Cheap spays, neuters won't fix the animal overpopulation

Cheap spays, neuters won't fix the animal overpopulation

It's time to admit that offering our sweat and knowledge at bargain rates has no effect on animal overpopulation.
Nov 15, 2010

Dr. Craig Woloshyn
F or the past 20 years our profession has attacked the animal overpopulation problem. We've spawned a network of cheap clinics across the country, championing them as a noble cause. Low-cost spay-neuter clinics are now so well-inculcated into our national culture that it seems blasphemous to say that our efforts are fruitless and self-serving. And since the wrath of our profession will fall heavily on those who doubt, it has become sacrosanct that population control and, specifically, low-cost spay-neuter clinics are furthering animal welfare and human society in general.

I for one will stand and say it's a fraud. We've had very little effect on the dog and cat population in this county, nor will we with this approach. Dog and cat populations are affected by factors we haven't learned to control. This isn't the place for an exposition on procreation, but you won't find a single well-documented study that shows significant decrease in animal populations anywhere in this country. Those few studies that exist show essentially flat shelter fill and euthanasia rates. If what we said would work were working, we'd see it by now.

Approximately 40 percent of pets in this country are sexually intact. Apparently we can't sway this population of owners with cost. Feral cats are so fecund that even if we leave one pair unneutered, we'll soon see the population restocked naturally.

We've cheapened the entire profession with bargain-basement spays. We've taught the public that we don't consider ourselves worth much. We've set the standards of care at the level of herd medicine, not something most small animal practitioners want. And we've exercised our seemingly unbounded ability to take blame for situations that are not of our making. We've also wasted a lot of time and money sending people to school for four years to perform a simple procedure that takes three months to master.

Many practices are now feeling the effects of these misguided efforts. Clients who don't understand why real surgery costs 10 to 20 times the price of a spay bristle at the idea of paying us a living wage. Young doctors whine about their student debt yet gladly debase the very profession that should be supporting them.

Why? So the rest of the human population will love us? Bah. We're rapidly becoming a profession led by mushy statistics and ever-lowering standards of scientific curiosity and honesty. There was a short-lived, abortive effort to make our profession evidence-based. But now, led by corporations that produce no real evidence that what we do is worthwhile, we're becoming feel-good flower children. We're leaving science behind in our quest to find fulfillment in an ill-fated endeavor.

Let's start somewhere, and let it be here. Let's admit our mistake, look for some science, and start anew. And along the way, let's start to prove our real worth and demand our real wages.

Dr. Craig Woloshyn, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member, owns Sun Dog Veterinary Consulting in Custer, S.D. Please send questions or comments to

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