In defense of spay-neuter clinics
A Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member recently criticized low-cost spay-neuter clinics for the second time in a year. He was wrong seven months ago, and he’s wrong now
Let's be clear: I'm not a spay-neuter activist. I manage a multi-doctor mixed practice in rural Oregon. We’ve worked for years with a local animal shelter and other providers of low-cost spays and neuters. We also run a low-cost program of our own. Our practice is successful, grossing seven figures. Our doctors and staff are paid well above the nationwide average for our positions. It’s simply not true that low-cost spay-neuter programs can’t be a productive component of both practice success and the fight against pet overpopulation.
Failing to act has an exponentially negative effect on animal overpopulation, even if taking action falls short of our desired outcome. Unless critics are suggesting that cats and dogs would reach a natural population ceiling if allowed to breed freely, then the case can be made that the problem would be much worse if not for our industry’s efforts. So if we agree that altering pets helps combat, even if slightly, animal overpopulation, the subject of low-cost programs is still up for discussion.
Helping is better than not
In the past, our practice performed roughly 300 feline spay and neuter procedures per year. That number remained the same year to year despite the economy and our own practice’s growth. After expanding our work with a number of local humane organizations and creating an in-house low-cost cat neuter program, that number rose to nearly 1,000 per year. While that may not dent the oft-quoted statistic that 40 percent of cats are unaltered, it’s certainly a move in the right direction.
Pet overpopulation, of course, pales in importance compared to other social problems we face around the world, but it’s a relief to know we don’t apply this thinking to famines, illiteracy, or disaster relief. What kind of world would it be if we applied our resources only where total success could be achieved?
Service is more
Critics of spay-neuter clinics often make a second argument against low-cost animal altering. They say low-cost spay-neuter clinics are bad for the industry, bringing down fees and the quality of medicine. I disagree. Lower-cost practices—some of which offer low-cost spays and neuters—don’t damage our industry any more than McDonald’s damages fine dining establishments. And have you ever seen an association of expensive eateries lobbying to eliminate fast food? No. They understand the concept of target marketing and creating (selling) the “experience” of a customer visit, not to mention great food.
Here’s an interesting exercise for practice managers: Ask your clients to rank their reasons for visiting your practice. The answers may shock you. Many clients put the resolution of their pet’s medical problems way down the list and behind customer service, clear explanations, wait time, convenience of hours, and, yes, cost.
Isn’t it time to break some new ground and look for new ways to tackle animal overpopulation, not just give up—and blame those trying to help?
Kyle Palmer is practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Ore.