Despite 45 years of nearly daily warnings to help control the pet population delivered by Bob Barker and Drew Carey on "The Price is Right," millions of dogs and cats in homes around the country have not been spayed or neutered.
Tuesday, Feb. 23, is World Spay Day where pet owners and animal lovers are encouraged to support spay and neuter efforts in their community.
Charles Brown with the Humane Society of Carroll County said spaying and neutering is one of the most vital things a pet owner can do. It is more than just a way to keep animal populations in check, it's also a way to keep the animals healthy.
Females who are spayed can avoid skin infections during the heat cycle and the procedure also prevents uterine cancer, Brown said, while male animals lose the risk of testicular cancer.
Lisa Smith, hospital staff at the Sykesville Veterinary Clinic, a veterinary facility with complete spay and neutering capabilities, said many people don't understand the positive effects spaying and neutering can have, while others believe in harmful myths.
"One of the big misconceptions we see is that it will make the animal fat and lazy," Smith said. "It has no bearing on the weight at all."
Families are also often concerned that their pets will change personalities following the procedure, changing from active friendly companions to lethargic lumps, Smith said. There's nothing to worry about there either — the only change to an animal's behavior, Smith said, is a decreased desire to roam and run off in search of a mate.
Roaming animals are at increased risk of being hit by cars or getting into fights with other animals. According to the Humane Society of the United States, neutered dogs live 18 percent longer than un-neutered canines and spayed dogs live an average of 23 percent longer than unspayed ones.
The optimum time to take a pet in for spaying or neutering is between six months and a year of age. Larger dogs often should wait about a year before coming in for the procedure, Smith said. Even though it's encouraged to bring your pets in before their first heat cycle, it's never too late to bring an animal in for spaying and neutering. The benefits will always outweigh the potential dangers with waiting, according to Smith.
"Every time that pet goes into the heat cycle, the older they get, the more the risk that something might go wrong," she said.
Almost 80 million households in the U.S. keep a pet of some kind, with an estimated 163.6 million dogs and cats living with families across the country. Most animals kept as pets in the U.S. are spayed or neutered, according to Spay USA, an organization devoted to helping control the pet population. However, 13 percent of pets and 98 percent of community cats are not spayed or neutered.
Community cats — felines that are fed or sheltered by members of the community without a defined owner — are responsible for 80 percent of the new kittens born each year according to the Humane Society of the United States.
Each year, the HSUS estimates between 6-8 million cats and dogs enter shelter systems, while only 4 million are adopted annually. An estimated 3 million dogs and cats will be euthanized each year.
Brown said that with the rate a cat reproduces, a single unspayed or neutered animal can be resonsible for hundreds of offspring.
"A cat can have up to 15 kittens in a season," Brown said. "Those kittens born at the earliest point can start producing by the end fo the summer. It just exponentially grows."
The Carroll County Humane Society's website, hscarroll.org, feature a list of low-cost spay and neuter options by organizations around the area.
Metro Ferals, in Eldersburg, offers low-cost spay and neuter for cats, with a specific focus on strays. The clinic, run by volunteers outside of the veterinarian also offers information on trapping stray animals in order to bring them in for the procedure. Reservations are required, for the organization's spay schedule. Their next open clinic will be held Feb. 28. For more information, visit www.metroferals.org.
Statewide nonprofit Spay Neuter All Animals provides certificates for families having trouble affording spay or neuter procedures. Certificates cost between $45 and $75 depending on the animal and goes toward the spay and neuter surgery. Participants in the program must use an approved veterinarian. For more information on SNAP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brown said he will support spaying and neutering efforts in any way he can.
"If you adopt an animal, you save a life," Brown said. "If you spay and neuter, you save thousands of lives."