The Humane Society of Delaware County (HSDC) is partnering with local veterinarian clinics to ensure as many pets are being spayed and neutered as possible as part of the Spay-it Forward program.

In July, HSDC pleaded for assistance from vets who could donate their time to spay and neuter the shelter’s animals. The initial response was strong as four clinics — Healthy Pets of Wedgewood, Healthy Pets of Lewis Center, Inc., My Vet, and Vetcare Animal Wellness Clinic of Delaware — came to the shelter’s aid, resulting in a total of 58 pets being spayed or neutered as of the end of August.

Since the on-site veterinarian left HSDC in April, the organization has struggled to find access to veterinary care for its animals, leading to the plea for assistance from the community. Similar problems are becoming increasingly prevalent for shelters and agencies everywhere, compounding the critical issue of getting pets spayed and neutered.

“What we’re seeing is the number of graduates coming out of vet school versus the demand that is out in the general public, there’s a disconnect between those two,” HSDC Executive Director Jana Cassidy told The Gazette. “And what that has generated is the situation where if you lose a veterinarian, it can be months before you’re able to backfill that vacancy. That’s exactly what happened here at the Humane Society.”

HSDC’s on-site, full-time vet clinic typically performs over 2,000 surgeries in a year. Without a vet on staff, however, those numbers are naturally dwindling.

“When you lose a full-time vet, it really is crippling for your organization to be able to provide the services not only to the animals we have in our care, custody, and control but to be able to help the community and provide those spays and neuters at a very reduced cost or fee,” Cassidy said. “It led us down this path where we just had all this demand and we didn’t have the service.”

The idea to reach out to a “very caring and generous community” was mentioned during a manager meeting, Cassidy said. From there, Operations Manager Regan Goins crafted the social media posts and fielded the initial inquiries. Medical Director Dr. Sue Zinni then worked with each facility to “hammer out the logistics.”

“We were just flabbergasted by the response,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy said HSDC has found there are many people who get pets without fully understanding just how much it costs to take care of them from a medical standpoint. The shelter does its best to help when it comes to spaying and neutering animals at affordable rates, but without a vet on site, that has become more challenging.

“Our number one mission here at the shelter is obviously preventing homeless animals in our community,” Cassidy said. “We have a very good heart when it comes to trying to help out the community with spaying and neutering and doing it at a price point that is a little more realistic for their pockets and their budget.”

The issues associated with achieving HSDC’s primary goal aren’t going to subside any time soon either, a reality Cassidy knows too well. “We know that we will never ever be able to, without a robust spaying and neutering program in the community, have enough homes to manage the number of animals out there,” she said.

Cassidy noted finding homes for pets isn’t a simple one-for-one formula of one pet for each home. She recalled an adage she’d heard some time ago stating that for there not to be any unwanted animals in a community, every man, woman, and child would need to own seven pets.

“Obviously, it’s unrealistic to expect people to own that many animals,” she said. “And what we know is that a cat can have two litters of kittens a year. If they have five kittens and three survive, then the mom is having her second litter, and the females in that first litter are having their first litter at the same time. It’s a pyramid that just keeps going and going. You just can’t fix that without a robust spaying and neutering program.”

The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the challenges as much of the personal protective equipment that became such a hot commodity was directed strictly to human needs. The result was a two-year period where spaying and neutering were not being done as aggressively as they had been.

Simultaneously, with everyone stuck at home, Cassidy said the pandemic was the perfect opportunity for people to add a pet. She added that once the moratorium on evictions was lifted post-COVID, some people were also left with hard decisions, adding to the “perfect storm” that has exacerbated overflows at animal shelters.

To underscore the troubling trend coming out of the pandemic and the critical need for spaying and neutering programs, Cassidy said the shelter used to have to search hard or go through transport agencies in order to find puppies to bring into the shelter. Now, there is a waiting list, and more people are calling to beg the shelter to take their puppies.

“There are that many animals out there,” she said. “It’s just been an overwhelming year, and it’s not slowing down at all. There are just more animals out there than you have homes you can provide.”

HSDC is still looking for more clinics to participate in the Spay-it Forward program, and Cassidy said getting involved is as simple as sending her an email.

“Honestly, I think it’s a really good opportunity for vet clinics as well because they have the same similar issues,” Cassidy went on to say. “Private enterprises have the same issues of finding and attracting the right staff and then keeping them once they have them.

“As a clinic, they’re getting new graduates out of college as well. And these same recent college graduates out there, their skillset in surgery may not quite be where it needs to be, and it’s going to take some time to help them because with repetition comes proficiency. By having animals brought to them and giving them opportunities to do spays and neuterings under a seasoned vet who can help walk them through that, they learn how to do those procedures and the little tools, tricks, and trades to do them quickly but also very effectively and correctly.”

Anyone interested in assisting the shelter can contact Cassidy by email at [email protected].

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.