (professional breeder, shelter/rescue, unplanned litters), previous and current animal ownership, and living conditions for the cats attending the clinic. Interviews with past clients—Restrospective interviews were performed with more than 75 clients who had participated in Quick Fix Clinics in 2005 and 2006. These interviews provided information as to whether felids treated at one of these clinics had received veterinary care after visiting the clinic (and, if so, where it was obtained) and about the cats' long-term outcomes (i.e., Are they still alive? If they are alive, are they with the original owner or were they given away or surrendered to a shelter? If they are no longer alive, what was the cause of death?).

The results of these studies, as presented in this poster, provide potentially valuable predictive information for veterinary schools (especially shelter medicine programs), veterinary professionals, and the broader animal care community (e.g., animal sheltering facilities, low-cost spay/neuter programs, and animal advocates).