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VOL. 128 | NO. 223 | Thursday, November 14, 2013

Humane Aid

Mobile unit would put dent in homeless animal numbers

ERINN FIGG | Special to The Daily News

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The Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County wants to take its spay and neutering services to the streets, but the nonprofit organization needs the help of local businesses to get the initiative rolling.

Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County Executive Director Alexis Amorose, with Eureka and Huck, is working to raise funds to put a mobile spay and neuter unit on the streets in Memphis. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating injured and abused animals, the group is raising funds to put a mobile spay and neuter unit (MSNU) in motion in Memphis. The wheeled 34-foot-long, 8-foot-wide trailer would be outfitted with two surgical tables, a folding prep table, custom-built wall kennels and all necessary surgical equipment and supplies.

The fundraising campaign will allow businesses and individuals to not only make an impact on the welfare of the city’s animals, but also to improve conditions in Memphis as a whole.

“What people really need to know is that a mobile spay and neuter unit will make Memphis better all around,” said Executive Director Alexis Amorose. “It’s part of an ongoing collective effort on all of our parts to improve our city’s neighborhoods.”

She estimates that by taking the mobile unit on the road to low-income neighborhoods, the Humane Society could spay and neuter up to 6,000 animals per year, resulting in a significant dent in the city’s homeless animal population.

According to Memphis Animal Services, out of the 12,808 animals that entered the Memphis Animal Shelter last year, 3,328 were adopted out, returned to owners or transferred to another shelter. The remaining 8,859 animals were euthanized – a euthanasia rate of 69 percent.

One important key to lowering the staggering statistic is to put accessible and affordable prevention measures in place, Amorose said.

“Ultimately this isn’t about saving the lives of animals. It’s about saying we want to stop the flow before it gets to our door.”

In 2010, the Memphis City Council passed a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance in an attempt to rein in the city’s animal overpopulation problem. However, more than 26 percent of the Memphis population lives below the poverty line. And although spaying and neutering is the best way to keep an animal population in check, many Memphians can’t afford the operation, which can cost anywhere from $150 to $300 at a veterinarian’s office. In addition, research by national animal welfare organizations shows that a primary reason people don’t spay and neuter their pets is a lack of transportation.

A mobile unit would solve this problem by bringing the services directly to Memphis neighborhoods, Amorose said. The Humane Society also helps with the surgery costs. The organization’s current Project Stop offers low-cost and free spay/neuter and vaccination services to income-qualifying pet owners, usually requiring a copayment of whatever the pet owner can afford. And any pet owner – no income qualification required – can visit the Humane Society at 935 Farm Road, purchase a $50 spay/neuter voucher and schedule an appointment with one of seven participating animal hospitals and clinics in the area.

“Even though we’re not conveniently located, we have a four- to five-month waiting list for our Project Stop surgeries, so we have no doubt that the demand for a mobile unit will be there, especially with targeted outreach through partnerships with churches and neighborhood organizations,” Amorose said.

In preparation for the mobile unit campaign, Amorose and her staff have been studying successful – and not-so-successful – models in other states. In Asheville, N.C., the mobile spay/neuter program reduced the city’s shelter euthanasia rate by 79 percent in 10 years. A Jacksonville, Fla., program resulted in a 37 percent reduction in shelter euthanasia after three years.

Amorose emphasizes that people don’t have to be animal lovers to be invested in the cause. Animal overpopulation affects everyone in the city.

For instance, increasing proactive spay/neuter efforts would lower the tax burden. Taxpayers absorb the brunt of city shelter costs, which are at an all-time high. In 2011, Memphis taxpayers paid $7.6 million to finance the necessary larger facility for Memphis Animal Services, and the department’s annual operating budget is $3.1 million. For every dollar spent on spay/neuter services, $3 is saved in animal sheltering and control costs.

In addition, Amorose uses criminology’s broken-window theory as an example of the domino effect that one undesirable condition in a city can have on other detrimental conditions. Just as an excessive number of broken windows can signal disrepair and neglect and consequently foster more vandalism and crime, so can an overpopulation of stray animals roaming the streets. Monitoring and maintaining well-ordered urban environments can discourage vandalism and its escalation into more serious crime.

“We don’t look at this cause as its own separate entity,” she said. “The animal overpopulation is also related to litter, crime, vandalism – all signs of decline. So it all comes back to the idea of a community coming together to make things better in a self-regenerating process.”

Right now the organization has raised about $300,000 toward its goal of $1 million, which will cover the unit ($200,000) and the first five years of operation costs ($160,000 a year).

Through a tiered donation program, residents can support the campaign on a number of levels. Amorose says one of the best ways for businesses, groups or neighborhood organizations to get involved is through the Sponsor-a-Week Program. With a $5,000 donation, the donor will have the opportunity to provide four days of spay and neuter services, pet vaccinations and humane education in a location of the donor’s choice. The Sponsor-A-Week participant also will receive recognition on the Humane Society’s website, social media outlets and in the monthly newsletters. It’s a great idea for a company’s community service project, Amorose said.

For more information on the campaign and to make a donation, visit the Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County’s website at memphishumane.org/outreach/spay-a-neuter.

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