by Ruth Steinberger, founder, Spay First (www.spayfirst.org)
On July 24, 2015 a company called Calcium Chloride Castration, the brainchild of Canadian veterinarian Peter Denooij, will launch the sale of pharmaceutical grade calcium chloride dihydrate for the non-surgical castration of male dogs and cats at a daylong event in the Dominican Republic. Each premeasured dose will be mixed with readily available and inexpensive ethyl alcohol prior to injection. It will be available to veterinarians worldwide. In many ways it is a first.
Calcium chloride castration, a technique first published in the US in 1978, provides a low-tech, low-cost way to provide canine and feline neutering. This is vital in areas where the need for spay/neuter services far exceeds the capacity to provide them.
Leveling the playing field
Calcium chloride castration is a tool that will help to level the playing field between animals surviving in chronic poverty and those flourishing in relative wealth. That gap is not small. Only through scientific advances aimed at helping very large numbers of animals in areas of chronic poverty, emphasizing low cost research and development, and low cost production, will we reach the overwhelming numbers of animals in need.
Calcium chloride dihydrate is a compounded sterilent for male dogs and cats made from ingredients that are nearly universally available to veterinarians. The possibilities for using calcium chloride castration to initiate providing basic animal care services in underserved areas are endless.
Removing the barrier
The obstacle to doing this, until now, has been that the ingredients are too common to be patented. Therefore taking the product to market has not appealed to any entity, either non-profit or for profit. Though highly effective and safe, calcium chloride castration has remained outside of the standard pharmaceutical marketing venues and has been largely overlooked.
Hopefully that is about to change with the launch of the Calcium Chloride Castration company. Science that is intended to reach the poorest regions of the globe is needed if the challenges of helping street animals are to be met head-on. Reaching hundreds of millions of animals in chronically poor places is a problem too big to handle through costly surgeries. The “eyes on the prize” must focus on reaching the poor and doing so in a big way.
Why fixing males matter
Male animals are arguably only incidental to the issue of population control and some people question the value of spending resources to alter males at all. The argument is that if female dogs are allowed to roam, neutering males simply impacts which dog or cat will breed with each female, not whether or not breeding will happen.
However, population control is not the sole reason to alter a male dog. Castration of dogs generally reduces libido, and in most dogs affects the behaviors that often go with it. Some argue about which behaviors are altered, but for people in chronic poverty amid free-roaming dogs, much of that is a moot point. Anyone who has seen a pack of male dogs chasing a free-roaming female in estrus knows that the fast-moving pack of dogs, fighting as it moves, sometimes to the point of death of one or more dogs, is dangerous to the dogs involved and to any people nearby. For people with no access to health care, especially in poverty-stricken parts of the world where rabies remains endemic, the prospect of a bite makes street dogs into a feared menace, not a friend in need.
Numbers vary, but animal demographers agree that literally hundreds of millions of dogs across the globe are unwanted. Not coincidentally, most live in impoverished places. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on under $1.25 USD per day. More than one billion people live at that level. Veterinary care for unwanted animals is a low priority compared to the human need for food and clean water. Most street dogs lead short and often miserable lives of three years or less. Engaging new tools to stop litters is key to stopping their suffering.
Surgical sterilization is the gold standard, as it is the only solution that is 100% effective at preventing litters. However, an estimated 75% of the half billion dogs on earth receive no veterinary care during their lives, and thus do not benefit from any method, surgical or non-surgical, for stopping litters.
Waiting for a drug that is approved for use in privately owned animals who receive the highest standard of veterinary care before providing services to street dogs means accepting that street dogs will wait a very, very long time. It also means they will wait in line for a product with millions of dollars in research and development costs while products that are already here, including calcium chloride and several others, continue to be overlooked.
Time for help from science
It is time for animals who exist alongside people in extreme poverty to benefit from modern science and technology tailored to their needs. A plethora of compounded drugs, drugs with expired patents, and drugs otherwise not FDA approved can make a huge difference in the lives of animals born only to suffer. Existing technologies that stop animal suffering should be engaged, while research on products that will be widely available at low cost should move forward with a sense of urgency.
Although calcium chloride is not the whole answer to animal overpopulation, it has the potential to provide access to sterilization for millions of dogs at a fraction of the cost of surgery. That is significant. It is not a question of whether this is as good as spay/neuter; in the absence of cost-effective, labor-saving technologies most dogs will continue to get nothing at all. Waiting for the potentially decade-long, multi-million-dollar FDA approval process before a product may be used is foolish at best; doing so does not prevent suffering, but ensures that the suffering remains unabated for a very long time.
It is time for cutting edge science and technology to have a dedicated place at the table to help the animals who live among people in chronic poverty. Those animals need to be the focus of research and development of contraceptives and sterilents that are intended from the get-go to meet their needs through low cost and accessibility.
On behalf of suffering animals, there should be a sense of urgency in placing science into the forefront of animal welfare.
(See also https://www.animals24-7.org/2014/11/24/make-high-volume-spayneuter-programs-in-indian-country-a-priority/; and https://www.animals24-7.org/2015/04/30/calcium-chloride-chemosterilant-tested-successfully-in-tomcats/.)