In defense of low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinics
This proposed model ensures spay-neuter clinics and general veterinary clinics can work in cooperation.
Over the past decade, new spay-neuter clinics have appeared all over the country. The goal of these clinics is to reduce pet overpopulation and the killing of healthy but unwanted animals in shelters by increasing the accessibility of sterilization services. Private practice veterinarians contend that these clinics represent unfair competition and provide substandard care. We contend that spay-neuter clinics and general practices can work together to decrease companion animal overpopulation and healthy animal euthanasia, and also provide more veterinary care to animals who need it.
Humane Alliance, a national leader in clinic protocols, founded the National Spay/Neuter Response Team (NSNRT) to provide mentorship to other humane organizations performing high-volume, high-quality spay-neuter. The NSNRT has mentored 134 clinics around the country, and we discuss their business model here.
Financial model. Under the NSNRT model, spay-neuter clinics are self-sustaining through service charges and volume. Private donations and grants subsidize surgery for those who cannot afford it. The only government funding comes in the form of fees paid for services provided to local government organizations, such as surgeries for shelter animals or free-roaming cats. NSNRT clinics are not supported by tax dollars.
Clientele. Although many NSNRT-model clinics do not screen their clients for income, Humane Alliance reports that 84 percent of their clients have never taken their pet to a veterinarian. These low-cost services are intended for those who would not otherwise seek sterilization for their animals, and they are successfully reaching that underserved population of owners.
Relationships with general practices. It is not the goal of NSNRT-model clinics to establish ongoing relationships with their clients; it is their goal to provide quality sterilizations for as many animals as possible. These clinics generally sterilize only healthy animals (some will do surgery on animals with some health issues if they are unowned and living at a shelter), and when health problems are discovered during the presurgical examination, the animals are referred to a general practice veterinarian. In some cases, Humane Alliance will use funds from private donations to help clients pay for services at a general practice.
Arguably, one of our goals as veterinarians is to provide care to the animals who need it, and we can accomplish this task much more effectively by working together. Spay-neuter clinics serve the vital role of bringing animals in the door of a veterinary clinic often for the first time, and they can serve as a gateway to guide those animals' owners to ongoing relationships with general practice veterinarians. General practice clinics, for their part, can make the referral process smoother by providing an initial discounted visit.
For example, a dog spayed at a spay-neuter clinic might receive an initial vaccination there at the time of surgery and be referred for a booster vaccination and incision recheck at a local general practice. This owner may not have previously understood the importance of yearly wellness exams, but the establishment of an initial relationship with a general practice sets the stage for future visits.
At this initial visit, the general practice veterinarian has a chance to explain the benefits of wellness exams, provide parasite prevention and get the owner on a mailing list for yearly visit reminders. Though the general practice did not provide the initial surgery, it obtains a new client, someone whose animal might otherwise have received no wellness veterinary care at all.
These and other collaborations are essential as we tackle the problems of decreasing the population of unwanted animals and providing veterinary care to all pets. Reaching out to your local spay-neuter clinic is as simple as picking up the phone and asking if you can come by for a friendly visit.
Dr. Jessica Hekman is a PhD student at the University of Illinois, studying the genomics of dog behavior. Dr. Anne Bayer is with Humane Alliance in Asheville, North Carolina. Dr. Margaret Ferrell has worked at a spay-neuter clinic in Alabama and was recently appointed to the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.