Costa Rica’s Chief Veterinary Officer Speaks at Belize Spay/Neuter Conference
Last Tuesday, the 12th of May, Dr. Victor Gongora, Director of Animal Health at Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) welcomed Dr. Yayo Vincente, Chief Veterinary Officer of Costa Rica to Belize for a special conference on spaying and neutering. Dr. Vincente gave an informative and interesting presentation entitled ‘The New Paradigm – Easy Steps for Successful and Humane Population Control – An Integrated Approach to the Development of Animal Welfare’.
The conference, coordinated by Belize Humane Society, was well attended by veterinary surgeons from across the country as well as those working in the fields of animal welfare and humane education and was particularly important in light of recent publicity surrounding the use of poison as a form of animal population control in Belize, a practice frowned upon by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Colette Kase, Humane Educator from Be Kind Belize, a project which offers free humane education to primary schools in San Pedro and Dr. Laurie Droke, Veterinary Surgeon from San Pedro’s SAGA Humane Society, traveled to Belize City to attend.
Dr. Vincente presented a model of animal welfare, which is currently being developed in Costa Rica by the McKee Foundation and is based on the well established fact that killing cats and dogs does not affect their population in the long term, nor is it a humane or sensible approach. The McKee Foundation believe that educating pet owners to have their animals spayed and neutered to prevent animal overpopulation is the single most important factor in reducing dog and cat overpopulation and the associated problems.
The McKee Foundation make it clear that it is not cost effective in terms of the number of dogs that can be cared for in an animal shelter relative to the cost of neutering and spaying and that an integrated approach is necessary. In addition to this, every animal taken off the street and put in a shelter, will as when they are poisoned, be quickly replaced by another unless effective population control practices are in place. The McKee Foundation suggests that it is rare to find a dog that is truly ownerless and that it is important to work with the community to identify pet owners and encourage them to cooperate with humane organisations by taking responsibility and having their animals spayed or neutered.
Cats are a different matter as, unlike dogs, they can return to their wild state and become feral. While those that feed and care for cats must behave responsibly and have their animals spayed and neutered, feral cats require trapping, spaying/neutering by a humane organisation and should, if at all possible, be returned to the location where they were trapped. If they are not returned, other possibly unneutered and unhealthy cats will move into the territory rapidly.
The McKee Foundation offers low cost neuter/spay clinics on a regular basis in Costa Rica working with and alongside communities to ensure that pet owners understand the benefits of having their animals neutered or spayed. For example, neutered and spayed animals live longer and are less likely to become nuisance animals as they will not wander as far. This also means that they make better guard dogs as they are inclined to stay at home rather than seek mates elsewhere. They do not offer the surgeries for free and expect all owners to make some sort of financial contribution.
Dr. Vincente explained that when those that feed dogs and cats take the step to pay to have the animal spayed or neutered, they move from being a ‘feeder’ to becoming a ‘guardian’ and are more likely to take on other responsibilities associated with that position. He also demonstrated that this can be of great benefit to veterinary practices as they potentially will have new customers. This can often be an issue for veterinary practices, which sometimes are reluctant to absorb the costs associated with running subsidised spay/neuter programmes and should act as an incentive to them to participate in such schemes.
Colette Kase, and Dr. Laurie Droke described some of San Pedro’s unique problems, as by having a full time veterinary clinic offering subsidised spay and neuter surgeries Ambergris Caye is very lucky in comparison to many other parts of Belize, but we still have huge challenges in terms of educating the public as to why they should have their animals spayed and neutered. There was much discussion about how humane organisations can work hand in hand with local government and communities to make this sort of project a success. It was stressed that spay/neuter projects are much more cost effective in the long run than repeated extermination campaigns, which have absolutely no long term benefits to the community. If communities can work together to achieve the target of 70% of all cats and dogs being neutered or spayed, they will eliminate the problems associated with pet overpopulation.
To further their goals of sharing and developing good practices in animal population control, the McKee Foundation will be sponsoring a number of vets and animal welfare workers from Belize to visit Costa Rica to learn more about their work. One of the most exciting aspects of this trip is that veterinary surgeons will be taught new techniques for spaying and neutering cats and dogs that can reduce surgery time to 5-10 minutes, improve recovery and reduce the amount of medical aftercare required. All of these things mean that the cost of neutering and spaying animals is greatly reduced for both the veterinary clinics, humane organisations and pet owners.
Dr. Michael Deshield, BAHA Food Safety Director, closed the conference on a very positive note with the intention that further meetings will be held in Belize so that all of the humane organisations can work together with the government and veterinary profession in Belize to tackle our pet overpopulation problem in a cooperative, humane and effective manner.