Veterinarian Jeff Young updates an idea from Menander, Ben Franklin, & Ralph Waldo Emerson
DENVER, Colorado––Jeff Young, DVM, star of the reality TV show Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet, reaching more than a million viewers per episode since 2015, wants to sell the veterinary and humane communities on the concept he calls Spay-It-Forward.
Young, an animal control officer before becoming a vet, has demonstrated Spay-It-Forward in his own career since soon after graduating from the Colorado State University veterinary school in 1989.
Founding the Planned Pethood Plus high-volume dog and cat sterilization clinic in Denver in 1990, Young became legendary for converting an old school bus into a mobile clinic and doing high-volume sterilization surgery on vacations and weekends on Native American reservations throughout the west.
Mobile Animal Surgical Hospitals
Finding the mobile clinic approach inefficient, Young went on to pioneer mobile animal surgical hospitals, MASH units for short, which could be set up in any vacant building with running water and electricity.
Explained Young, “We eventually came to realize that using our vehicle mainly to haul supplies could enable us to fix more animals, faster.
“Finding space to work on the road is not a problem,” Young said. “All we need is electricity and running water. Anywhere we might set up has a community center or church or town hall or schoolroom where we can work for a weekend. Resupply is our problem. We can’t get surgical materials out in the boondocks, so when we run out, we have to go back to some city.
“Using our vehicle to haul supplies instead of as a clinic, we can fix 1,000 animals before we have to visit a city. We can stay on the road for several months if we want to.”
Mobile animal surgical hospitals are now the standard for working in remote places worldwide.
Helping in the developing world
Teaching expeditions abroad showed Young the need to promote dog and cat sterilization surgery in the developing world. He founded a high-volume sterilization clinic in Bratislava, Slovakia in 2004, and another in Merida, Mexico, in 2007.
Through Planned Pethood Plus, Young has subsidized internships for young veterinary surgeons from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Panama, and Romania.
Yet, though Young often partnered with nonprofit programs, he always worked on a for-profit basis until 2019, when he morphed Planned Pethood Plus into the nonprofit organization Planned Pethood International.
For-profit vs. nonprofit
Young argues that the for-profit model is much more efficient for veterinarians, even if they donate between 1,300 and 2,700 free sterilization surgeries per year, as he did. The Planned Pethood transition from for-profit to nonprofit was made, he explained at the time, to take advantage of fundraising opportunities and opportunities to expand the Planned Pethood mission that resulted from the success of the Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet television show.
Though Young himself is a sterilization specialist, he does not recommend that other vets should specialize to the same extent––although he does recommend that young vets should learn how to perform spay surgeries and castrations with the speed, and the attention to avoiding complications, of a specialist.
Every vet should be good at s/n
Every vet, Young believes, should be able to do quick, clean early-age sterilization surgery.
“When starting into veterinary work,” Young advises, vets should pursue a “basic health care model,” to “build sustainable income,” by doing vaccinations, parasite control, boarding, and other routine care. Having a full-service veterinary hospital should be the goal, Young believes, with additional income streams available from selling food and toys, offering behavioral training and training classes, and participating in humane adoption programs, which directly benefit the partner humane societies and rescues, but also bring the vet more clients.
Young sees providing free and low-cost sterilizations as not only a public service but also an effective “loss leader” for promoting veterinary care.
“We are working for a paradigm shift in how animals are cared for,” Young emphasizes.
Reducing the numbers of homeless and free-to-good-home animals is the first step toward increasing the value of each dog or cat, and therefore toward increasing the pet keeper’s investment in the animal––and this occurs in the developing world as well as in the U.S., Young has seen.
“My goal for the last 20 years is to find a sustainable way to provide low-cost veterinary care,” Young told ANIMALS 24-7. “I really think Spay-it-Forward works, and can work on a global basis to provide jobs, careers, and real opportunities for vets. I have two great examples [Bratislava and Merida], just doing it myself.”
The Spay-It-Forward concept, as Young advances it, is a veterinary version of an idea that can be traced as far back as The Grouch, authored by the Greek playwright Menander circa 317 B.C.
The idea was popularized in the U.S. in 1784 by Benjamin Franklin. As Franklin explained it, “I do not pretend to give a good deed; I only lend it,” obligating the recipient to do a similar good deed when able.
Ralph Waldo Emerson gave Franklin’s explanation an extended economic foundation in his 1841 essay “Compensation.”
“You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward”
Lila Hardy Hammond finally gave it a name in The Garden of Delight (1916), writing “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.”
Pay-it-forward appears to have come into humane work after the release of a film called Pay It Forward in 2000, starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt.
Several hundred humane organizations now have programs called Spay-It-Forward, the earliest of which emerged while the film was still in theaters.
Some Spay-It-Forward programs subsidize sterilizations for the pets of low-income people. Some target feral cats. A few do overseas outreach.
Many appear to have been inspired, influenced, or mentored by Jeff Young.