Question: We have lots of homeless animals, there are large areas with no shelters here…how can our community get a spay/ neuter program started?

Answer: This site will guide you through some of the basic steps that you need to take in order to create a spay neuter program to reduce the number of homeless animals in your community. Since programs have different capacities and are run on different models based on the communities they are serving, we strongly recommend developing your program based on an assessment of the area you’ll be serving, even if you plan to start small and ‘ramp up.’ First we recommend you enjoy this power point by Peter Marsh called “Designing Spay Neuter Programs to Save More Lives”

First, look for other programs in your area. That means programs with regularly scheduled spay neuter services within your area or within transport distance (up to 50 miles) which could take you on as a partner. For some programs, the number of surgeries balances the budget and help keep their doors open, so you may be able to help expand or stabilize an existing program instead of starting a brand new one. Using existing facilities or resources can make your start up easier, faster and is less costly than opening a new clinic.

Then, meet your community! A community assessment, along with communication with local animal shelters and rescue organizations, will help you determine:

  • Find out from animal shelters many homeless kittens and puppies enter the shelter and also how many dogs, cats and are the cats mainly feral cats or a combination
  • Find out from animal shelters where the problems are originating from (the community in general, university housing, targeted low income areas, rural communities, etc) and
  • Find out from social service and census data how many low-income households will likely need your help.
  • Use the information sheet called “Rural program assessment
There are many types of programs and they’re designed to meet the needs of different communities.  If you’re in a community with pro-active ordinances and few homeless adoptable dogs and cats, you may need a program that reaches out to smaller numbers, but if your community has lots of litters of puppies and little awareness of pet overpopulation you will start out needing much higher volume. Please read more at Terms and Concepts of Spay Neuter Programs.

Homeless animals do not fall out of the sky, even if it seems otherwise at times. According to most shelter data, a small percent of the population produce the majority of unwanted dogs and cats. Without understanding who needs help and how to serve them, our programs may not get to the root of the problem.

Homeless pets generally originate from these sources:

  • Low-income (and undereducated) pet owners who cannot afford to get a pet altered in a timely manner.
  • Shelter and rescue organizations which release intact animals back into the community, thereby replenishing the sources of homeless pets.
  • Feral (community) cats.
  • Free-roaming pet cats that are not altered and produce kittens which become stray and feral cats.

There are many different types of programs; the important thing is to find one which will work based on your community assessment along with your assessment of resources including

  • The availability of affordable veterinary services
  • Existing programs within the region that may partner with you and
  • The level of interest that people in the community have in pet sterilization.

Some of these are things you can change (such as community interest and awareness) and some you cannot (such as the number of veterinarians).

Do ordinances work?  Sometimes we hope that new rules will address old problems. Is this an effective way to get where we want to go? Some communities with already existing low-income spay neuter programs have found that spay neuter ordinances increase the number of clients using their programs while reducing the number of litters entering the shelters.  Of course, in order for people to understand the reasons that an ordinance is proposed, educational outreach must include everyone in the community and that means pet care givers, taxpayers and elected officials.  Each of these groups are affected by the problems as well as by the impact of an ordinance. Read more from Oklahoma Spay Network here.

It’s a great idea to start your community education effort while you figure out how your program will run (hint…people don’t place much value in something until they understand the need for it.  Education helps people understand the problem of pet overpopulation and motivates them to pay for spaying or neutering their pet.) 

After gathering information on pet care giving habits, assess the size of the population (of households), their general income level and even the number of people per square mile in the community or county you are serving.

To understand your community, use the site You will bring up a page with a map that looks like this…

QuickFacts includes data for all states and counties and also for cities and towns with more than 25,000 people.  It’s a great site!

Simply click on your state on the map that looks like the one above to bring up a grid that includes basic statistics about your state, including the size of the population, median household income and at the bottom of the page you will even see the number of people per square mile.

The two pull down menus at the top of the grid enable you choose the county or city you are planning to serve. If it does not have your city, go to the bottom of the scroll-down list and find, ‘other places not listed.” Use that space to find information about your city.

When you bring up each menu there will be a yellow bar on the upper right which says:

Want more? Browse data sets for…

BY clicking on that bar you will find a breakdown of statistics.

Look under “People QuickLinks” to find the words economic characteristics to find the percentages of households living at different income levels.

This data set has the number of households broken down by income range and by percentage as well. You add up the groups to see what percentage of your community lives on incomes within the range for your spay neuter program.

Okay, next step…

You have an idea of how many dogs and cats are entering the shelters and also pretty much where they are coming from. You’ve also gathered information on the overall size of your community and have a pretty good idea of how many households cannot become responsible pet owners without some assistance. You’ve learned what local services exist in terms of low-income clinics, veterinarians who will work with you, etc.  Combining these factors will give you an idea of what type of program you need.• Is a local veterinary clinic willing to partner on a weekly or monthly basis?• Are existing humane organizations already running spay neuter programs nearby?

  • If so, do they have unused spaces that your community can fill? Do they have a transport service? Can someone start a transport
  • Also, even if you start out with lower numbers than you anticipate needing, many programs start out using available resources but they plan for growth.
  • If you have no veterinary clinic able to assist you, you will either transport animals to a spay neuter clinic, to a veterinarian in a different community or you will have a mobile spay neuter unit visit your county.  If you are in a rural area, scroll down to “rural programs” on the ‘Start A Program’ menu.
  • Start-up may involve a combination of two or more type of programs. For example, if a clinic is available but cannot provide enough volume, a second program may provide a way to increase the services.

Developing a good spay neuter program requires applying the results of your assessment with an educational outreach while you reach out to everyone from low-income homes to elected officials.

Once you determine what type of program you will use to start you’re well on the way!

Helpful Resources