Last year, when the animal welfare group, All Sato Rescue, Inc., held a low-cost spay/ neuter clinic in Pinones, P.R., it took 10 weeks of planning and fundraising, a dozen volunteers, $1,750 in donations, and about 60 secondhand towels and sheets. By the end of the day, a total of 38 animals had been sterilized: 28 female dogs, four male dogs and six female cats. That total represented more than eight hours in surgery on the part of Dr. Gwen Davis, one of only a few local vets trained in high-volume procedures, who drove three hours each way to participate.
Ensuring that 38 animals will not be contributing to the cycle of overpopulation, abandonment and abuse on this island, whose unfortunate record on animal welfare is well documented, is a huge achievement by any measure. Most animal advocates are painfully aware of the procreative powers of female companion animals: over their lifetimes, one unspayed dog and her offspring can produce more than 6,000 pups, and one unspayed cat and her offspring can produce more than 400,000 kittens, according to SPCA International.
Which means that this single event in Pinones is likely to have saved hundreds of thousands of animals from lives of misery on local streets and beaches. But the herculean effort required to achieve these 38 procedures doesn’t bode well for Puerto Rico’s estimated 150,000-plus stray dogs. Apply this same scenario to every country on the planet that has an animal overpopulation problem — which is most of them — and the task of humanely addressing this problem feels utterly overwhelming.
Is There Another Way?
What if there were a simple way to permanently sterilize every dog and cat — male and female, infant and adult — without the need for a highly skilled vet, anesthesia, and expensive medications and equipment? Without a recovery time and with a limited risk of infection and complications?
That is, in fact, the holy grail being pursued by a smattering of researchers, scientists, veterinarians and animal welfare professionals. These highly motivated individuals are trying to come up with a new product or products that will provide permanent or even significantly long-term contraception, delivered as a single treatment that doesn’t require a veterinarian to administer.
“The idea of birth control for straydog populations is almost magical,” said Laura Simpson, founder of Harmony Fund, an international animal rescue charity that supports sterilization and rescue efforts around the world. “It’s a pulse-racing possibility to fundamentally transform the fortune of hundreds of millions of dogs.”
Making magic a reality is the goal of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D), a small, Portland, Ore.–based nonprofit. Its president, Joyce Briggs, describes her organization’s role as a catalyst in introducing nonsurgical sterilization methods and supporting their distribution and promotion. To maintain objectivity, the group does not conduct the actual research. Rather, it keeps a finger on the pulse of who’s developing what and for what, how far along it is in development and how promising it is.
“The goal is not to eliminate cats and dogs, of course, but to prevent the births of unwanted cats and dogs — of which there are millions upon millions around the world,” says Briggs. “The reality is that many communities lack the resources to provide appropriately for the number of cats and dogs being born in them today. Our ideal would be to achieve a balance between numbers of animals and resources.”