Who needs low-cost neutering? PART ONE OF A NEW NATIONAL STUDY

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1994:

PORT WASHINGTON, New York––Low-cost neutering doubles the number of
poor people who get their pets fixed––and cuts animal shelter intakes in half.
Any doubts that either shelter administrators or veterinarians may have about the
efficacy of low-cost neutering should be laid to rest by the results of a new national study car-
ried out over the past six months by ANIMAL PEOPLE, under sponsorship of the North
Shore Animal League. The first part of the study, investigating the impact of low-cost neu-
tering on pet overpopulation, is published here. The second part, a comprehensive review of
veterinary experience, will appear in our July/August issue––including veterinarians’ ideas
about how to improve low-cost neutering pro-
grams to get even better results and resolve
grievances that often hamper programs.

Perceiving lack of hard data on the
efficacy of low-cost neutering and consequent
veterinary resistance as the two main obstacles
to the availability of low-cost programs,
NSAL president John Stevenson commis-
sioned the ANIMAL PEOPLE study in
December 1993, on behalf of Spay USA, a
project of NSAL.
“We’d like to know where we should
be going with our programs,” he said, “and
we’d like to share our findings with the whole
humane community, because what we do with
Spay USA is refer callers to programs in their
own towns, all over the United States.”
A total of 690 people completed
questionaires of four to six pages in length to
provide the data, among them 140 small ani-
mal veterinarians picked at random from
demographically representative zip codes on
the American Veterinary Medical Association
membership list; 87 veterinarians known to
be participating in various low-cost neutering
programs, from the ANIMAL PEOPLE sub-
scription lists; 89 pet owners found at ran-
dom within demographically representative
zip codes, contacted through use of a list
compiled by a major marketing research com-
pany; 127 pet owners previously known to
have patronized low-cost neutering programs;
and the directors of 37 humane organizations in communities
known to have active low-cost neutering programs.
Accurately assessing the value of low-cost neutering
is not so simple as just calculating births believed to have
been prevented over a particular period of time. It also
requires estimating how many neutering operations might not
have been performed if the pets’ owners didn’t have the low-
cost option. Also necessary to understand are the patterns in
pet reproduction and overpopulation: which pets breed, and
which litters end up homeless.
How many must be fixed?
The best available data from a range of sources
agrees that a relatively small percentage of animals produces
the entire pet overpopulation problem. ANIMAL PEOPLE
found in a 1992 study carried out for the American Humane
Association, published in our May 1993 issue, that “Even if
the actual dog and cat reproduction rate is only one 10th of
1% of the possible maximum, three million irresponsible pet
keepers (who do not neuter their animals) could put the
euthanasia rate back to the 1985 level (then estimated at 17
million animals) as early as 1998. Three million irresponsible
pet keepers would be under 5% of all pet keepers.”
L. Robert Plumb of the Promotion of Animal
Welfare Society, a neutering subsidy program in Paradise,
California, has more recently estimated that dog overpopula-
tion can be ended with just three more spays per year per
1,000 U.S. residents, while ending cat overpopulation will
take four more spays per year per 1,000 residents. (See ad,
page 14.) “On average,” Plumb writes, “it is about 1% more
pet owners who must spay their pets.”
Thus it is possible that even if a low-cost neutering
program results in relatively few additional surgeries, it can
have a considerable impact upon local shelter intakes and
euthanasias. We asked responding shelters for their intakes
and euthanasias in 1990 and 1993. The average intake in
1990 was 2,950 dogs apiece and 3,060 cats, of whom 60% of
the dogs were euthanized and 78% of the cats. These percent-
ages compare well to the norms ANIMAL PEOPLE p u b-
lished in October 1993, after totaling and averaging recent
intake and euthanasia statistics for more than 900
shelters––virtually every shelter in 10 states, which together
include a demographically representative 40% of the entire
U.S. human population. That projection found that 52% of
dogs received were euthanized, along with 76% of the cats.
In September 1993 the American Humane Association report-
ed norms even closer to the findings of the present study,
based like the present study on random returns of a question-
aire: a 61% euthanasia rate for dogs and a 75% euthanasia
rate for cats.
Regardless of any achievements of low-cost neuter-
ing programs, the intake and euthanasia rate among respond-
ing shelters was expected to drop, as many surveys have doc-
umented significant declines in intake and euthanasia during
the past few years. Even the annual AHA surveys, whose
methodology is severely suspect, demonstrate no worse than
a leveling off. The most thorough annual compilation of data
is that of the Progressive Animal Welfare Society, which
each year polls every shelter in the state of Washington. From
1990 through 1993, PAWS reported a drop of 18% in dog
intakes, a drop of 14% in cat intakes, and a drop of 15% in
overall animal intakes. Euthanasias fell 34% for dogs, 25%
for cats, and 24% overall. Progress against pet overpopula-
tion in Washington is believed to be coming more rapidly than
elsewhere largely through the efforts of PAWS, including the
passage of regulations governing dog and cat breeding by
King County, PAWS’ home county, in 1992.
By 1993, the shelters responding to the ANIMAL
PEOPLE survey took in an average of 2,283 dogs apiece, a
22% drop; euthanized an average of 1,570 dogs apiece, a
35% drop; took in 2,112 cats, a 31% drop ; and euthanized
1,895 cats, also a 31% drop. The euthanasia rate for dogs fell
to just 49%, even as the adoption rate for dogs declined 23%.
Unfortunately, the adoption rate for cats also fell, by 2%,
producing an 11% rise in the feline euthanasia rate despite the
drop in hard numbers.
The falling adoption rates, which don’t show up in
any available state or national statistics, may also reflect
progress against pet overpopulation. As fewer dogs are born,
the number of puppies coming into shelters declines––the
biggest single source of adoptable dogs. The number of
vicious, diseased, and injured dogs picked up by animal con-
trol agencies also declines, but not as quickly, since most of
these are adult dogs, typically born at least a year before they
reach a shelter. Many of the unadoptable dogs received by a
shelter that began a low-cost neutering program during the
past four years were born before the program started.
Both cat and dog adoptions also decline as result of
other tactics used to fight pet overpopulation, e.g. higher neu-
tering deposits and/or refusal to adopt out fertile animals.
It is possible that the apparent decline in adoptions
by these shelters is a statistical fluke, perhaps resulting
because 25 shelters provided 1993 data while only 18 provid-
ed comparable data for 1990. The addition of one or two
high-volume shelters with low adoption rates could have
accounted for the discrepancy––but apparently did not.
Declining adoptions due to tougher policies can be
offset by improving promotion, as described in our May 1994
feature on the NSAL high-volume adoption program.
Who uses low-cost programs?
To find out how many of the animals neutered by
low-cost programs might not have been neutered otherwise,
we asked animal shelter directors, veterianians from the
AVMA list, and veterinarians who belong to low-cost neuter-
ing programs to characterize their clients by age, sex, ethnic-
ity, and income level. Important deviations from the U.S.
norms are highlighted; above norms are in boldface, while
below norms are in bold italic.
        (19+) (dropoffs)     (adoptors)  VETS    VETS
                                                                    Reg.  Low
<30 23% 25% 22% 22% 25%28%
30-49 41% 44%53%41% 40% 37%
50-64 19%25%17%25% 24%20%
65-plus 18%6% 8% 12% 13% 11%
49/51 40/60 29/71 38/62 36/64 34/66
Caucasian 80.3% 83% 84% 76% 78% 76%
Afro-American 12.1% 7% 8% 9% 7% 12%
Hispanic 9.0% 6% 4% 10% 8% 8%
Asian Am. 2.9% 2% 2% 5% 4% 4%
Native Am. .8% 2% 1% 2% 4% 4%
Low inc. 19.6% 41% 19% 18% 21% 46%
Mid. inc. 54.7% 42% 49% 54% 60% 46%
Up. inc. 25.7% 17% 32% 28% 19% 9%
We provided no definition of “lower income” on our
questionaires, but defined it for analytical purposes as half of
the U.S. median, which puts about half of the group above
the official poverty line but close to it. Upper income is
defined as 1.67 times the U.S. median, at which level
lifestyle differences from middle-income people appear.
The validity of the survey base was affirmed by the
close parallels between most of our findings and the U.S. pop-
ulation norms as defined by the Bureau of the Census.
As expected:
Senior citizens are markedly less likely to drop
animals off at shelters, adopt animals from shelters, and seek
veterinary care of any kind, at any price. Since the lower
involvement of senior citizens is consistent, not peculiar to
neutering, we surmise that senior citizens simply keep fewer
pets––a consequence of fixed incomes, apartment living, the
anti-pet rules at many retirement communities, and anxiety
over the fate of the animals after the owner’s death.
Afro-Americans both drop off and adopt dispro-
portionately few animals at shelters even though the number
of Afro-Americans who use low-cost neutering indicates they
do not keep fewer pets. ANIMAL PEOPLE explored the
reasons for Afro-American underinvolvement with shelters in
our January/February 1993 issue, concluding that the most
important is the lack of effort by many humane societies to
attract Afro-Americans. As anticipated, Afro-Americans are
also under-represented among veterinary clients. The explan-
ation here, however, would appear to be strictly economic,
as Afro-American patronage of low-cost neutering rises to the
percentage of Afro-Americans in the general public.
Apparently the will and desire to combat pet overpopulation
are present among Afro-Americans as much as among any
other group, even when the means to do so are restricted by
low income and the lack of inner city veterinary clinics.
low income and the lack of inner city veterinary clinics.

Hispanic Americans are under-involved with ani-
mal shelters, both dropping off and adopting somewhat fewer
animals than their population would indicate, but are not sig-
nificantly under-represented among veterinary patrons, either
at full or discount prices. Indeed there is a hint that Hispanic
Americans may be slightly more inclined than Caucasians to
pay full price for veterinary care. This may suggest a greater
latent concern for animal well-being among Hispanic people
than is generally recognized by Caucasian activists, who tend
to notice bullfighting, cockfighting, fiestas including ritual
torment of animals, and charro rodeo, while overlooking the
semi-vegetarian nature of Mexican cookery (albeit vegetarian
perhaps mainly for economic reasons), the virtual non-partic-
ipation of Hispanics in hunting and trapping, and the high
regard for cats evident in many Hispanic communities.
Lower income people are more than twice as like-
ly to abandon animals at shelters than middle or upper income
people, and expectedly make up nearly half of the low-cost
neutering clientele, but are not significantly under-represent-
ed among either adopters or patrons of veterinary clinics in
general. The numbers clearly illustrate that lower income
people both need access to discount neutering and make use
of it when it is available.
There is a hint in the relatively high proportion of
males who drop animals off at shelters, together with the
slight over-representation of Caucasians, that Caucasian
males may account for a disproportionate share of excess pet
breeding. Thus it may be that Caucasian males, who also
account for 97% of the licensed hunters and trappers in the
U.S., are a key group to target for humane education.
However, addressing female family members might be far
more productiive. Note that nearly three out of four people
who adopt animals from shelters are women, and that women
also seek veterinary care twice as often as men. This may not
necessarily mean that men care less about pets; it may simply
reflect the traditional female role as the family caregiver. A
1992 Massachusetts SPCA survey of 500 households in the
Boston area found that “Female pet owners appear to be twice
as likely as male pet owners to influence the spay/neuter deci-
sion for their pets (74% vs. 38%). This is especially true for
cats (77% vs. 38%) and for all pets in low-income households
(84% vs. 25%).” [The percentages overlap.]
About 9% of low-cost neutering patrons appear to
be in the upper income bracket. It may not be possible to per-
suade these people that taking advantage of low-cost neuter-
ing is both inappropriate and detrimental to the programs,
seriously annoying the veterinarians who are sacrificing their
own income to perform surgery at cost. We have no hard data
to indicate whether these people have been poor and are afraid
of becoming poor again; can’t resist a bargain; or are simply
Despite the participation of people who don’t need
the discounts, low-cost neutering is clearly reaching a note-
worthy percentage of animals who would not otherwise be
neutered. Low-income people make up nearly half of the
clientele of low-cost neutering programs––and neuter their
animals at twice the rate one would expect from their numbers
as a percentage of the general population when low-cost neu-
tering is available.
The value of low-cost neutering is further evident
from pet ownership patterns, below. The columns headed
“Pets” state the average number of each kind of animal kept.
“Fixed” states the percentage who have been neutered. By
way of further establishing the norms for neutering, addition-
al columns cite the findings of the 1992 MSPCA survey and a
1992 survey of residents of the Santa Clara Valley, in
California, done for the National Pet Alliance.
                  Pets Fixed       Pets Fixed  Pets Fixed Pets Fixed
Male dogs .56 66% .58 45%
Female dogs .70 73% .54 62%
ALL DOGS 1.26 70% 1.12 54% 1.20 73%
Male cats .85 87% 1.08 71%
Female cats .79 80% 1.24 65%
ALL CATS 1.64 86% 2.32 68% 1.60 87% 1.65 86%
The ANIMAL PEOPLE general population sample
base reported almost exactly the same rate of neutering as the
MSPCA and the National Pet Alliance found. This is encour-
aging, since the ANIMAL PEOPLE sampling areas were
picked to be representative of the whole U.S., whereas both
greater Boston and the Santa Clara Valley are well above the
U.S. norms in affluence and level of education, and therefore
have been generally believed to have higher rates of neuter-
ing. It is possible, however, that the questionaire sampling
method we used tended to exclude response from the people
least likely to neuter animals––the poorest and least educated.
The need for neutering among low-cost clients is
obvious in the numbers. While low-cost clients are evidently
aware of the need to neuter, the percentage of their animals
who are neutered falls at least 11% below the national norms
in every category. The percentage of unneutered female cats
owned by low-cost clients is of special concern, given the
extreme fecundity of felines and the high euthanasia rate for
homeless cats. Note that low-cost clients own 21% more
male cats than the national norm; 36% more female cats;
and 29% more cats overall. The greater rate of cat ownership
may directly reflect the lower level of neutering.
ANIMAL PEOPLE considered the possibility that
some low-cost clients may be cat rescuers and may therefore
be picking up strays and ferals who are in need of neutering.
A handful of active rescuers could significantly distort the
norms––but the survey question specified pets, and the ques-
tionaire data did not indicate distortion by rescuers as a gen-
uinely visible factor in producing these results.
Age of neutering
We also inquired as to the age of neutering for ani-
mals who were neutered, and the number of puppies or kit-
tens born to each female animal prior to neutering:
             PET OWNERS                 LOW-COST
       Litters Births   % fixed        Litters  Births   % fixed
        each   each   by 6 mos.      each   each    by 6 mos.
Male dog 41% 52%
Female dog .15 0.38 39% .09 0.52 29%
Male cat 75% 79%
Female cat .14 0.40 85% .19 0.48 66%
Female dogs owned by low-cost clients have fewer
litters but produce more puppies apiece and are neutered (if
at all) later in life. These anomalies are explained by noting
that there were six deliberate dog breeders in total (7%)
among the general population sample, who owned 9% of the
sexually intact dogs, but were 12 deliberate dog breeders
among the low-cost clients (10%), who owned 18% of the
sexually intact dogs. Because of errors in completing the sur-
vey form, we can’t compile statistics that exclude deliberate
breeding. However, it is reasonable to assume that the
greater instance of dog breeding among the low-cost clients
accounts for both the higher birth rate and the lower percent-
age of dogs who are neutered at age six months.
Low-cost neutering clients are probably more likely
to be deliberate breeders because backyard dog-breeding
looks to many like a low-budget way to make money. In
truth, it isn’t ; income rarely equals cost, even at minimal
levels of care, but the costs are spread out over several
months, while the returns come as several big bills all at
once, creating the illusion of profit where none exists.
The cat data once again shows the need for low-
cost neutering, as low-cost clients are 22% less likely to fix
cats before they reach sexual maturity, the cats they own are
26% more likely to have a litter before neutering, and in con-
sequence these cats are 17% more fecund. Clearly, getting
these cats neutered sooner must become a humane priority.
Our data corresponds closely, if not precisely, to
the MSPCA finding that “Among households that eventually
spay or neuter their pets, litters are born beforehand in 20%
of the cat-owning households and in 21% of the dog-owning
households.” Our data also corresponds to the finding of the
National Pet Alliance that “16.3% of the owned, altered
female cats had a litter of kittens before they were spayed.”
The pre-neutering fecundity of the animals in our samplings
runs below the MSPCA norm, but above the NPA norm.
Overall, the rate of neutering by age centers on six
months for both dogs and cats. The first of the two tables
below gives the percentage of animals who are neutered a t
each age. The second table gives the percentage who have
been neutered as of each age.
PET   Fixed        Fixed         Fixed      Fixed     Fixed
      @ 6 wks   @ 3 mos    @ 6 mos   @ 1 yr     later
Male dog 3% 11% 41% 14% 32%
Female dog 1% 1% 46% 17% 30%
Male cat 3% 7% 68% 10% 9%
Female cat 2% 9% 54% 16% 14%
ANIMAL     % fixed      % fixed      % fixed      % fixed     % fixed
                @ 6 wks     @ 3 mos    @ 6 mos    @ 1 yr        total
Male dog 2% 7% 29% 36% 53%
Female dog 1% 2% 36% 47% 67%
Male cat 2% 7% 58% 66% 76%
Female cat 1% 8% 46% 58% 70%
If veterinarians decided when each animal should be
neutered, the numbers would stack up quite differently:
ANIMAL     Prefer to fix       Prefer to fix       Prefer to fix      Prefer to fix
                 @ 6 weeks        @ 3 months      @ 6 months     @ 9 months
                AVMA LOW        AVMA LOW       AVMA LOW     AVMA LOW
Male dog 6% 4% 26% 35% 63% 60% 6% 1%
Female dog 5% 2% 26% 37% 68% 60% <1%
Male cat 10% 5% 31% 37% 54% 56% <1% 2%
Female cat 7% 4% 29% 41% 63% 56% <1%
There is no column for veterinarians who prefer to
neuter animals at one year of age because among the 227 vet-
erinary respondents, not one preferred to neuter any animal at
more than nine months of age. In general, low-cost veterinar-
ians prefer to neuter dogs earlier, but more veterinarians from
the AVMA list are doing very early neutering. Both groups
are adamant about neutering dogs and cats prior to sexual
maturity, certainly before they give birth to litters.
Nonetheless, a disconcerting number of pet owners
still seem to believe an animal should reach a particular age
and/or have a litter prior to neutering. Once again the ANI-
MAL PEOPLE findings are compared and contrasted with
those of the MSPCA and the NPA. Many major discrepancies
result because the MSPCA and NPA surveys asked pet owners
to identify just one reason per animal, whereas we asked
respondents to identify every reason applicable.
WHY NOT FIXED?   Male    Fem.   MSPCA    Male   Fem.   MSPCA    NPA
                                   dog     dog       dog          cat     cat          cat        cat
Intend to breed 26% 42% 27% 8% 12% 17% 18%
Too young 5% 12% 13% 6% 18% 44% 36%
Too old 9% 9% 8% 2%
Hasn’t had litter 14% 10%
Costs too much 35% 37% 0% 62% 74% 22% 12%
Hard to get to a vet 7% 9% 27% 24% 5%
Can’t see vet in day 5% 12% 25% 18% 4%
Not necessary 12% 5% 32% 4% 14% 4%
Neutering isn’t healthy 2% 2%
Neutering violates rights 1%
Negligence 11% 6% 18%
veys asked somewhat different questions, which may also
account for differences in the answers. The biggest difference
may be in the initial assumptions of the surveyors. ANIMAL
PEOPLE didn’t even try to find negligence: negligent people
wouldn’t be likely to return a written questionaire, and even
somewhat negligent people tend to have an excuse. Our inter-
est was not in pinning blame, but rather in finding the prob-
lems and then finding a way to eliminate them.
Further, ANIMAL PEOPLE suspects that some
genuine reasons for failure to neuter are mistaken for excuses
by many humane organizations. For instance, the MSPCA
explained the greater importance of cost and convenience in
deciding whether to fix cats as a result of a presumed preju-
dice against cats. ANIMAL PEOPLE found even more con-
cern over the cost of neutering cats than the MSPCA did––but
we also found substantial cause for it. Most obviously, cat-
owners who have not neutered all of their animals tend to have
more cats. The typical low-cost client has 29% more cats than
the average pet owner. This means more neutering operations
are required. Both the MSPCA study and the ANIMAL
are required. Both the MSPCA study and the A N I M A L
PEOPLE study show that women take the primary responsi-
bility for getting animals neutered. Yet women on average
earn just 69% as much money as men and are 5.7 times more
likely to head single-parent families with children under age
18. Of female-headed households in the U.S., 35% live
below the poverty line, including 51% of those with children
under age 18 and 61% of of those with children under age six.
Women over age 65 who live alone are also disproportionate-
ly likely to be poor. In short, if either female heads of house-
holds or elderly women have cats, they may justly wonder
where the cost of neutering is going to come from, even if
they agree 100% that neutering is needed. Many of the writ-
ten comments on the ANIMAL PEOPLE q u e s t i o n a i r e s ,
most offered by women, told stories of real hardship.
Curiously, no study yet has tried to define the dif-
ferences in pet ownership by sex, but this seems to be worth
a look with reference to neutering. In addition to the MSPCA
and ANIMAL PEOPLE data above, suggesting women are
from half again to three times more likely than men to take
animals for neutering, both a 1981 study of cat-feeders in
Brooklyn done by Carol Haspel and Robert Calhoon and the
1992 ANIMAL PEOPLE nationwide survey of cat-feeders
confirmed that women are more than four times as likely as
men to feed and adopt homeless cats. These findings confirm
greater female empathy toward cats and illustrate as well a
major but little recognized means of cat acquisition. A 1987
survey of people who surrendered animals to the Missoula
Humane Society reported that 55% of the cats who had been
kept as pets were adopted as strays. That study of course cov-
ered only failed adoptions. However, three other studies
have found a noteworthy number of former strays in the pet
cat population. Rudy Nasser in a 1981 study of pet ownership
in Las Vegas found that 11% of the pet cats were adopted as
strays; the MPCA found that 20% of pet cats in the greater
Boston area were adopted as strays; and the National Pet
Alliance found that 32% of pet cats in the Santa Clara Valley
were adopted as strays.
Hidden obstacles
Anti-pet overpopulation crusaders also tend to dis-
miss as mere excuses the complaints of about 17% of people
who haven’t neutered dogs and 47% of people who haven’t
neutered cats that they either can’t get transportation to neu-
tering clinics or can’t get to the clinics during regular business
hours. Instead there is a tendency to see the difference in the
frequency with which dog owners and cat owners make these
complaints as further presumed proof that fewer cat owners
really care about their animals.
An alternative view is that the middle class back-
ground of many humane workers blinds them to the reality of
multi-generational poverty. There simply aren’t many veteri-
narians in poor neighborhoods. Poor people are less likely to
own cars. People who hold minimum-wage jobs are not only
less able to afford neutering, but also less able to afford the
loss of wages if they take time off work to get an animal
neutered, and are easily replaced if they take time off for rea-
sons the boss considers frivolous. These factors are more
important for cat owners than dog owners because while nei-
ther dogs nor cats are allowed on most public transportation,
one can walk a dog several miles to a neutering clinic if nec-
essary. Walking miles with a cat, even in a carrier, is rather
difficult, especially if one is female and vulnerable in a bad
neighborhood; obliged to take small children along due to
lack of access to alternative care; and/or elderly.
ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett learned
the importance of physical access to neutering in early 1992,
while coordinating a major cat rescue project in northern
Fairfield County, Connecticut. Residents of inner city
Bridgeport, she discovered, were quite receptive to the idea
of neutering both their own pets and local ferals. They will-
ingly chipped in to help finance neutering, contributing far
more than most residents of nearby upper middle income sub-
urbs. However, the nearest veterinarian who performed low-
cost neutering was nearly 10 miles away.
The Philadelphia Inquirer recently described a simi-
lar situation in North Philadelphia: following the relocation
of the Women’s Humane Society to a distant suburb, just
three veterinary clinics remain in this whole district. The
Women’s Humane Society formerly provided discount neuter-
ing and emergency pet health care. The neutering program
was so successful that over the past decade the shelter intake
of homeless animals dropped from 10,000 a year to barely
over 3,000. No institution has replaced WHS. Although the
Pennsylvania SPCA also serves the area, it is physically
remote from most residents. North Philadelphia has more res-
idents, mostly impoverished Afro-Americans, than all but
about 20 U.S. cities. Of the three North Philadelphia veteri-
narians who remain in business, all are reportedly losing
money because of frequent break-ins by drug addicts; none
advertise widely; and at least one is within a year of retire-
ment. That will leave veterinary care in North Philadelphia at
the Third World level. And obviously the rate of neutering in
North Philadelphia will drop.
Opinion was split as to whether adequate low-cost
neutering was already available in respondents’ communities.
Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.