NAPLES — Duke stretches out on a bright, rainbow-striped beach towel, his four paws tenderly tied down to the operating table. His pink tongue limply hangs from the side of his mouth.
Above him is a poster: “Real Men Neuter their Dogs.”
The six-month-old, 20-pound stray, black retriever, labrador/dachshund mix was prepped and ready for a neuter surgery that would prevent him from fathering half a dozen puppies a year.
He is one of 200 dogs and cats that undergo spay and neuter surgery every month at the Humane Society, Naples. On Wednesday, Dr. Kim Traugott performed 20 surgeries alone.
With the help of spay and neuter education and increased pet-adoption campaigns, the overpopulation of cats and dogs is finally reduced and the use of euthanasia to control the population has significantly decreased.
Before 1970, as many as 20 million dogs and cats were euthanized nationwide each year. This year, fewer than 4 million dogs and cats will be euthanized.
In Collier and Lee counties, the numbers may not be as staggering, but as the pet overpopulation here slowly starts to diminish, so does the number of cats and dogs euthanized yearly.
In 2010, Collier County Domestic Animal Services had 430 fewer euthanizations than five years ago. The county also sold only a third of the licenses that it normally sells for dogs and cats under a year old. In Lee County, the euthanasia rates for dogs and cats declined by 36 percent in 2009. The animal population is aging; fewer puppies and kittens are born each year.
By the numbers
In 2010, Collier County Domestic Animal Services had 430 fewer euthanizations than five years ago. The county also sold only a third of the licenses that it normally sells for dogs and cats under a year old.
In Lee County, the euthanasia rates for dogs and cats declined by 36 percent in 2009. The animal population is aging; fewer puppies and kittens are born each year.
Collier County’s shelter is hoping to lower the use of euthanasia even more by increasing the rate of returning animals to their owner. The shelter hopes to return all lost or stray dogs back to their original owners and reinforce that the animal is a lifelong part of the family.
“What it really comes down to is how responsible are your local pet owners? Do they treat their pets like a commodity or as a permanent member of their family,” said Amanda Townsend, director of Collier Domestic Animal Services.
The county-operated shelter automatically performs the surgery on any cat or dog that comes through. But Townsend finds that the cost to pay for a spay or neuter surgery often deters pet owners from sterilizing their animals. Low-cost spay and neuter clinics are available for those seeking more affordable services.
The Collier Spay Neuter Clinic, at 2544 Northbrooke Plaza Drive in Naples, is a high-quality, high-volume, low-cost spay neuter clinic serving all of Southwest Florida. Spay or neuter surgeries range from $45 to $135 depending on the size and gender of the animal. The nonprofit clinic performs more than 400 spay or neuter surgeries in a month.
“We don’t turn anyone away because of their inability to pay,” said Pallas Diaz, founder and director for the clinic.
Diaz said the clinic has financial assistance programs.
The Humane Society, Naples, a no-kill shelter, also spays and neuters all dogs and cats at the shelter. In April, the Society had a spay and neuter weekend in Immokalee, fixing 100 animals free of charge to the owners.
But often the problem is convincing the owner that spaying or neutering their animal is the right thing to do.
“We have a lot of clients call us who are unsure about the surgery, but more and more people understand that it’s a better choice for the pet’s health and better for the community,” Diaz said.
In addition to preventing pregnancy and curbing the pet overpopulation, sterilization reduces cancer, prevents infections and often results in a more family-friendly pet.
“When you take away an animal’s need to procreate, it’s less likely to roam the neighborhood looking for a mate. It will pay more attention to the family,” Diaz said.
There’s no requirement to spay or neuter a dog or cat but all owners must purchase a license annually for their pets. A license for an altered animal is $10, otherwise the license is $60. If the pet is spayed or neutered within 30 days, the county refunds the owners $50.
The Humane Society, Naples houses 80 cats and 40 dogs at any given time. It often does pet-adoption campaigns such as the two-for-one kitten sale in June: “Double your pleasure, double your fun, adopt two kittens for one.”
Duke, along with each kitten and puppy that leaves the Humane Society, is permanently tattooed with a thin green line on the belly.
“It’s a universal indicator that the animal has been fixed,” Traugott said after inking the fine line on Duke’s belly. “It’s just one more step in the process.”