Vouching for it by Karen Johnson
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1996:
San Jose, California, is on the
verge of proving either that the fastest, most
cost-effective means of reducing the homeless
cat population is through providing free
neutering vouchers––or that meddlers will
dismantle any program, no matter how well
it works, to advance bureaucracy.
As described in the April 1995 edition
of ANIMAL PEOPLE, San Jose enacted
the free voucher program in October 1994.
After a slow start, it took off in February,
1995, following favorable coverage by the
San Jose Mercury-News. For 16 months it
enabled hundreds of people who feed outdoor
cats, often people of limited means, to get
the cats “fixed.”
A similar program for dogs was
begun on May 1, 1995.
The vouchers were issued by volunteers
in the City Manager’s office. The only
requirement was that participants were San
Jose residents. Vouchers were distributed
both over the counter and by mail. Fifteen
participating veterinarians took them as payment
in full. There was no limit to the number
of cat vouchers a resident could use.
Dog vouchers were limited to two
per household, and did not seem to be in
high demand except by rescue groups.
The city reimbursed the veterinarians
at the rate of $25 per female cat, $15 per
male. For pregnant females, the rate was
adjusted upward, to a maximum of $50 for a
full-term pregnancy. Prices were also adjusted
upward if cats were in heat, had infections,
or had other conditions complicating
the neutering. For males with anatomical
abnormalities, the fee could go as high as
$150, depending on the extent of surgery
necessary to accomplish the neutering.
Dogs were altered at a higher rate,
depending on weight and sex. Costs averaged
$23.77 per cat; $41.46 per dog. The
total cost of cat altering done during the first
16 months of the program came to $134,735.
Of the cat surgeries, 60% were
done on females, of whom 4% were pregnant.
Another 4% were in heat. Since not all
participating vets charged extra for spaying
females in heat, the latter figure was underreported.
Veterinarians were asked to check
boxes on the voucher forms to indicate
whether each cat was owned or feral, but the
boxes actually were checked only 37% of the
time. Of this 37% of cats handled, only
19.5% were identified as feral.
The vouchers facilitated neutering
647 dogs, of whom 54% were female. Over
80 dog vouchers were used by one rescue
group, which then adopted the dogs out. The
cost to alter the dogs totaled $26,980.
The veterinarians had control over
their degree of participation. Several didn’t
handle feral cats. If an animal was too sick to
be neutered, or had other problems, a veterinarian
could decline to do the surgery.
The program was kept under review
through a short, anonymous questionnaire
provided with each voucher. Despite criticism
from other quarters, reports from San
Jose were all positive. The veterinarians had
no problems, the people redeeming the
vouchers liked the program, and volunteers
have kept the program working smoothly.
Veterinarians who were not on the list of
participants clamored to become a part of it.
Best of all, city costs to handle
stray cats appeared certain to be reduced dramatically,
due to the reduced number of
homeless cats picked up by animal control.
In the 16 months of the program,
over 5,600 cats were altered––but as of
February 6, 1996, the general funds allocated
to it for the 1995-1996 fiscal year were
already all used or committed. A record
2,000 vouchers were handed out in December
1995 and January 1996. As a result, San
Jose has temporarily suspended issuing of
new vouchers until all the vouchers currently
issued have either been redeemed or have
reached their 60-day expiration date. The
program is expected to resume, with modifications,
by the July 1 start of the next fiscal
year. Unfortunately, the proposed modifications
may amount to dismantling the very elements
that made it work.
Among the proposals under consideration
are eliminating the dog vouchers,
which are less in demand and less evidently
effective in lowering animal control intakes;
and/or requiring a co-payment of $5.00 per
cat and $10.00 per dog from voucher holders.
More problematic revisions offered
in mid-March would require a voucher application;
require that dogs and cats be licensed
to receive a neutering voucher; and require
that the sites of feral cat colonies be specified,
along with the names of the colony
caretaker and his/her rescue group affiliation.
These requirements would inhibit
people from doing what is needed most: neutering
animals, owned or not. The task force
that wrote the original guidelines adamantly
opposed coupling licensing with the vouchers.
Anonymity made the program work:
people could fix homeless cats without fear
of penalty for their altruism. Grasping for
$5.00 per cat in licensing revenue, plus the
$5.00 co-payment, will make many wouldbe
rescuers think twice about scooping up
that litter of four kittens they find under a
dumpster. The kittens will instead go to the
shelter, at total cost for pickup, caging, and
euthanasia of about $70.00 apiece; or will be
ignored, and along with their mother, soon
produce a dozen more kittens.
People who donate time and money
to save the city tens of thousands of dollars in
animal control costs, each and every month,
should be rewarded with help, not red tape.
Survey forms have been returned by
2,733 voucher recipients so far during the
1995-1996 fiscal year, which began on July
1, 1995. About a third of the survey forms
have been left blank, leaving 1,845 tabulated
responses. Among them, 70% said cost was
a factor in their decision to neuter cats
through the voucher program. Of the cats
neutered, 49% were stray or feral, but 73%
of the voucher users intended to keep the cats
they neutered as pets. Twelve percent did not
intend to keep the cats; 15% were uncertain
whether they would or not.
Just over half of the cats––52%––
were from six months to one year old, with
22% under six months old and 26% over one
year old. This indicates that most of the cats
are being neutered in time to prevent litters.
Just 21% of the females had already had a litter,
of whom 45% had given birth to only
one litter, 40% had given birth to two litters,
and the litter history of 15% was unknown.
Cat ownership per voucher user
often exceeds the little enforced San Jose pet
limit of two per household, dogs and cats
combined. Obeying the limit were the 2.7%
who owned no pets, the 29% with one pet,
and the 37% with two pets. However, 32%
admitted owning three or more pets. Nonresponse
to this question was also high, with
168 people seemingly taking the Fifth
Amendment. If these 168 all own three or
more pets, 38% of voucher users are in violation
of the pet limit, which according to a
M e r c u r y – N e w s survey of California municipalities
is the strictest in the state, and may
be the strictest of any U.S. city. A motion to
raise the limit to five pets was shelved by the
San Jose city council in August 1994.
National Pet Alliance research earlier
found that one Santa Clara Valley household
in ten includes someone who feeds
homeless cats. Among San Jose voucher
users, a full third are cat-feeders.
The most common user suggestion
was that the voucher program should be
expanded to cover vaccinations against rabies
and feline leukemia.
Among the 15 participating veterinary
clincs, just three have done 37% of the
surgery. They have little else in common.
Clinic A, in a well-established central area,
performed 544 surgeries. Clinic B, 15 miles
from Clinic A, in an area of expensive new
homes and residential growth, neutered 289
cats. Clinic C, located in the poorer part of
San Jose, although there are many new and
expensive homes being built on nearby hillsides,
neutered 174 cats. Each clinic is large
and popular enough to draw clientele from all
over the county, but zip code information on
the vouchers indicate the bulk of their
patients come from adjacent areas.
Differences in the sociology of the
clientele are evident in the statistical record:
Obtained Had Feed stray
as stray a litter cats
Overall, voucher participants:
49% 21% 33%
Clinic A 44% 16% 31%
Clinic B 53% 18% 26%
Clinic C 62% 22% 51%
General population, NPA 1993:
33% 16% 10%
People using free vouchers to
neuter cats are feeding homeless cats at triple
the rate of other residents. Clearly, cat feeders
have used access to free neutering to stop
reproduction among the populations they
attend. In addition, it appears that the voucher
program has encouraged more people
to adopt homeless cats.
Note that Clinic C, serving the
poorest area, draws proportionately the most
people who are neutering homeless cats, the
most whose cats have had litters, and the
most who feed homeless cats. If the program
was to be intensively advertised in target
areas, this area would get top priority.
In late 1995 the cat voucher survey
forms were amended by adding a question
about where cats were obtained. The table
below contrasts the first 710 responses with
the norms obtained by the 1993 NPA random
survey of Santa Clara County households:
Found 33% 46%
Born at home 6% 9%
Friend/relative 33% 30%
Pet Store 6% 2%
Breeder 4% 1%
Rescue 1% 4%
Shelter 11% 4%
Newspaper ad 1% 2%
Front of store 1% 1%
Vets/other 4% 2%
The data confirms the value of the
vouchers in aiding adoptions of homeless cats.
But the real bottom line is the impact
on the homeless cat population––and the San
Jose program has already had marked impact
on Humane Society of the Santa Clara Valley
cat intakes. The shelter impounds animals for
four cities in all: San Jose, Milpitas,
Sunnyvale and Santa Clara. Only San Jose has
the neutering voucher program.
The 1995 human population of San
Jose was 888,000. For the 12-month period
ending on Feb. 29, 1996, 9,459 stray cats
entered the shelter from San Jose, a ratio of
one stray cat for every 94 people.
The combined population of
Milpitas, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara is
283,400. Over the same time period, 6,036
cats from those cities entered the shelter, a
ratio of one homeless cat for every 47 people,
or exactly twice the San Jose ratio.
Cat intakes from all four cities were
up over the 12-month period––but the cumulative
increase in cats from San Jose, reckoned
at the end of each month, fluctuated between
9% and 12%, while intakes from the other
cities increased by 20% to 25%.
We anticipate a very light kitten season
in San Jose this year. We only hope the
decision-makers notice––and understand why
it came about.
(Karen Johnson is treasurer of the National
Pet Alliance. She may be contacted at POB
53385, San Jose, CA 95153; 408-363-0700.)