By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views
Cutting is an island term for spay/neuter. On St. Croix most people don’t get their cats and dogs spayed or neutered. In fact, islander attitudes about spaying/neutering are a lot like they were here in the States several decades ago.
Growing up in the 70s, I had dogs that we didn’t spay or neuter. It just wasn’t thought of back then. Both of our dogs were on their way to a shelter, when my mom intervened. Yah mom!
We had a miniature poodle and a mutt (a collie, beagle, shepherd mix). We took our dogs to the vet, gave them long walks, fed them well, but didn’t bother to have them fixed. None of our neighbors had their dogs or cats fixed either.
It was years later when I got my first cats (a brother and sister born in a newspaper office that I worked in) that I took them to the vet for check ups and to be spayed and neutered.
Changing people’s minds to embrace spaying/neutering is the goal of Stephanie Downs and Dr. Kellie Heckman. They met while working at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in the DC/VA area. Both volunteered at their local shelters.
“Kellie and I have worked in animal welfare for over 20 years,” says Stephanie. “We are both vegans. All animal issues hit home with us. When I look at the broad spectrum of animal issues, overpopulation is the one we can knock out in our lifetime. By educating people about spaying and neutering we can fix this problem and millions of animals would not have to be killed each year.”
Together they formed FiXiT, a not-for-profit designed to end overpopulation of companion animals. FiXiT identifies the reasons people are not spaying/neutering their companion animals and implements programs to provide the necessary incentives.
A PetSmart Grant
Armed with a $100,000 grant from PetSmart Charities, Stephanie and Kellie are studying the people of St. Croix and their attitudes towards spaying/neutering. “It’s a small population–53,000,” says Stephanie. “And many of the people on St. Croix feel the same way we did about spaying/neutering in the 1970s.”
Kellie and Stephanie’s first visit to St. Croix was rough because of the large number of stray dogs and cats. Dogs are more noticeable. Cats can hide. The dogs are everywhere. “And people’s attitudes were ‘let them have their fun, after all they’re dogs,'” says Stephanie.
On the Island
Kellie is residing on the island, and spends her day doing research at the local animal shelter. With a few volunteers and the local veterinarian, Kellie is keeping track of all of the data on the island concerning the animal population. She found that 65 percent of the people on St. Croix are not spaying/neutering their pets.
Kellie does the research and Stephanie uses her marketing expertise to get their message to the locals. “We are teaching them how this directly affects the people and their children,” she explains. “When you tell people that 300 children get bit and hurt by dogs each year, they listen. So we tell them to get their dogs cut.”
Spaying/neutering costs $25 on the island per animal. And in return, pet owners get $25 in pet food and pet toys and gifts. They are using this method because charging people to spay and neuter doesn’t work. “When you are deciding between feeding your family and spaying/neutering a pet, the pet never wins,” says Stephanie.
Once they gather their research, they will bring that back to their target audience–people in the U.S. “Teaching people about the importance of spaying/neutering their pets is cost effective,” says Kellie. “We won’t have to kill 5 million cats and dogs each year. Think of the money we would save if we didn’t have an overpopulation pet problem.”
Just think back to the 1970s when we killed 20 million abandoned animals each year. Now that many of us are spaying/neutering our pets due to education, we all win.”
To follow Stephanie and Kellie visit their website by clicking here.
They also started an online site that helps people who can’t afford to get their pets fixed. Stephanie describes it as a sort of match dot com. They pair people who need to have their pets fixed with people who generously donate to the cause. That link is here.
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