Spay and neuter clinics credited with the decline
By Karen Hibdon
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Stray cats, runaway pets and tons of kittens.
For years, controlling the number of domestic and feral cats in Ventura County has been an overwhelming task, with thousands of animals being euthanized annually by Ventura County Animal Regulation. But that number has steadily declined with the efforts of animal rescue groups working on shelter adoptions and fewer unwanted animals thanks to spay and neuter organizations, county officials say.
Lowell Novy, founder of Valley Veterinary Clinic in Simi Valley, has offered regularly scheduled free and low-cost spay and neuter clinics for the past 10 years.
“We’ve reduced our kill rate from Simi Valley by 85 percent,” in that time, he said.
Programs elsewhere in the area, including the Oxnard Veterinary Hospital, Mercy Crusade in Oxnard, the Spay/Neuter Animal Network in Ventura, Concerned People for Animals in Camarillo and the Calabasas-based Herman Bennett Foundation, also are having an effect.
The organizations provide free or low-cost spay and neuter services or vouchers to the public and contract with veterinarians who accept the vouchers.
Taking cats seriously’
The efforts are helping to diminish the number of animals being destroyed in the county, said Kathy Jenks, director of county Animal Regulation, which provides animal control for most cities and unincorporated areas of the county. Its main shelter is in Camarillo.
“The unwanted births aren’t happening. You don’t have so many free to good home’ ads in the newspaper, and you don’t see kids giving away free kittens in front of stores.
“People are being a little more responsible and finally taking cats seriously,” she said.
The decreasing number of euthanizings prove her point. In Ventura County in 1985-86, 7,306 cats were destroyed by Animal Regulation, according to the agency’s Web site. That compares to 2,157 in 2006-07, despite an increased county population.
Reducing California’s pet overpopulation — last year more than 500,000 dogs and cats were euthanized in the state — is a challenge for communities as well as veterinarians.
But it’s not an impossible job, Novy said. The key is continuity; once-a-year neutering clinics aren’t going to make a difference, particularly with the feral cat population.
One unspayed feral cat having two litters a year, and those litters having litters, could eventually total thousands of offspring, said Jan Feingold of Oxnard Veterinary Hospital.
At a spay day clinic this summer, Novy and a team of veterinarians — his daughter Deb Bitterly, and Lisa Goldstein, contract veterinarians formerly on staff at Valley Veterinary; staff member Douglass Kramer, and Sara Strongin of Las Vegas — spayed and neutered close to 100 cats.
About 20 volunteers, including veterinary technicians, Novy’s visiting daughter Judy Holmes of Milwaukee, her three children and Bitterly’s two children assisted them.
Members of the Herman Bennett Foundation handed out vouchers for free or low-cost altering services, goody bags with educational materials and cat supplies.
Volunteers are the mainstay of the clinic’s efforts, which date back to 1996, when registered vet technician Diane Bentz approached Novy with the spay day concept that led to monthly clinics for several years.
Since hosting its first large-scale no-cost/low-cost event in 1997, Novy estimates 15,000 to 18,000 cats have been altered through the program.
In addition to special days set aside for community outreach, each Monday Bitterly does surgery on an average of 30 more cats with funding from the Valley Veterinary Clinic Charitable Non-Profit Corp., which was formed in 2003.
With local animal control agencies in the state forced to spend more than $250 million every year to catch, control and euthanize unwanted dogs and cats, California legislators last year introduced a bill requiring mandatory spaying and neutering.
Assembly Bill 1634, however, was rejected on the floor of the Senate, a victory for organized animal groups that fought the mandatory designation.
The California Responsible Pet Ownership Act, co-written by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, was touted as a humane and taxpayer-friendly solution to combating the nearly 1 million unwanted cats and dogs entering the state’s animal shelters annually.
But it was significantly diluted from its original form and failed to garner the support needed, said William Grant, president of the California Veterinary Medical Association.
But despite the bill’s defeat, Grant said, the battle to diminish the number of unwanted animals by promoting altering is making headway, community by community.
He’s seen the number of euthanized animals fall in Orange County, where he and his father launched a spay and neuter campaign from their Garden Grove veterinary practice more than 25 years ago.
“It’s more effective to have people passionate and compassionate (about spaying and neutering) because this is the right thing to do. They can make it work.”
Making a difference
With Simi cat euthanizings down — 170 were done by Animal Regulation in 2006-07 — Valley Veterinary now conducts only four to six spay day clinics annually.
But in Oxnard, the county’s largest city, the number of cats being euthanized was 892 in 2006-07, as reported on Animal Regulation’s Web site.
That’s why Feingold, joined by Bitterly, conducts once-a-month free or low-cost spay and neuter clinics, averaging about 50 cats each session. He also does spaying and neutering as needed throughout the week.
The need in Oxnard was also the reason the nonprofit Mercy Crusade opened its spay and neuter clinic there in 2001. It provides altering for domestic cats at $20 for males and $30 for females.
“We do notice a difference, and the rescue groups are noticing a difference” in the number of animals being taken to the shelter and euthanized, said Mercy Crusade President Lois Osborne.
Other organizations involved in spay and neuter efforts include Animal Regulation and the Humane Society of Ventura County.
Feingold said the effort and cost involved in fighting pet overpopulation are worth it.
“Every little bit helps; but one day won’t solve the problem. It has to be an ongoing effort,” he said.
Valley Veterinary Clinic Charitable Non-Profit Corp. volunteers have been recruiting veterinarians throughout the state to start dedicated low-cost spay day programs of their own.
To help them get started, Bentz said, she, a veterinarian and other volunteers will go to the interested facility for a time to assist with the day’s spaying and neutering and will provide the initial supplies needed.
The corporation’s outreach programs are now under way in Yreka, Santa Maria, Oxnard and the Conejo Valley, Novy said. Valley Veterinary Clinic Charitable Non-Profit Corp. recently sent letters to 250 veterinarians statewide offering to help. One veterinarian each in Stockton, Bakersfield, Pico Rivera and Ventura responded.
“Four out of 250 is better than none,” Bentz said. “Typically, when we started 10 years ago, no one was really interested.”
Not discouraged by the lack of response, the semi-retired Novy plans to stay the course.
“Anyone that wants us, we’re going to be there. But if they don’t have any local vets willing, it’s impossible for us to take on the world,” he said. “It needs to be done on a local level, community by community.”
Source: Ventura County Star Newspaper