Thinking about giving someone a pet for Christmas?
Think about spaying or neutering it first. That not only keeps them from reproducing, but also can save lives, says the Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society.
“There’s a direct correlation between spay and neuter and how many wind up here,” said Monica Wylie, who oversees community outreach at the Humane Society.
Animals that are “unadoptable” because of old age, health issues or behavioral problems are regularly euthanized. But the number of “adoptable” animals that face being put down has decreased each year because of people spaying and neutering their pets.
In the 1970s, the Humane Society put down nearly 60,000 animals a year. In 2012, it euthanized 464 adoptable animals. So far in 2013, there have been 114.
The Humane Society can help pet owners who don’t have enough money to get their pets altered. Its Cinderella program, funded by donors, allows low-income Pierce County residents to get vouchers for free or reduced-cost sterilization for their pets.
In addition, the Northwest Spay and Neuter Center has reduced rates for feral cats and pit bulls, according to its website.
The Humane Society provides other ways to help people avoid having to give their pets up for adoption.
Anyone can stop by the Emergency Pet Food Bank at the Humane Society and pick up a month’s supply of pet food or cat litter. A partnership with Springbrook Mobile Food Bank and Catholic Community Crew’s Meals on Wheels facilitates the delivery of pet food to people with limited mobility.
More than 800 animals and almost 400 families rely on these services, which are funded through a private family donation.
“We want to help people who otherwise would not be able to care for their pets,” outreach assistant Lindsay O’Donnell said. “We want people to be able to have their pets forever.”
Some owners are reluctant to spay or neuter their pets because they believe the animal is not “broken” and doesn’t need to be “fixed,” Wylie said.
The health benefits, however, outweigh the costs.
Neutering male animals can reduce behavioral problems, she said. Male cats and rabbits that are neutered early in life will not engage in spraying or marking behavior, and all neutered male animals will be less aggressive, Wylie said.
“Most dog bites are unaltered males that are tied up outside,” she said.
Fixing pets also can prevent some health problems, including cancer and pyometritis, a severe infection that can have deadly consequences if left untreated, said outreach assistant Aubrey Clement.
Fewer animals in shelters means fewer healthy animals need to be euthanized because of space constraints. Workers who don’t need to worry about overcrowding can focus more on helping the animals that are in the shelter.
A major shift over the years has been an increase in medical care for animals brought to the shelter. The Humane Society does not respond to emergencies but does have the resources to treat animals with infectious diseases.
It offers vaccination clinics twice a year. The last clinic helped 500 people. The next clinic has not been scheduled.
Cats with respiratory infections, for instance, are kept in quarantine and treated until they are healthy enough to be adopted. This hasn’t always been the case.
“Ten years ago,” said Marguerite Richmond, the Humane Society’s fundraising, marketing and membership director, “if a cat sneezed, it had to be put down.”