“Her techniques have been emulated around the world”
JEAN ATTHOWE, believed to be about 90, died on December 19, 2016 at her home in Richland, Washington.
Recalled Planned Pethood Plus cofounder Jeff Young, of Wheat Ridge, Colorado, “Jean was the founder of the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force. She was a friend, a teacher, a wonderful compassionate human being, and she will be missed. She always saw the big picture and was all about spay/neuter, education, and empowering people to be part of the solution,” especially on Native American reservations in Montana, but also as an unofficial advisor to spay/neuter projects as far away as Armenia.
“Without Jean, no Dr. Jeff”
“Without Jean there would be no Dr. Jeff,” Young continued. “She helped to mold and guide me from the very beginning of my vet work. She was an inspiration to me and to anyone who knew her in the field of overpopulation of companion animals. Esther Mechler of Spay/USA is the only other person who has been as influential in my work. Jean did more for animals with less than any veterinarian I have ever met.
“Her Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force techniques have been emulated around the world,” Young added, in an extensive and often emotive Facebook posting.
“In writing this, I smiled for a moment, because I know she would be correcting me. She was a college-level English teacher. She always understood my rough edges and hillbilly roots were my strength to move forward with the work I have done,” teaching and demonstrating spay/neuter technique in more than 30 nations.
“She helped me see the big picture and always ask myself, ‘Am I doing what will most reduce suffering with what I have to work with?,’” Young finished.
“My mentor & catalyst”
Added Mimi Beadles, founder of the Flathead Spay & Neuter Task Force in Columbia Falls, Montana, “Jean was also my mentor and the catalyst for forming our non-profit spay/neuter clinic. I personally accompanied Jean at dozens of clinics around Montana. Her drive and determination to do right by animals was infectious. She impacted tens of thousands of dogs and cats, and also their people, educating about pet overpopulation. The animal welfare communities in Montana are the direct result of Jean’s never-ending passion, even if they never knew or heard of her.”
Agreed Ruth Steinberger of SpayFirst!, doing similar work on Native American reservations in Oklahoma, “Jean Atthowe was a leader who took the spay/neuter movement down roads it had not previously traveled. Jean was truly the first to view animals in chronic poverty as requiring hard core planning and the use of intensive resources, instead of casual events, in order to achieve true humane solutions to animal overpopulation. She envisioned teamwork based on a strategic assessment that would keep unwanted litters from being born in every nook and cranny of a sprawling reservation. She knew that an inclusive team, made up of volunteers and professionals, could prevent suffering that is otherwise hard to grasp and impossible to solve. Jean will be missed.”
“We hope that others will take the work up”
Said Spay/USA founder Esther Mechler, “We hope that others will take the work up with as much devotion as she had.”
Jean Atthowe founded the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force in 1993 with a clinic near Hamilton, then took the program mobile in 1996. By the time she retired from active involvement, the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force had sterilized more than 50,000 animals in rural Montana, most of them on Native American reservations which previously had no access to low-cost spay/neuter service––or even to nearby veterinary care.
Three times achieved 1,300 s/n surgeries in five days
News clippings indicate that the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force record for most dogs and cats sterilized in five days by a mobile surgical team was 1,354, achieved during Lewis & Clark County Pet Care Week in 2004.
That broke the 1998 Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force record of 1,336 sterilizations done in six days during Salish & Kootenai Love Your Pet Week. The team approached the record once more, in Great Falls in 2006.
Great Falls was the last Montana city of at least 5,000 people to receive a Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force visit. The Task Force had already visited all seven Native American nations in Montana from one to four times each.
Along the way the Task Force achieved results including a 76% drop in intake at the Wolf Point Dog Pound on the Fort Peck Reservation, after four visits, and a 26% drop in intake plus a 42% drop in killing at the Billings Animal Shelter, after just a single two-day visit.
Avoid using mobile units as surgical suites
The major secret of mobile success, Jeff Young pointed out as early as June 2003, was learning to avoid using the task force mobile unit as a mobile operating room.
Young pioneered mobile sterilization on Native American reservations during the early 1990s, repeatedly circling Colorado in an old school bus he converted into a rolling animal hospital, but eventually came to realize that using his vehicle mainly to haul supplies could enable him to fix more animals, faster.
“Finding space to work on the road is not a problem,” Young said. “All I need is electricity and running water. Anywhere I might set up has a community center or church or town hall or schoolroom where I can work for a weekend. Resupply is my problem. I can’t get surgical materials out in the boondocks, so when I run out, I have to go back to some city.
“Using my vehicle to haul supplies instead of as a clinic, I can fix 1,000 animals before I have to visit a city. I can stay on the road for several months if I want to.”
1985 Chevrolet van
Explained Atthowe, “The Task Force carries in a small 1985 Chevrolet van, brightly painted and decorated, the supplies and equipment to set up a spay/neuter clinic in an existing building within any community. The goal is to place the entire clinic within the community expressly to encourage the participation and involvement of the entire community.”
Phase 1 of the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force strategy was to make an initial visit to a potential target community to demonstrate the value and process of sterilizing dogs and cats.
Phase 2 was to send out Task Force teams whose expenses were covered by the community, at rates in the early 21st century of $300 for a vet for a day, $80 for a veterinary technician, and $625 for the materials they used.
In Phase 3, the host community contracted directly with the veterinary team who provided the clinic, and as Atthowe put it, “The Task Force is out of the picture.”
Sought sense of self-empowerment
Atthowe discouraged replacement of the Task Force at Phase 3 with other programs funded by outside grants, an approach advanced by several other charities working on Native American reservations. This, she explained, could erode the sense of local responsibility and self-empowerment that the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force tried to develop, and could in effect keep dog and cat sterilization among the Native American nations on a “welfare” footing.
“In larger urban areas,” said Jean Atthowe’s husband Jack Atthowe in a detailed statistical analysis of the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force program accomplishments, completed in 2002, “the immediate impact [of a Task Force visit] is about a 10% drop in animals impounded and a 15% drop in animals destroyed.
“In more compact areas such as the Native American nations,” Jack Atthowe found, “the impact is greater, varying from a 20% to a 50% decrease in the numbers of animals impounded and destroyed. In almost all instances there is a steady drop in animals impounded and animals destroyed for one to two years after the spay/neuter event.
Change of attitudes
“The impact of additional visits,” Jack Atthowe continued, “is to bring about a steady decrease in animals impounded and animals destroyed, to 70% to 75% below what occurred before the first Task Force visit.
“In some cases,” Jack Atthowe added, “this steady decline over time might best be accounted for by a change of attitudes toward animals within the community. The larger or longer the spay/neuter event, or the smaller the community, the greater was the likelihood of change.”
A major selling point for Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force visits to Native American reservations was the Atthowes’ hope of reducing dog bites and eliminating fatal and disfiguring dog attacks.
(See 12-pit bull attack on toddler spotlights soaring risk on reservations, Pit bull proliferation hits “Indian country”: fatal dog attacks triple, and Pit bulls now in the “rez dog” gene pool.)
Along with promoting spay/neuter, the Atthowes encouraged remedial diagnostic work and re-training to make biting dogs safer. But they were skeptical of the predictive value of temperament testing in trying to assess whether dogs of dangerous history might be safe for adoption.
Logging fatal and disfiguring dog attacks in the U.S. and Canada since 1982, ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton in 2003 added an appendix to the log about breed-specific attack behavior, observing that “The ‘guiding nip’ to an extremity, most often delivered by German shepherds, collies, border collies, and other herding dogs, is frequent, but is usually harmless, with broken skin occurring mainly when the person being herded (usually a child) pulls away abruptly.
“Head bites and facial bites, on the other hand, are much more serious,” Clifton wrote, “and fear-biting (typically from behind, without warning) is extremely dangerous. True aggression is a relative rarity, since the truly aggressive dog usually assumes himself to be dominant, and rules rather than attacks.
“Reactive biting, on the other hand, is the most dangerous kind of all, and is the usual problem with pit bulls. Many pit bulls who kill and maim are not aggressive, in the normal sense of the word; they just react first, think later, and are strong enough to do real damage before their brains click into gear, if ever.”
Wrote Jean Atthowe, after paraphrasing positive comments from Jack, “Your discussion is very valuable and fits my experience.”
Working for the greater good
As dedicated to the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force as both Jean and Jack Atthowe were, they agreed in a January 11, 2013 statement of opposition to increased coal train traffic that, “The number one priority for our planet, and all those who live and breathe on it, is climate change.”
This was consistent with lifelong commitments by both toward working for the greater good.
Originally from Berkeley, California, both Jean and Jack Atthowe were born into the second generation of families with multi-generational histories of entrepreneurship and public service, including holding local elective offices.
Jack Atthowe, formally John M. Atthowe, was both named and nicknamed after his father, who was in the trans-San Francisco Bay freight business.
Starring at shortstop for Berkeley High School, Jack Atthowe was recruited to play baseball for the University of California by then-first year coach Clint Evans, for whom Clint Evans Memorial Stadium on the U.C. Berkeley campus is named.
But after playing one season of U.C. Berkeley baseball, leading the freshman team in hitting in 1942, Jack Atthowe enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as World War II heated up. By the beginning of the 1943 season he was in training to become an aerographer’s mate, meaning a military weatherman.
“He served the full duration of World War II, mostly as a weatherman in the remote South Pacific,” The Missoulian recalled after his death on May 19, 2014, while visiting daughter Helen Atthowe and son-in-law Carl Rosato at Woodleaf Farm, their pioneering organic farm and orchard in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Jean Atthowe, born Jean Berg, was one of two daughters of Frank Berg, longtime owner of one of Berkeley’s oldest funeral homes. The Berg and Atthowe families were closely associated in local politics and civic clubs for more than 30 years.
Married either during or just after World War II, and involved in an early discussion forum in Berkeley about the implications of the development of nuclear weapons, Jean and Jack Atthowe became parents of daughter Helen in 1947.
Teaching & politics
Jack Atthowe earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from U.C. Berkeley in 1946, after which the young family moved from the University of Oregon, where Jack earned his masters degree in 1952, to Stanford University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1956, to a stint with the University of Maryland Extension Service in Germany, then a post at Emory University, and another as assistant professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, before joining the faculty at the College of San Mateo, back in California.
Involvement in political controversy, though sparsely documented, may have had something to do with the frequent moves. In December 1964, for instance, Jack Atthowe was among 31 of the 36 College of San Mateo social science faculty members who issued a statement of support for the Free Speech Movement at U.C. Berkeley, a series of protests that are remembered as the dawn of a decade of campus political activism coinciding with U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Prisoners & veterans
By 1971 the Atthowes were settled at the University of Montana in Missoula for the remainder of Jack Atthowe’s professional career. Along the way Jack Atthowe had become known for helping to develop rehabilitative programs for prisoners and for war veterans, especially Vietnam veterans, suffering from post-traumatic stress.
Retiring from academia in 1996, Jack Atthowe was appointed to an open seat on the Ravalli County, Montana county commission, then was elected to a six-year term in 1997.
“The reason I went into academia was to get away from problems of everyday life,” Jack Atthowe told Kodi Hirst of the Ravalli Republic. “I did make that mistake by going into politics. The purpose was what I could do for the citizens of the (Ravalli) valley and the valley itself. That had to be paramount.”
This appears to have summarized Jean Atthowe’s philosophy of life and community involvement too.
Affirmed longtime Humane Society of the U.S. Montana representative Dave Pauli, “Jean brought veterinary teams and clinics to remote tribal and Montana communities where pet population control services were badly needed. But surgeries were just part of Jean’s plan and humane education and community buy-in were part of her goals. Jean and I often had disagreements on messaging and sometimes protocols, but we always worked them out with lively discussion and mutual respect. Her contribution to animal welfare in Montana is substantial and continues to provide dividends today!”
Darlene Larson says
Thanks for this article on Jean. She was such a trooper and so driven in her mission. I learned a great deal from this lady.