Best Friends
No More Homeless Pets Forum
September 22, 2003

Getting Pets Fixed

Aimee St Aurnaud
Aimee St. Arnaud

Getting pets fixed: how can you raise needed funds? And get the most bang for your buck? Aimee St. Arnaud of Best Friends shares her ideas and expertise on how you can raise funds and develop an effective spay/neuter program for your community.

Introduction from Aimee St. Arnaud:

Do you have a great idea for a spay/neuter program but lack funding? Have you exhausted every fundraiser imaginable, from garage sales to silent auctions? And how can you be sure to get the most out of your hard-raised funds?

Money is available -- it's time to get creative and look in new places that you might not traditionally think of as possible funding sources.

This week on the forum, I'll be happy to answer your questions and share ideas about how other communities have funded spay/neuter programs in unconventional, innovative ways -- one of them is bound to be perfect for your community.

I'll also answer your questions and share ideas on how to make sure the program you develop is effective, so that you are helping as many animals as possible. After all your efforts to raise funds, you're going to want to be sure that you're spending it wisely.


Finding public funding within your city
How to make spay/neuter projects appealing to donors
Finding money to spay/neuter ferals
Finding funding for a mobile spay/neuter van
Targeting programs to low income
Showing neuter before adoption saves money and lives
How to approach public officials for funding
Allocating spay/neuters when funds are limited
Getting vets to participate in spay days
Knowing what kind of spay/neuter program to start
Sample programs receiving public funding
More model programs getting funding for spay/neuter
Free or low-cost ideas for promoting spay/neuter

Finding public funding within your city

Question from Kassie:

I keep reading about groups getting thousands of dollars from their city or county and get frustrated because I can't imagine my city or county giving even $1.00 to support spay/neuter. They think that money should be spent on "the important people issues" like education, crime, and welfare. I agree these are important but so are animals. How do groups get this funding?

Response from Aimee:

You have hit on my favorite subject - public funding! There is funding available. The problem is that it is generally in areas we as the animal welfare community don't think to look.

I would suggest first doing some research on your community. Doing research is not always fun, but when you find the different funds you can qualify for, it is worth the effort!

Start by contacting your City and asking what kind of neighborhood grants exist. In my local community, we have Community development block grants, which are federal HUD grants overseen by the City Department of Neighborhoods. These are to be used for public safety, health, and neighborhood beautification projects in low-income areas. Doesn't spay/neuter for low-income areas fit in perfectly with all of these categories? It is a service for people who could not otherwise afford to have their pets fixed, and it helps clean up the neighborhood so there are not strays running all over which can create a public safety and health issue.

Working with a local coalition of groups in my community, we were able to apply for Community development Block grant funding and get $15,000 to be used to help low-income areas defined by the City. This was the first time an animal group ever applied for this funding in our community, because it has generally been thought only human service groups could apply. You don't know if you don't ask!

Council Discretionary Funds. In addition to the $15,000, we received another $10,000 from City Council members discretionary fund program. Each Councilperson has a small amount of funds (ranging from $5-10,000) that they can spend on specific projects of interest to them. We approached a City Council woman who was animal friendly and she then convinced a few other Councilmen to give us some funds as well.

There may also be smaller neighborhood grants available for working in certain specified neighborhoods. For instance there may be a grant for $1,000 if you are doing work on the East Side or Downtown. Why not put together a spay/neuter program targeted to these areas?

Health Department. This may sound like an odd fit at first, but Health Departments have the mission of protecting the public from diseases, including rabies. Many often set aside funding to host rabies clinics. Why not ask them to put the funding for rabies clinics into a spay/neuter program that INCLUDES a rabies shot. Or see if they have any discretionary funds? Bridgeport, CT Health Department helps fund a feral cat program because they recognized that getting more cats sterilized helped create a rabies buffer and also helped reduce the public health risks of unsterilized, proliferating stray cats.

The key to public funding is obviously fitting the requirement, but also showing how it will benefit the public, the community, and how it will save money for the City/County/municipality.

I hope we'll talk more throughout the week on public funding because there are many other resources available. These are just a few you can start with by calling your City government.

How to make spay/neuter projects appealing to donors

Question from a member:

Our shelter has a spay/neuter voucher program but we find it very difficult to find funding for it. We've found most private donors want to give to adoptions or humane education. I think they know spay/neuter is important but it doesn't seem as appealing to fund. How do we make it more appealing?

Response from Aimee:

I would first question if you have done a good enough job educating your donors about the importance of spay/neuter. Do they really understand how important it is? If they did, they would want to fund it. I would begin by educating your donors and supporters on why spay/neuter is so crucial to your mission.

You may want to even set up a special fund for them to donate to. The SPCA of Texas created a "Sponsor a Snip" program with membership beginning at $35 and increasing from there. Within a six-month period, they solicited their high-end donors (over $250) asking them to sponsor a surgery. They were very specific with how many surgeries they could do and how many animals could be helped, how many births prevented, for each dollar amount given. Each person donating was given a red and white lapel pin.

In just six months, and just approaching their higher end donors, they raised $10,000. $35 per mo

Showing your donors specifically where their money is going and how it is going to help make donors feel that their support truly is making a difference and is needed. It's not just going to put gas in the van, which is obviously important to operations, but isn't particularly appealing to a donor who wants to feel like they are supporting the animals hands on. So sometimes, you need to tailor your program to fit into what donors are willing to fund.

If donors want to fund something with a humane education slant, there is no reason that you cannot tie spay/neuter into that lesson. A group in Florida was very successful in getting $15,000 in grants for spay/neuter from local community organizations that generally didn't fund animal welfare, let alone spay/neuter. They received funding from the Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, and Community Foundation.

How? They go into classrooms two times a year for two hours each and teach humane education lessons. Afterwards, the kids come to the shelter to see spay/neuter surgeries going on and help with the clinic. Each student then takes on a project to benefit the shelter. Kids have done a spay/neuter brochure and a food drive for the shelter.

This group figured out how to tie the two very important issues together. The $15,000 is used for supplies and lesson plans for the schools AND for supplies for the spay/neuter clinic.

So think about approaching your local service groups such as Rotary, Lions Club, Veterans Associations to see how you can partner with them.

I often hear people say "Spay/neuter isn't sexy or exciting. Adoptions give that immediate rush and gratification and spay/neuter is harder to get people excited about." Adoptions do have a certain satisfaction because you get to see an animal going to their permanent, loving home and know that you helped that animal. But spay/neuter can be just as exciting when you think of all the unwanted births that have been prevented and will never end up in a shelter in the first place.

I coordinate a cat spay/neuter program in my community and we have volunteers lining up to participate because they know they are making a difference and enjoy seeing all the animals recovering and knowing they won't be having any more unwanted litters.

Get people excited by making spay/neuter fun and lighthearted. No More Homeless Pets in Utah wanted to appeal to the macho guys who may not want to get their animals neutered. Haven't we all heard those reasons? So they approached the restaurant chain, Hooters - which primarily caters to men, and pitched the idea of "Hooters for Neuters". The store loved it, and it's getting lots of publicity.

A Humane Society in Oregon held a spayathon where they got local businesses to donate gift certificates. Anyone getting their animal fixed in the month of March would go into a drawing for some great prizes including a stay at a nice hotel with breakfast in bed and a summer party package with a keg of beer and a band. Over 200 people participated and over 1/3 of them said they were drawn to it because of the gift certificates.

Make it fun, be creative, but most of all be specific - show them specifically how their dollars help and give them a visual of how many animals they are helping and how many unwanted births they are preventing so they see that their dollars truly are making a difference.

Finding money to spay/neuter ferals

Question from Lyla in OR:

I am working on raising money for altering stray and feral cats. I get very good emotional support from the caretakers of feral cat colonies that I help, but most people in this area do not seem overly interested in fixing cats without homes. I spent thousands of dollars this past year of my own money and thought others would join in and donate as well as they could see progress being made.

However, little money was donated and I have used up my money so I need to do serious fundraising in order to continue. Are there any targeted approaches to fundraising for spay and neuter of unhomed cats and/or dogs that appeal to people who do not normally feel any need to help, or feel the cats would better
be captured and euthanized, perhaps?

Response from Aimee:

This is an issue a lot of people express frustration over because it can get very costly when doing this out of pocket. First of all, I'd like to congratulate you for dedicating your time and resources to helping stray and feral cats!

Secondly, I'd like to offer you some ideas and hope.

I'm not sure how people get your name or how many colonies you are helping get fixed, but whenever anyone calls to ask you for help, I would suggest you ask them if they are able to help donate any amount, even a few dollars. I would let them know how much it costs for you to spay/neuter each cat so they have an idea of what you are spending. In the cat spay/neuter program I coordinate locally, we offer no cost spay/neuter for stray and feral cats, yet we get many people willing to pitch in a few dollars to help out when they hear that we are raising funds through grants and private donations.

A group in Pittsburgh, PA that operates a monthly feral cat clinic and does anywhere between 70-120 cats per clinic makes enough in donations from caretakers to cover their clinic costs.

Oftentimes if you are doing this in areas such as a trailer park or apartment complex, you can approach the management to ask for help. A local group in my community wrote up a proposal on what trap-neuter-return is, why it works, the benefits, and what they would provide (trapping, sterilizing, identifying, vaccinating, and returning the cats). They approached the management of a trailer park asking them to help with costs and management said yes.

Or if you are doing Trap-neuter-return in a neighborhood, see if there is a block watch or organized neighborhood group that may have some resources. The local coalition I am involved with recently found out that the Zoo had a stray cat problem. We approached them about partnering on a spay/neuter project for residents' cats around the Zoo. While the Zoo could not provide actual funding themselves, they did offer to have their grant person write a grant for us to get spay/neuter funding.

The City Council person who has the Zoo as part of his district also offered to provide $2,000 from his discretionary funds to fund the project.

I address working with Councilmen more in another post, but I would definitely recommend approaching City Council members, especially members whose district you have sterilized cats in. Show them your statistics and how many cats you have helped and ask the caretakers in these areas who are their constituents to write in asking for support.

It sounds like you are doing this on your own. I would encourage you to incorporate as a 501c3 non-profit. This will allow you to get tax-deductible donations and begin soliciting donations. For information on starting a non profit, read Starting A Non-Profit Organization to Help the Animals (pdf).

Saving money:

Try to save money in other areas you may be spending money such as feeding and sheltering feral cats. Approach grocery and pet stores asking them to give you broken bags of cat food. Ask the Eagle Scouts to build cat shelters. The money you save on other areas can be put into spay/neuter.

Do you have a vet tech or vet school near you?
Oftentimes these schools can offer free surgeries as long as students are involved in the process because it is good hands on learning for them. Our vet tech school locally allows us to hold our monthly clinics in their building and their students participate in the program for experience.

Do you have discounts worked out with your vets for spay/neuter? Since you are in Oregon, I would recommend contacting the Oregon Neutermobile (which does accept feral cats).

Finding funding for a mobile spay/neuter van

Question from Katie:

Thank goodness you are having this discussion. I was just talking to someone today who is trying to help raise funds for a mobile spay/neuter clinic that will reach some of the rural areas in our state. The problem is "funding". They will need $30,000 in order to get the program off the ground and now I am hearing that although they had hopes of this starting in Spring 2004, it now looks closer to Fall 2004. That is 6 months that we could really use to help curb the overpopulation issue.

Response from Aimee:

I would definitely begin by reading Paul Berry's analysis of successful mobile vans and how they are financially stable and also SPAY USA's booklet profiling different mobile vans with their budgets, funding sources, and start up costs. Unfortunately, there are too many mobile vans sitting in parking lots because people couldn't get the funding and we don't want to see that happen to you.

What I love about the SPAY USA profiles is that you see quite the range in mobiles - from top of the line 30 feet vans to converted school buses or RVs. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when there are already good models to learn from.

After reading these profiles, I would talk to some of these programs. Contact information is provided in the book. I know that the Oregon Neutermobile folks are also very willing to share their experiences and they were in a very similar situation trying to get funding. Now they are now up and running doing surgeries.

Determining your fundraising strategy depends somewhat on what the $30,000 is for. Do you already have the van and the funding needed is for supplies and operational expenses or is this amount needed towards the purchase of the van?

If you are still trying to pay for some of the van, consider asking donors to sponsor the cages inside the van. You can have their name engraved and on a plate on the cage door and have different size sponsorships for the different cage sizes. You can also ask businesses to sponsor the vehicle and have their name and logo on the outside. SNAP in TX had the Houston Rockets agree to be a sponsor so their logo was featured prominently on the outside.

If you are looking for ways to offset the cost of surgeries for low-income persons in cities, you may want to consider what Emancipet in Austin, TX has done. They operate a mobile van 6 days a week that travels around Austin and surrounding areas. The City of Austin sponsors surgeries one day a week for low-income residents of Austin. An animal organization in a nearby community pays the cost of surgery so the public only has to pay when Emancipet comes to their community.

Hopefully the money will be able to be raised quickly to get the van on the road, but if it isn't, that doesn't mean you can't do surgeries in the meantime. You can always work to do MASH clinics where you set up in high school auditoriums or VFW halls and bring in the supplies you need. The local spay/neuter program I coordinate has been done successfully in a high school auditorium and still done safely, sterile, and professionally. So don't be deterred…get spaying!

Targeting programs to low income

Question from Susan:

Our group is in receipt of an $8,000 grant, but I am still wrestling with how to administer the program. I have tried to talk with a couple of other groups who have spay/neuter programs, but have not had much success. Our target audience is a low cost program for the low income and elderly, so a straight voucher program is not a viable option right now although I certainly want to get one in place as our next venture. We already have agreements in place with our vets regarding prices for spay/neuter for rescue and adoption animals, but I would not think that price would be the same for animals that are not part of our program. Can you tell me how most groups are doing this when the target audience is-low income and elderly on fixed incomes? How about co-payments and income verification? Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

Response from Aimee:

The fact that you have money already is great! You're off to a good start. And the fact that you are targeting your program to those who could not otherwise afford it is also great news.

It is good to talk with other programs and learn from their successes, but it is also important to do some research on your own community.

Begin by looking at your community's demographics. Where are the areas with the lowest income and highest population of senior citizens? You can find all sorts of demographic information at or by contacting your City government.

Do you notice any trends in areas? Are there pockets of low-income areas? Are these areas animal control sees a lot of strays or your rescue gets a lot of calls for help?

The monthly spay/neuter clinic for cats that I coordinate also targets low-income areas. We have found that most of our clients do not have reliable transportation and this is one of the biggest obstacles to them getting their pets fixed. Even if we had a free program, if it is on the other side of town, they would not be able to access it.

So it is important not only to make a program affordable, but accessible.

Look at the existing services. Are there already spay/neuter clinics doing low cost surgeries? If so, are they at capacity? Where are they located? Are there any vet clinics near low-income areas that are partnering with you currently for your rescue animals?

If any of these exist, I would start by contacting them and trying to build a partnership. If none exist, then you will need to create your own.

You may find it helpful to look at a .pdf document that Karen Green and I wrote profiling 9 successful spay/neuter models, covering MASH clinics, a transportation van to a fixed clinic, a mobile van, and more.

Three in particular that may be of interest to you are the New Hampshire model which is targeted to low-income individuals, the Humane Alliance model which offers transportation to and from a fixed clinic site, and the local MASH cat spay/neuter clinic I coordinate, which offers pick up and drop off of cats from the clinic. Our vets actually volunteer their time once a month at one site and we bring the cats to them so our costs are incredibly low. It is volunteer intensive however.

As far as screening criteria, the easiest way to do this is to use federal poverty guidelines and programs such as Medicaid. These requirements are already spelled out. You can partner with local social service agencies to promote your services to their clients and also with the Housing Authority to reach out to people in government housing. Our local Housing Authority included our flyers in rent checks so we incurred no mailing or folding costs. Not only may these agencies be able to identify clients who need your services, they may have transportation systems already in place.

However, there are some people who may be above federal guidelines but still can't afford to have their animals fixed. You may want to offer a sliding scale or asking them to pay whatever they can afford and then subsidizing the cost through fundraising efforts or perhaps partnering with the City to sponsor a day of surgeries for certain neighborhoods. The local spay/neuter program I am involved with uses a map outlining low-income areas determined by the City using income levels. These are above federal guidelines but still considered low-income.

Because $8,000 can go quickly, it is important to make sure that whatever you do uses your money as efficiently as possible.

Showing neuter before adoption saves money and lives

Question from a member:

We have two shelters in the community that do not do neuter before adoption- one is the animal control shelter and the other is a larger non-profit that does not seem to understand how important it is. Any thoughts on getting them on board with this?

Response from Aimee:

To me, this is one of the most important, and necessary, steps animal groups can take. If animal groups are not neutering before adoption, we are shooting themselves in the foot by putting fertile animals out there to reproduce and end up back in our shelters. And how can we convince people to spay/neuter their own pets when we are not even doing it with animals we adopt out?

The justification for not doing this in many shelters is that they don't have the money. But neuter before adoption saves money.

If I were trying to convince a shelter to do neuter before adoption, I would talk in dollars and sense.

There are some great figures that are available on our website and in past forums.

In the following forum with Peter Marsh, he says: On average, each intact dog costs taxpayers about $35 in animal control expenses, compared to about $12 for a sterilized dog.

The cumulative costs and expenses on the New Hampshire program is further detailed in an interview with Peter Marsh. "During the first seven years of our neutering programs, 37,210 fewer cats and dogs entered New Hampshire shelters than in the seven years before that. At an average cost of $105 to impound and shelter each animal, the savings on that alone totaled $3,907,050. And the programs have spent only $1,236,817. So every dollar spent on the program its first seven years has saved $3.15 in reduced impoundment costs so far."

The total yearly cost of the New Hampshire low-income program has been less than 15 cents per resident. Taking into account the low poverty rate here and the modest cost of living, comparable programs could be established in any part of the country for about 30 cents per person each year.

Animal control, impoundment, and sheltering expenses cost taxpayers about $3 per person every year, so a targeted neutering program can be established by increasing the local animal control budget by about 10 percent or by reallocating a small fraction of the money now spent on impounding and sheltering."

A 1998 study by John Wenstrup estimated that the average impound and shelter cost was actually $176, so even more money could be saved using this figure.

There is also a 10-year study (pdf) done by Orange County Animal Services after implementing a feral cat trap-neuter-return program that shows reductions in impounds, and nuisance complaints, and major cost savings.

These are so powerful because it is directly relating how spay/neuter saves lives and money.

But a lot of municipalities or shelters will argue that they don't have the money necessary NOW to implement the programs.

There are many creative ways to develop a program now. Locally, my dog warden was not doing neuter before adoption. He was giving out vouchers - a good step - but only 37% of them were being redeemed. However, he was budgeting $25,000 for these vouchers.

Our local coalition suggested an alternative: the money spent on vouchers be used to contract with the humane society, who would fix all adopted dogs before the dogs went to their new homes, guaranteeing 100% compliance.

The humane society would also take adoptable animals he chooses from his euthanasia list. The Humane Society is currently taking about 10 a week and then calls other rescue groups to see if they have space to take some of them as well. Over 500 animals in 2002 found new homes through this program. Not only did this save the dog warden the cost of euthanasia and disposal, it also provided good PR. And most importantly, it benefited the animals!

Another animal control in Ohio looked at their budget and realized that if they increased their adoption fees (which were very low in the $20 range), the increased revenue could pay to hire a vet to sterilize their dogs on site before adoption.

The point of these stories is that you may be able to look at animal services existing budget to find a creative way of doing this that costs no additional money.

I truly believe if there is a will, there is a way. When we approached our local vet community about helping out with a cat spay/neuter program, nay sayers told us there was no way the vets would be supportive. Not only did the local Vet Association support it, we had 31 vets from 17 different clinics donating their time to spay/neuter 808 cats last year! Free! We do have costs associated with providing supplies, but our veterinarians and techs are all volunteers.

So, if you develop a program and build a strong case, anything is possible.

How to approach public officials for funding

Question from Penny:

How do you even begin to talk to public officials about funding for spay/neuter? We don't have any idea on who to even approach or what to say.

Response from Aimee:

The best advice I can give for talking to any group, whether City Council, the Health Department, your local animal control, or the public is to know your audience and tailor your message to their needs.

You may have the greatest program in the world that will save thousands of animals, but not get funded. And the reason may not be because your program wasn't good, but because you didn't show how it fit the needs of your audience.

City Council probably won't be as moved about hearing how many animals are dying and how something needs to be done as someone from your shelter who feels as strongly about the issue as you do. It's not that City Council doesn't care - it's just not a big priority to them as it is to us. But they will care about hearing from their constituents who vote for them. Or how it can get them good PR and coverage. Or how it can reduce the number of complaint calls they are getting on stray animals from their constituents.

Before going into a meeting, I try to think about what the biggest constraints the person I am meeting with faces, and also the biggest strengths they can bring to the table. If I am meeting with the Health Dept for instance, my list might look like this:

Duty to protect public from diseases including rabies
Concerned about Public health and reducing risks
Complaint driven

Solution driven
Changes discussion from strictly animal welfare to community health and safety;
Known generally as coalition builder for community;
By being a governmental agency, is looked on as a neutral third party by the public;
Connected to political structure in most cases.

So when I enter the meeting to ask for funding for a feral cat TNR program, I am going to focus on public health and safety. I am going to talk about how a TNR program can create a rabies buffer because each cat will get a rabies shot, how sick cats will be removed from the colonies, that sterilization will help reduce spraying, fighting and the risk of spreading feline diseases, how reducing the population will help reduce complaints and public health risks.

I am not going to concentrate on how feral cats deserve love and respect too. I may feel this way very strongly but it probably isn't going resonate with my audience as strongly.

Now, you may have a contact who knows the Health Department director and tells you she is very animal friendly and would respond to that message. If that is the case, then use that message. That is part of knowing your audience.

If you get the health department on your side, you may be able to get funding directly from them or use their endorsement to approach the City or county for funding. It does help to do some advance research like I mentioned in an earlier post about what kinds of funding exist within your City or County such as community block grant funding or council discretionary funds, but don't limit yourself. You may find that there is funding that you didn't know about. When the Bridgeport Cat group met with their Health Department, they didn't know that there were discretionary funds within the Health Department. The Director offered these funds to them and even offered to write the proposal for them!

Before you go into any meeting, see if anyone in your group knows the person you are meeting with. If someone has worked on a Councilman's campaign or given money, or knows them from the Country Club, that is always a big help because you have established a personal connection. It is not necessary to have this personal connection, but it does help.

If you don't have a personal connection, and don't know the best person to meet with, find out the chain of command and who is the person who can make decisions about your proposal (or at least influence the person who does). A large reason for our local success in getting a spay/neuter program funded by City Council was because one of our volunteers is very well connected in the community and knew Council members. He was able to identify one who was very animal friendly and presented our proposal to her. She was then able to convince her council colleagues to support our efforts.

So in closing, when meeting with public officials, be solution driven, keep emotion out of the presentation, and show how it will meet their needs and be a benefit to them. And hopefully that funding will come!

Allocating spay/neuters when funds are limited

Question from Wendy:

We have a low-cost spay/neuter program for people in the community who have financial need. Also, a few of our members have started TNRing feral cats and taking in their kittens to tame and adopt out. Our group is subsidizing spay/neuter for these animals, too. Our budget for spay/neuter is modest and we are finding that a large percentage of the money in this fund is going to the members for spay/neuter of feral cats and kittens (and spay/neuter for their other foster animals) to the point where it is limiting the amount of money we have available to the public for spay/neuter of both their tame pets or any feral cats they may be dealing with.

Should we limit the amount of spay/neuter certificates we give to our members for their work and leave the majority of money for the public? For instance, 20% of the spay/neuter fund goes to members and 80% goes to public? I feel that we should allocate the majority of our spay/neuter fund to the public until we have enough money to do both comfortably but I'm not sure this is right. I don't want to alienate our members who are helping feral cats. We want to do both but there is just not enough money to go around for everybody so I'm wondering what to prioritize and how to handle this.

Response from Aimee:

I would begin by looking at your mission. Everything you do should be derived from your mission. Why was this fund established? Was it to help a certain segment of the public such as low-income? Is it intended for feral cats?

If it is not intended for feral cats, then I would not allow that funding go towards their spay/neuter. However, that doesn't mean you should just tell your members that they can no longer use this fund as that could create hard feelings. I would consider setting up a separate fund.

What about setting up two funds - one for feral cats and one for owned low-income. Both the public and your members could use the feral cat fund and you could hold fundraisers and solicit grants specifically for this fund.

You don't want your members to feel that their efforts to sterilize and social the feral cats are unappreciated or that they could get more help by just having a friend or family member bring in the cats as a member of the public. But if the fund runs out of money because it is being overused, then no one is helped.

Why not ask some of the members if they would be willing to help with fundraising for these funds? The more money in the funds, the more cats can be helped. Perhaps you could set up a feral cat committee that would develop fundraising ideas as well as other needs - help getting food donated for caretakers, help building shelters, or finding new fosters to place adoptable kittens from feral colonies.

Since lack of funding is a problem, I would concentrate on finding ways to increase the amount of money available in your fund. Look at some of the ideas we have discussed this week - grants, public funding, and asking donors to support the spay/neuter funds.

I would also do a little research. I don't know if you are a shelter or not, but I would ask the local animal control and humane society if they are noticing any trends in the types of animals entering their shelters. Are they seeing a lot of feral cats? a lot of large dogs? a lot of puppies/kittens?

Then I would look at what type of requests for spay/neuter assistance you are receiving - mostly dogs? pediatric? from low-income persons? the general public? feral cats?

This may help you decide where to focus your efforts and provide a good basis to show people WHY you are focusing resources in a particular area.

Are there any other programs in town that you may be able to work with to combine resources? In my community, three animal groups recently received grant funding for specific spay/neuter programs. One group got funding for TNR in trailer parks, another for helping strays and low-income, and another for helping low-income and feral cats in designated low-income areas. In order to stretch our resources the farthest, the groups refer calls to each other. If a group who can fund low-income anywhere gets a call about a trailer park, they refer to the group helping the trailer park so that they can put their resources to helping more people outside the trailer parks.

Involving your members in developing a solution will make them feel an important part of the process rather than alienated, and will also help them see what the challenges are with the program. Evaluating the program and involving your members in the discussion can lead to its long-term success by ensuring that it doesn't run out of money and continues to grow.

Getting vets to participate in spay days

Question from Jenny:

Do you have suggestions for getting vets to do special spay days? We get a standard discount from several clinics, but have been wondering how we might be able to get the vets to give a bit more without making them feel pressured or unappreciated. Any suggestions?

Response from Aimee:

I would begin by putting some of your thoughts on paper - how you envision the spay days working, how many animals, will it include dogs and cats, how many of them, how much it would cost, would you provide the supplies and location and only need vets or would you be asking vets to bring their own supplies, etc.

You don't need all of the answers now, but should get a rough idea.

Next, I would schedule a meeting with a few of the vets that you already have a good relationship with and that have a good reputation in the vet community. Take them to lunch and tell them what you are thinking of and get their opinion.

They will be able to give feedback on what they think is possible and if you get them on your side, they can be influential in getting other vets to participate. Ask them what they think vets might enjoy in return for helping. Perhaps they would like a certificate to hang in their office, mention in the media or animal groups newsletters, or a gift certificate.

That is exactly what we did when putting together our local spay/neuter program. We met with a few vets we knew and they gave us the following feedback:

Most vets probably wouldn't want the cats brought to their clinics because they were already so busy and didn't want to have to work in discounted or free surgeries, displacing paying customers.
Most vets would not want a bunch of feral cats in their clinics that could put their staff at risk and had an unknown medical history.
It was important to focus on low-income and on stray cats. They all were receiving many calls asking their clinics to take in strays to adopt and from people needing help getting strays fixed. They welcomed having a program they could refer them to.
We may not get participation from all of the vets but those that did would be dedicated and help multiple times.
We trusted these vets and knew they had a good sense of the other vets. After talking with them, we put together a full proposal and ran it by them again for their feedback.

After we felt it was ready to go, we had them take it to the local Veterinary Association meeting and present it to their colleagues. It was very helpful to have their support in getting their fellow vets on board.

The Vet Association did endorse our program and vets do volunteer their time once a month to spay/neuter cats. Everything our few panel of vets had recommended proved to be true. There were many vets who didn't participate but those who do are very dedicated. And we did get a bigger turnout that hoped - 31 total vets with many volunteering at our monthly spay days multiple times! They like coming to a set location once a month and just being able to come in and leave when done without having to worry about the details of bringing their own supplies, worrying about drug logs, cleaning instruments, etc. We take care of all of that. They also said it is a nice social thing because they don't get to see each other that often.

Each community and its vets may be different. I am helping a humane society in the next county over establish a MASH clinic and the vet they are working with prefers to do the surgeries in his own clinic. He is shutting down one day a week to do the surgeries for them and will bill them only the cost of supplies used - nothing for his time, expertise, or staff time.

But all vets will want a few standard things:

Make sure when dealing with them that you are always professional, courteous, and conscious of their restrictions and that they are running a business and have to make a living

A Good plan:
Cover all your bases and come to them with the details all in order. Do your research to make sure that you have figured out recovery, what to do for emergencies, who will get the supplies, etc so that the vets are not left to worry about the details or feel that you are not a good organization to be involved with

Don't burn them out:
If they are willing to work with you as volunteers or at a reduced rate, set up a schedule with them in advance and don't over do it where you try to do too many spay days and overwhelm the vets you do have.

Share the success of the spay days with them. Send them a note thanking them for participating and telling them how many animals were sterilized. Share some of the stories of people that were helped at the spay day. We received thank you letters from some of the people we helped and forwarded copies to our participating vets.

Even though your vets may not ask for credit, it is still good to reward them. We threw a party for our vets and gave them all small gift certificates for dinner. We also wrote a thank you letter to the Vet Association newsletter and had our City Council write a letter to all the vets thanking them for their service. They all said it wasn't necessary but they all appreciated it.

Knowing what kind of spay/neuter program to start

Question from Jess:

How do you decide what kind of program to do? We'd love to have a mobile van or a high volume clinic but don't even know where to start to know if this is the best option for our community.

Response from Aimee:

It is good that you are asking this question before you start. Too many groups rush in and don't plan so their program is not as effective as it could be. Spay/neuter is crucial to our efforts. But if we are just doing spay/neuter randomly and subsidizing surgeries that would have already been done, we are wasting our time and our resources.

In fact, Peter Marsh says that for every $1.00 we spend, we are wasting $0.75 if we are not targeting our efforts.

You may notice that I quote Peter Marsh a lot. It is because he has done his homework to know what works and what doesn't. Anybody who has been part of a spay/neuter program that reduced their state euthanasia rate by 70% is pretty qualified in my book!

So you need to target where you are going to have the greatest impact.

A good place to start is an assessment of your community. The mere word may strike fear into many, but it doesn't have to be intimidating. I have written a manual called "Community assessment and planning for the humane community" (pdf) that provides a step by step guide to find out what programs your community offers and what gaps still need to be addressed.

Part of the booklet talks about looking at what services already exist in your community. There is no point in starting another spay/neuter clinic if you already have 5 that aren't running at capacity. It would be more efficient to talk with them and figure out why they aren't at capacity. Is it that people are not showing up? or that the clinic is not accessible to people without transportation? or that people don't know about it?

After you figure out what you already have, then you can figure out what you need. If it is that low-income persons have no transportation and the clinics are too far away, then you may want to look into operating a transportation van in conjunction with a clinic. Or if people don't know about the clinic, you may want to help with a marketing campaign.

Or, you may find that none of the existing clinics will accept feral cats for surgery. You could work to get the clinics to accept ferals or start your own program.

It is also important to look at what your community can handle. As was mentioned during the forum week on opening a fixed clinic, if your community doesn't have at least 250,000 people, you probably can't support a fixed high volume clinic. If you only have 2 vets in your community you may not be able to do a MASH clinic where 6 vets volunteer their time once a month.

Don't just assume you know what your community needs based on anecdotal evidence or unfounded beliefs. When we were putting together our local spay/neuter program we decided it would be good to put out our flies in English and Spanish. We were so proud of ourselves for thinking of this and finding a translator to do this. What we hadn't done was research how many Spanish people there were in our community. There were only 4% in our target area - there were more Asians than Spanish but we never thought of reaching out to Asians!

Figuring out what resources already exist, what is lacking, and who needs the services the most will ensure your program is successful and truly making an impact.

Sample programs receiving public funding

Comment from Aimee:

For the last day of my forum I wanted to share some additional ideas on finding public funding for spay/neuter programs and profile some successful model programs.

License surcharges:
New Hampshire
The state of New Hampshire was one of the first to try this, by adding a $2 surcharge onto their dog license fees. This funded two programs:

Shelter adopters' program: New Hampshire residents who adopt a cat or dog from a local shelter can have the animal sterilized for a fee of $30, which covers the cost of surgery and all post-surgical care, such as suture removal. The program pays the rest of the neutering cost. The pet caretaker remains responsible for all other costs, such as any necessary pre-surgical immunizations and the pre-surgical examination.

Low-income program: This program is available to all New Hampshire cat or dog caretakers who are eligible for Medicaid or Food Stamps or one of five other public assistance programs. The only cost to them is a $15 co-payment for the sterilization. The program pays the rest of the veterinarian's fee for the surgery and related expenses, including any necessary pre-surgical immunizations.

Program Design: All services are provided by licensed veterinarians in their own hospitals and clinics. Vets who participate in the program agree to accept a 20% reduction of their customary neutering fee. About three-quarters of all the state's veterinarians have joined the program. The State Veterinarian sets a maximum neutering fee each year based on the customary fees of all the veterinarians who participate in the program. In 2001, these caps ranged from $48 to sterilize a male cat to $130.40 for a female dog over 75 pounds.

Revenue: All funding for the program is derived from a $2 surcharge on dog licenses. About 130,000 dogs are licensed in the state each year, generating revenue of about $260,000. These funds are maintained by the State Treasurer in a separate account that is dedicated for the sole use of the program.

Program Statistics: Over the first seven years, 29,658 surgeries were performed through the program at a cost of $1,236,817. The average subsidy paid by the program in FY '01 was $55.29.

How to do something similar in your community:
Decide if you want this done by county or statewide. If you decide to try this on a County-by-County level, contact the County Commissioners to find who oversees licensing. It may be the Commissioners, the Auditor, or Treasurer. Develop a program and present it to them with as much detail as you have including cost savings, statistics, projections, and benefits. It is helpful to have the support of animal control. If you are going on a statewide level, you will most likely need to get the Legislature to pass the necessary legislation as they did in New Hampshire.

Voluntary license check off
Maricopa County, Arizona
Maricopa County, Arizona has added a simple line at the bottom of its dog license form that says "I would like to give a voluntary donation of $X to save more pets lives". This is a voluntary donation and the amount is left open so that people can decide how much they would like to give. This raises $10,000 a month for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control and helps fund programs that their budget does not cover including such things as treatment for sick or injured animals and spay/neuter clinics for feral cats.

How to do something similar in your community:
Contact the Department responsible for overseeing licensing in your community and schedule a meeting with the Director. If you don't know which department this is, call your County Commissioners. Do some advance research to know how many licenses are sold, what kind of program you want, how it would work, and what fund the money would go in.

You will need to decide who will administer the funds. In Maricopa County, the funds are used to bolster Animal Care and Control programs that are not funded by the County. In Toledo, Ohio, it is currently being proposed that the funds would go to the local Humane Society who would oversee a low-income spay/neuter program.

It is important to make sure that this money is earmarked specifically for the programs you intend it for and that it is not put in a general fund.

For more information: www.maricopa.pets/gov

State Tax Check Off
The state of Colorado is the first state to use the voluntary state tax check off for pets. It has been used in other states for various issues including wildlife.

The Pet Overpopulation Fund was established by Colorado statute. The Fund exists to educate the public about the importance of controlling pet overpopulation and to work with animal shelters, veterinarians and local communities to curb pet overpopulation in Colorado, ultimately ending the need for animal euthanasia due to unwanted pet births. The fund subsidizes sterilizations for Colorado's pets by providing grants that support collaborative efforts between local veterinarians and animal care and control agencies statewide.

Grants for educational programs and for subsidizing spay/neuter services are made possible primarily by donations from citizens checking off a box on their state income tax returns.

The Fund has seven Board members representing different humane organizations that serve without compensation for a period of two or three years and donate their time in support of the Fund's cause and decide how the grants will be distributed. They are appointed by the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture.

As of May 31, 2003, 3,580 surgeries have been preformed at a cost of $112,164. These funds have been spent in underserved areas in Colorado using private veterinary clinics and nonprofit shelters. The coalition estimates 60 percent of these sterilizations have been performed on cats and 40 percent on dogs at an average cost of $33.57. Fifty-six percent of funds have been expended with 58% of the grant year completed.

In 2002, the Fund awarded a total of $200,244 to 25 groups.
How to do something similar in your community:
The state Legislature would need to pass legislation creating a special fund for the monies and setting requirements for the program.

The state of Louisiana is working to become the second state with this check off.

More information.

City governments sponsoring a day of surgeries
Austin, Texas
The City of Austin sponsors one day each week for free spay/neuter surgeries and rabies vaccines for low-income residents. A mobile van operated by non-profit Emancipet performs the surgeries at a cost of $30 for a dog spay, $25 dog neuter, $20 cat spay, and $15 cat neuter. The mobile van does between 25-40 animals per day.

How to do something similar in your community:
Develop a plan with a local spay/neuter program. This could be a mobile van, an agreement with local veterinarians, or a MASH/fixed clinic. Make sure to include a cost per surgery, a total number of surgeries, and stress that this is a public service for low-income residents who could not afford this service otherwise. Approach your City Council or your County Commissioners and ask them to consider sponsoring one day a week or even a month.

More model programs getting funding for spay/neuter

Comment from Aimee:

Here are a few more model programs receiving public funding for spay/neuter. Some of them may seem like they would take a lot of work but they can be done. I always find it helpful to look at what other communities have done, and learn from them. Talk to them about what worked and what didn't. You can benefit from their lessons learned and also show your community that it has been done elsewhere so there is a proven track record.

Community block grant funding and council discretionary funds
Toledo, OH and Spartanburg, SC
A local coalition of animal groups in Toledo, Ohio started a cat spay/neuter program called Operation FELIX. This program is geared towards low-income persons and feral cat colonies in low-income census tracts.

FELIX applied for community development block grant funding (CDBG), which is a federal HUD grant that communities administer locally. CDBG funding is geared towards helping low-income persons and areas. FELIX was able to get $15,000 from this funding because the program targeted only low-income census areas and set a goal of helping 200 low-income households and sterilizing 800 cats (half owned and half unowned)

FELIX also received city council discretionary funds. Each City Council person had a small amount of funding to give to select projects. FELIX was able to get multiple council members to give a few thousand each and received $10,000 for spay/neuter efforts in target areas.

Animal Allies in Spartanburg, SC gathered information from the Toledo program and approached their City about block grant funding. In 2003 they were awarded $11,000 for a low-income spay/neuter program.

How to do something similar in your community:

Find out who appropriates the CDBG funding in your community. In Toledo it is the Dept of Neighborhoods and City Council/Mayor approves the funding requests.
Find out if there are council discretionary funds available. If so, approach council members who are animal friendly or who you might have a connection with. CDBG funds are getting harder to come by due to budget cuts, so this may be an alternative.
Once you find out who appropriates the funding, find out what the process is for submitting applications. Request an application be sent to you. They may say that animal groups do not qualify, but remember that this is a HUMAN benefit that you are providing (public safety, health, a community issue).
Make sure you pay attention to deadlines, since if you miss them you have to wait another year to apply.
Before starting, make sure that your group is prepared to do a lot of paperwork in the beginning and keep very accurate, updated records. There is a monthly reporting requirement and you need to have different policies written up on your program. There may also be requirements for trainings and to be compliant with some of their policies/procedures. If you are not prepared to do this and think you could become overwhelmed, do not apply for this funding.
Add a penny tax
Marion County, FL
Marion County added on a penny in sales tax for two years for a capital improvement plan for the County that would help the jail, library, court system, and the expansion of the Marion County Animal Center, doubling the kennel size from 36 to 72 and connected to the adoption wing. The commissioners had already funded one Neuter Scooter Mobile spay/neuter unit and are looking to purchase a second van.

How to do something similar in your community:
This is something that the County Commissioners would need to consider doing so you would need to contact them with a proposal and good statistics.

Funding from the County's general fund:
Jacksonville, FL

First Coast No More Homeless Pets submitted a Proposal for a spay/neuter program to the City of Jacksonville and received $250,000 in funding for one year of a no cost program for low-income people.

Each year the program will be reviewed and it is hoped money will be allocated in the budget to continue the program. The program is a collaboration between the City, First Coast NMHP, and the Jacksonville Veterinary Medical Association.

Twelve vet hospitals participate in the program that is geared towards low-income persons. The hospitals do the qualification screening. The program expects to do 3,200 surgeries in 2003.

First Coast No More Homeless Pets also does a lot of educational outreach with flyers, billboards, radio ads, and booths at events to promote the general message of spay/neuter and to promote this program.

How to do something similar in your community:
Develop a plan - will it be a mobile van, partnership with local vet hospitals, or a MASH clinic? It is helpful to get veterinary support for your efforts and the endorsement of the local Vet Association.

Once you have an idea of what kind of program you want to do, you need to develop a budget, goals, and the details of the program. Meet with the County Commissioners to discuss the benefits and submit your proposal to them.

Pet friendly license plates
Numerous states
Pet friendly specialty license plates that fund spay/neuter are becoming more and more common. There are now 22 states with such plates and the amount of money raised can be anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. There are many different ways of developing pet friendly plates so it is recommended to do your own research.

Prevent a Litter Coalition (PaLC) is working to research and analyze Animal Friendly License Plate programs around the country with the purpose of making best practice recommendations for the programs. Their website also serves as a central information resource and collaborative forum for those interested in reviewing the existing programs and making best practice decisions for their own states.

How to do something similar in your community:
Visit the PaLC website and review the legislation from other states. Find the program that fits what you want to do and contact the group in that state responsible for getting the plate passed. Talk with them to learn what worked and what didn't so you can learn from their experience.

Once you have done your homework, develop your program and approach the Legislature about introducing a pet friendly license plate bill in your state.

Free or low-cost ideas for promoting spay/neuter

Comment from Aimee:

Some of you asked about different ways to get the word out on spay/neuter so I thought I would share a few free and low-cost ideas.

In-kind donations:
While in-kind donations are not actual monetary donations, they can be as good as dollars with the amount of public awareness they can create for spay/neuter and responsible pet care.
Utility bill inserts:
Contact your local water, electric, and gas companies to ask about including an insert in with the bills. Many will actually do the folding and stuffing for you if you provide the copies.

Housing Authority rent check mailings:
Contact your local Housing Authority to ask if you can include an insert in with rent checks being mailed to government-subsidized housing. Oftentimes the Housing Authority will do the folding and stuffing if you provide the copies.
A lot of rental properties will do the same. We have gotten trailer parks to put out spay/neuter fliers for us as well as apartment complexes.
Putting in licensing renewal forms with tax bills:
The County Treasurer in Allegheny County, PA put a flier in tax bills and went from 44,000 licenses sold to 100,000 the next year. Imagine if now they added on a $2 surcharge to fund spay/neuter! They also created a "collar ID" card (a play on "caller ID") that not only encourages pet owners to license their animals, but raises awareness of areas shelters and gives their phone numbers. The Collar ID card was inserted into dog license renewal forms.
Mailings to Dog license list:
In many areas the dog license list is available from the County at no cost to non-profits. Check with your county to see if this list is available to mail to with messages of spay/neuter, responsible pet care, or adopting a second pet.
Restaurant placemats:
Some restaurants have paper placements with fun children's games. Why not have them be about spay/neuter and responsible pet care with mazes, coloring pages, or additional problems on how many puppies one dog can have?

Movie Theatre popcorn bags advertising:
One animal group does this already with an adoption message. This could be used to promote spay/neuter as well by getting a message on the side of the popcorn bags. Why not make the bags educational instead of just showing a picture of popcorn?

Attaching cards to the suckers that banks give away:
Print up some cards that say, "lick pet overpopulation" and list spay/neuter clinics in your community or reasons for spay/neuter.

Radio partnerships:
No More Homeless Pets in Utah just shared this idea with me and I have to pass it along because it is so clever! A local radio station plays the game of Pyramid, which is the game where people give each other clues to guess specific words. The twist is that the game is all about spay/neuter.

A radio DJ also recently dressed up as a feral cat and drove around town calling into the station giving clues of where he was at (such as in what alley). The first person to find him won a trip to Mexico, donated by the station. What a great way to educate people about feral cat issues while making it fun and worthwhile! These were free, but reached a large listening audience.

These are just a few samples of what can be done when you get creative and start looking at new ways for funding and to reach the public.
Kindness to animals builds a better world for all of us.