by Ruth Steinberger
Founder, Spay FIRST
A dear friend once shared the adage, attributed to Herman Wouk, “When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”
Never has a better example of this adage been seen than in the current movement by so-called shelter management experts to support a return to intact release of shelter pets as a first response to challenges in sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A subtitle could be, “How to make a bad thing worse.”
“Intact release is a cruel anachronism”
A March 2020 public statement from the shelter medicine program at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, supporting the intact release of shelter animals during the COVID-19 outbreak, is consistent with the frenetic no-kill dogma calling for shelter euthanasia to be avoided no matter what the outcome for the live animal(s) and the communities.
Using intact release to save lives is a cruel anachronism, a practice which throughout the 20th century demonstrably led to more puppy and kitten births, and ultimately, to more deaths of homeless animals, whether in shelter euthanasia rooms, out on the streets, or at the hands of nuisance wildlife trappers, who mostly operate with no public accountability whatever.
Only after California in 1990 became the first state to mandate dog and cat sterilization before adoption from shelters did achieving “no kill” animal control even begin to look to anyone as more than a pipe dream.
“Time to question priorities”
After the University of Wisconsin shelter medicine program issued their statement, support for intact release during the COVID-19 time of “social distancing” was echoed by National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA), the University of Florida shelter medicine program, and now by the American SPCA.
It is time to question the priorities of those who purport to speak for the voiceless.
The University of Wisconsin shelter medicine program statement proposes that in order to avoid shelter euthanasias, shelters should return to the use of sterilization contracts, a paperwork trail proven for decades to not work.
Spay/neuter is not an elective surgery for safeguarding the lives of shelter pets.
“One homeless dog or cat becomes five”
At this time of year most female cats who have been outdoors are pregnant. Intact release, allowing those cats to become pregnant again within a matter of weeks or even days, is a cruel choice.
As Spay FIRST! board member Patty Epstein put it, “Intact release is not just kicking the can down the road. It’s creating a potentially explosive situation, where one homeless dog or cat becomes five and the problem becomes much larger––and much sadder.”
The University of Wisconsin shelter medicine program statement notes that necessary surgeries may include spaying an animal to treat a pyometra (a serious uterine infection). Apparently the umbrella of care encompassing shelter medicine no longer deems preventing litters to be a compelling enough need to first put forth plans for safe check-in, protective gear, etc., in order to safely perform spay/neuters for shelter animals.
This information should have been the first strike in efforts to save lives during the COVID-19 outbreak. Spay/neuter can, and in fact is, being done where shelter and clinic management has the will to find ways to work around the difficulties.
“Bizarre spectacle that will compound tragedy”
“Experts” lining up to support intact release is a bizarre spectacle that will compound the tragedies caused by COVID 19.
The impact on animals is an unfortunate sidebar in any economic downturn. The economic impact of COVID-19 is already being felt. If followed, this foolhardy response to the COVID-19 pandemic will add financial burdens, staffing burdens, and unintended litters to shelters nationwide, with consequences that will continue to be felt for many years.
If the half million unwanted litters estimated by ANIMALS 24-7 are indeed born within the next few months, from as many as a million female dogs and cats who will be rehomed intact because of this proposed protocol, much of the U.S. will not absorb the 2.5 to 3.5 million excess puppies and kittens through local adoptions.
If adoptions equaled even the current much lower numbers of intakes, every small town and every neighboring town in the South would not be clamoring for adoption “transport” opportunities. Think of what the extras will mean.
“Terrible choice” ––Dr. Jeff
Jeff Young, DVM, the star of the reality television show Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet, noted for decades before that as a top-notch spay/neuter surgeon and longtime leader promoting high volume, low-cost spay/neuter, was asked about the advocacy for shelters to use intact release as a frontline response to COVID-19.
Said Young, “We know that spay/neuter contracts don’t work. People do not return with the pets. Enforcement is virtually impossible.
“Cities are closed down,” Young continued. “Where is the city protocol for supporting and following up on these contracts supposed to come from? Or are the contracts just empty sheets of paper they will hand people and hope for the best?
“A spay/neuter contract is a terrible choice,” Young said.
Young noted the recession of 2008 in which hundreds of thousands of pets became homeless, adding, “This will compound an economic tragedy that follows a health-related tragedy. People who propose this are sitting in an ivory tower, coming up with their own version of reality. What are they thinking?”
It is time to ask who is actually speaking for the animals, not just seeking to improve so-called ‘live release’ numbers at any and all cost.
Ruth Steinberger decades ago relocated from Philadelphia to Oklahoma as a reporter covering Native American affairs, but soon found a different calling as founder of Spay FIRST, a pioneer both in extending spay/neuter services to remote reservations and in developing and validating non-surgical dog and cat contraceptive methods.