High Society

It's flush with money and has a grand new building, but the Humane Society of Missouri is doing little to prevent the growing euthanasia rate for unwanted animals

"What I believe, and what a lot of the research has proven, is if a spay/neuter costs over $10, it's not affordable to the type of people we are trying to reach," Christiansen says. "A lot of these people do not have transportation. They can't take their dog or cat on the bus. They have to walk miles to a vet clinic."

Truly low-cost spay/neuter is not widely available nationwide, he says. "A lot of organizations will say they have a program for low-income -- "All they have to do is come in here and beg and plead and we will give it to them.' Then you ask how many they've done, and it isn't many. I don't call that a program," Christiansen says.

He believes a number of issues contribute to the euthanasia problem: a lack of low-cost spay/neuter; shelter animals that aren't presterilized and have accidental litters; veterinarians who aren't performing early/ spay neuter; animal organizations spending as little as 5 percent of their budgets on proactive prevention programs; and governing boards that are ill-equipped to think in progressive ways.

The Humane Society's kennel for adult female dogs at the Society's new $11 million headquarters
Jay Fram
The Humane Society's kennel for adult female dogs at the Society's new $11 million headquarters

"If I wanted to indict any one group, it would be the boards of animal-welfare groups," he says. "They really have the power to change things, and they don't use the power as much as they could be. Unfortunately, a political structure exists that doesn't make for progressive action or programs. Probably lethargy is the biggest enemy of them all."

He was struck by the rising euthanasia figures in St. Louis. "I question whether there are programs in (St. Louis) that are reaching the people who need it most." He was surprised that more people from the Humane Society didn't attend the seminar he held here. "There was only one or two people who attended the seminar from the Humane Society. I thought it would be of more interest to them."

If kill rates aren't declining, he says, a group needs to rethink its approach. "I always say that if we have the same management this year that we did last year and our numbers are going up, then we can pretty much figure that the numbers are going to continue to be the same if we continue to do the same thing."

The Humane Society of Missouri's auxiliary, a fundraising arm, broached the idea of purchasing a mobile spay/neuter van a few years ago -- but at the time, the Humane Society passed on the offer because it was embroiled in its capital campaign and plans for the new headquarters.

Robertson says that the idea of a spay/neuter van was tabled because of the annual cost of a vet and a veterinary technician to staff it.

"We have some money put away. We're an auxiliary of the Humane Society, and anything we do has to go through them," says Burt Wilner, president of the auxiliary. "We approached Kent Robertson at one time, but they put it on a side burner for a while. They'll be discussing it again."

Some people locally wonder whether the Humane Society's education program, which cost about $120,000 in 1999, is getting its message on pet overpopulation across.

Dr. Ed Migneco, president of the Greater St. Louis Veterinary Medical Association, says one of the biggest reasons for the area's euthanasia figures is education -- a lack of it. "People just don't know to get their animals spayed or neutered and how prolific dogs can be," he says. "A lot of men with male dogs don't want to get their dogs neutered, yet they let their dogs run loose."

Migneco, who works closely with the Humane Society and doesn't want to offend them, nevertheless says, "What exactly does the Humane Society do for education? Personally, I don't see it. I'm playing devil's advocate here -- I don't want to be anti-Humane Society."

"I don't claim to be all-informed," he adds. "I sure don't see any education coming out of the Humane Society. Maybe I don't look in the right places? It seems like they have a better forum than I do where they could reach a larger audience."

Migneco says many people don't realize the importance of spaying and neutering, not just for reasons of pet overpopulation but also for health reasons. Female dogs, if spayed before their first heat, face a decreased risk of breast cancer, and the surgery eliminates the possibility of uterine and ovarian cancer. In male dogs, neutering reduces the risk of prostate cancer and the incidence of dog bites.

He admits that veterinarians, too, must do more to stem pet overpopulation: "I put a challenge out to other vets: There is probably more we, as an organization, as a group, could do."

Liz Rudder is president of Operation S.P.O.T., also called OpSPOT, for Stop Pet Overpopulation Today. Formed in '93, it is a local coalition of 15 organizations, including animal-control agencies, veterinarians and animal-welfare groups like the Humane Society, and focuses on reducing euthanasia. It is compiling a low-cost spay/neuter database, due out in April, after sending questionnaires to 200 animal-welfare organizations and veterinarians to find out what is available.

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