Stalled attempts at creating an alternative to surgical sterilization for cats and dogs have received a jump-start in the form of a $75 million donation; its goal—bringing to market a safe, affordable drug that will help curb dog and cat overpopulation.
The nonprofit Found Animals Foundation announced Oct. 16 at the SPAY/USA Conference in Chicago that it will award $25 million to the first person or group that develops a safe and efficacious nonsurgical means of permanently sterilizing cats and dogs. An additional $50 million in grants is available for nonsurgical sterilization technology that has promise.
Dog and cat overpopulation in the United States is a major animal welfare crisis as millions of the healthy but unwanted are euthanized each year.
"We're killing millions of pets annually in the U.S. for the simple lack of a home, and sterilization programs are the only viable solution," said FAF founder Gary Michelson, a retired orthopedic surgeon and one of Forbes' 400 Richest Americans.
"Animal welfare experts have long recognized sterilization as the most important component in the fight against pet overpopulation," said Michelson, who hopes the international competition and funding support will spur researchers to action.
Surgical spay and neuter is the standard for sterilizing cats and dogs. While largely safe and effective, the approach is far from ideal. For instance, spay/neuter procedures require general anesthesia and an adequately equipped surgical facility, both of which create obstacles that include high costs, transportation of animals, and the inherent risks of surgery.
A single-dose, nonsurgical sterilant would be an ideal solution, according to Found Animals Executive Director Aimee Gilbreath. "Surgical spay/neuter procedures are just too expensive and inconvenient for many pet owners—we need a better solution," Gilbreath said.
"We hope that the Michelson Prize and Grants in Reproductive Biology will encourage the best and brightest minds in science to take on the challenge of developing an innovative nonsurgical sterilization product that will ultimately prevent death and suffering for millions of cats and dogs worldwide."
The Found Animals Foundation is partnering with the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs to assist in the foundation's efforts. The mission of the ACC&D is to expedite the successful introduction of methods to nonsurgically sterilize pets and to support the distribution and promotion of these products to humanely control cat and dog populations worldwide.
Researchers have been on the verge of discovering dog and cat contraceptives and nonsurgical sterilants for years, but a lack of funding has kept these ideas stalled in the early stages of research, according to the ACC&D. The Michelson Prize has the potential to stimulate research "allowing for groundbreaking approaches in pet sterilization to emerge," said alliance president Joyce Briggs.
In addition to addressing dog and cat overpopulation in the United States, the Michelson Prize seeks to make sterilization accessible and affordable worldwide and aid developing countries, where this problem is even greater.
"Many pet caretakers don't have access to basic veterinary care, let alone spay/neuter services," Briggs said. "As a result, draconian measures—including poisoning, electrocuting, and shooting—are still used to control dog and cat populations abroad. A nonsurgical sterilant could help end these unspeakable practices."
Details about the Michelson Prize in Reproductive Biology and Michelson Grants in Reproductive Biology are posted on the Found Animals Foundation Web site.