Community: Low-Cost Spay Neuter (A Team Effort)
by Nory Prochaska
Last year, 2021, marked the twentieth year of Humane Society of Jackson County/ ARF’s spay/neuter partnership with the ASPCA, a partnership that has grown over the years to include Catman2 and, later, the animal shelter. Since we started in 2001, ARF has helped the ASPCA alter 9,571 dogs & cats. That doesn’t include pets sent on our trips by the animal shelter or cats sent by Catman2.
For the last two years, ARF and Catman2 have absorbed over half of the cost of spay/neuter to pet owners using this service. Support from donors and grantors like PetSmart Charities and Two Mauds has helped these groups control the proliferation of unwanted dog and cat litters. Over the years, ARF and Catman2 have provided hundreds of free or grant-sponsored surgeries.
A little history
The ASPCA Spay/Neuter Alliance (formerly Asheville Humane Alliance) began as a way to control pet overpopulation by providing large-scale, low-cost spay and neuter services to individuals and animal-welfare organizations all over western North Carolina. Surgery is provided at a facility created in Asheville for this purpose. The service has grown to become a national model for providing large volume, low-cost spay/neuter services, and was eventually absorbed by the ASPCA, known worldwide for its animal-welfare programs and efforts.
In Jackson County, it all started in in 2001 when the Humane Society of Jackson County, also known as ARF, began to use the Humane Alliance service first for its own foster pets and then for local pet owners. Several humble collection points have been used over the years—businesses, the empty lot where Mountain Credit Union is now; the parking lot in front of the old Walgreens; a stretch of Mill Street below the current Lucy in the Rye …. Eventually, ARF was given a space at Bridge Park, and a generous gift let us buy a shed/office, a location to offer pet adoptions, meet the spay/neuter truck, and store transport crates and supplies. After collaborating on a $35k cat spay grant, ARF teamed up with Catman2 and began offering the services in tandem.
These days, the ARF and Catman2 partnership has expanded to include the Jackson County Animal Shelter, which now makes sure all pets are fixed before leaving the shelter. The small group of dedicated volunteers and staff also includes the ASPCA doctors, techs, and drivers, some of whom have dedicated their lives to this effort. This year, two ASPCA staff were badly injured on a trip to another county. Without all these groups, this county would still be awash in homeless pets.
Bi-Monthly Spay/Neuter trips
Today, spay/neuter transports are usually offered twice each month. Pet owners can sign up online at ARFhumane.org (dogs) and Catman2.org (cats), or by phone. ARF and Catman2 pay for half the cost of spay, and owners must pay for extras like tests, shots, and microchips. We’re now scheduling several months in advance!
When you sign your pet up for spay/neuter, you’ll receive a date and instructions that include signing an online permission form. The rest goes something like this:
- On the scheduled Monday, scores of sleepy, dedicated volunteers arrive at ARF.
- Customers bring their pets to Bridge Park ARF facility (cats already crated, dogs on leashes), waiting in cars till the pets are checked in, crated, labeled, and loaded on a transport vehicle, usually a box truck provided by the ASPCA S/N Alliance.
- Crates are provided by ARF or by owners and must be hard-sided plastic and contain newspaper bedding.
It’s a little noisy when the animals arrive and are first loaded—a new experience, and lots of new faces for the pets—but they settle remarkably once the loading is completed and the truck is on the road to Asheville.
Volunteers have worked hard to make this service as stress free as possible, adding several changes to the process post-COVID. Most of these changes evolved to prevent stressed-out animals standing in line, in an unfamiliar location, surrounded by other strange, noisy animals.
After COVID, paying in person, doing paperwork in the cramped ARF office, and having multiple people handling animals and crates were no longer options. For a few months, spay-neuter transports were suspended completely due to COVID precautions. Then, when transports started up again, volunteers put their heads together and came up with a better procedure:
- Customers sign up and pay online before the trip.
- As people arrive on the day of the trip, they get a number instead of standing in line. They are asked to park in a limited area, and to wait in their car with their pet(s).
- The coordinator and a volunteer approach each vehicle in order, finalize any paperwork, liability release, and payment, and the crate is labeled and carried directly to the ASPCA Alliance truck.
- To prevent volunteers from handling frightened cats and to minimize escapes, cats must already be crated, crates must already be lined with newspaper, and hardware and doors must be secure.
- Dogs must be walked to the truck, crated one at a time, and immediately loaded on the truck. Loading the dogs one at a time is much less stressful than accumulating a stack of crates of unfamiliar dogs.
- The S/N Alliance drivers have cooperated in arriving early so that crated animals are immediately loaded onto the truck, instead of waiting till all animals have arrived to begin loading.
The new process has lessened stress on pets and owners. The facility is quieter, and the whole operation happens quickly, efficiently, and in an organized fashion for all concerned. While we can’t prevent the occasional traffic delay, most people are happy with the changes.
The process of returning animals to their owners the next day is similar. Each owner receives a number determining the order they receive paperwork, information, and discharge instructions. Owners then collect dogs, and cats are brought to the cars, preventing crate failures and covid spread. The improvements are a win for the volunteers, the pet owners, and the pet over-population crisis!