Veterinarian Jeff Young seeks to sell the world on “Spay-It-Forward”
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2013: (Actually published on November 20, 2013.)
DENVER––Jeff Young, DVM, one of the star speakers at ICAWC 2013, wants to sell the veterinary and humane communities on the concept he calls Spay-It-Forward. Young, an animal control officer before becoming a vet, has demonstrated Spay-It-Forward in his own career since soon after graduating from the Colorado State University veterinary school in 1989. Founding the Planned Pethood Plus high-volume dog and cat sterilization clinic in Denver in 1990, Young became legendary for converting an old school bus into a mobile clinic and doing high-volume sterilization surgery on vacations and weekends on Native American reservations throughout the west. Finding the mobile clinic approach inefficient, Young went on to pioneer mobile animal surgical hospitals, MASH units for short, which could be set up in any vacant building with running water and electricity. Teaching expeditions abroad showed Young the need to promote dog and cat sterilization surgery in the developing world. He founded a high-volume sterilization clinic in Bratislava, Slovakia in 2004, and another in Merida, Mexico, in 2007. Through Planned Pethood Plus, Young has subsidized internships for young veterinary surgeons from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Panama, and Romania. Yet, though Young has often partnered with nonprofit programs, he has always worked on a for-profit basis. Young argues that the for-profit model is much more efficient for veterinarians, even if they donate between 1,300 and 2,700 free sterilization surgeries per year, as he does. Though Young himself is a sterilization specialist, he does not recommend that other vets should specialize to the same extent––although he does recommend that young vets should learn how to perform spay surgeries and castrations with the speed and attention to avoiding complications of a specialist. Every vet, Young believes, should be able to do quick, clean early-age sterilization surgery. “When starting into veterinary work,” Young advises, vets should pursue a “basic health care model,” to “build sustainable income,” by doing vaccinations, parasite control, boarding, and other routine care. Having a full-service veterinary hospital should be the goal, Young believes, with additional income streams available from selling food and toys, offering behavioral training and training classes, and participating in humane adoption programs, which directly benefit the partner humane societies and rescues, but also bring the vet more clients. Young sees providing free and low-cost sterilizations as not only a public service but also an effective “loss leader” for promoting veterinary care. “We are working for a paradigm shift in how animals are cared for,” Young emphasizes. Reducing the numbers of homeless and free-to-good-home animals is the first step toward increasing the value of each dog or cat, and therefore toward increasing the pet keeper’s investment in the animal––and this occurs in the developing world as well as in the U.S., Young has seen. “My goal for the last 20 years is to find a sustainable way to provide low-cost veterinary care,” Young told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “I really think Spay-it-Forward works, and can work on a global basis to provide jobs, careers, and real opportunities for vets. I have two great examples [Bratislava and Merida], just doing it myself.” The Spay-It-Forward concept, as Young advances it, is a veterinary version of an idea that can be traced as far back as The Grouch, authored by the Greek playwright Menander circa 317 B.C. The idea was popularized in the U.S. in 1784 by Benjamin Franklin. As Franklin explained it, “I do not pretend to give a good deed; I only lend it,” obligating the recipient to do a similar good deed when able. Ralph Waldo Emerson gave Franklin’s explanation an extended economic foundation in his 1841 essay “Compensation.” Lila Hardy Hammond finally gave it a name in The Garden of Delight (1916), writing “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.” Pay-it-forward appears to have come into humane work after the release of a film called Pay It Forward in 2000, starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. Several hundred humane organizations now have programs called Spay-It-Forward, the earliest of which emerged while the film was still in theatres. Some Spay-It-Forward programs subsidize sterilizations for the pets of low-income people. Some target feral cats. A few do overseas outreach. Many appear to have been inspired, influenced, or mentored by Jeff Young.