Ready to SNAP
The need for Grant County's Spay & Neuter Awareness Program (SNAP) is as great as ever. But SNAP may be running out of time.
Story and photos by Harry Williamson
After more than eight years of success, Grant County's volunteer Spay & Neuter Awareness Program (SNAP) is treading in difficult waters due to a serious lack of volunteers and money. Help may be in the offing, spearheaded by Silver City Councilman Jamie Thomson, who is rewriting the town's animal ordinance. But as it stands now SNAP's problems locally come at a time when the number of unwanted dogs and cats being euthanized in the nation's animal shelters remains appalling.
1- The Silver City Animal Control and Shelter staff, from the left, are Heather Carr, Ed Hollaway, Buddy Howard, Scott Rotherham, Billy Dominquez and Gigi Shoaf.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that in 2011, 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats will be placed into the nation's shelters. Of this number, HSUS estimates 3 million to 4 million will be euthanized.
But regardless — sooner or later — the final number always comes down to one. One dog or cat being lifted onto a table and softly petted while a sedative is administered, followed by a second needle to stop its heart.
This happens simply because there are not enough homes out there for all the pets roaming around. A 2003 Desert Exposure article ("Raining Cats and Dogs") on SNAP and its effort to help lower-income people spay and neuter their pets graphically compared this exploding dog and cat population to a giant meat grinder: "The inexorable pressure from behind of newly born pets pushes the pets at the grinder end to their deaths."
And how is the decision made about which one animal is placed at the grinder's end?
"Some animals just shut down and start hiding in the corner or they get nasty," says Gigi Shoaf, office administrator at the Silver City Animal Control and Shelter. The High Desert Humane Society operates the shelter for Silver City and Grant County.
Shoaf says at other times there simply isn't enough room at the shelter for all of the dogs and cats.
"It's the hardest part of the job," she adds. "You go through the pens and say, 'I'm sorry, dog. You've been here for six months, and I just can't get anybody to look at you. We've used newspaper ads, volunteers take you for walks, and I just have to give somebody else a chance.' There's always somebody on the stray side waiting for a chance."
Buddy Howard, easy to talk to and a sympathetic listener, has been the Grant County animal control officer for the past 20 years. It is his job to transport many of the dogs and cats to the shelter. He is also often involved in administering the double shots.
"There are some really nice dogs we find homes for," he says. "But it sure hurts when you have to make some room for some different ones."
Shoaf, who has been at the shelter 10 years this August, says she believes they are doing a good job of finding adoptive homes for the animals: "The national average a year or two ago for a facility like this was 12% or 13%. We always run higher than that, usually over 20%."
In 1998, the shelter took in 2,692 dogs and cats, adopted 346, returned 294 to their owners — for a total 23% rate — and euthanized 2,096. In 2004, 2,352 animals came in, 675 were adopted and 219 returned for an overall 38%, with 1,434 euthanized. In 2009, 2,224 came in, 707 were adopted and 188 returned home, for a 42% rate; 1,126 were euthanized.
"Our adoption numbers are going up," Shoaf says. "It's a bigger issue now because of national TV exposure. There are more of those little, sad commercials of dogs and cats behind cages. But we will never be able to adopt our way out of the problem. The answer is to spay and neuter. Stop it before it starts."
I spent two days at the shelter doing interviews and taking photos, and was impressed by how it operated. The six-person staff is friendly and competent, albeit with a tough and demanding job. The pens are cleaned daily, scrubbed from top to bottom. Drain caps are removed and cleaned, and blankets and linens are washed.
"This is just like a hospital," Shoaf says. "You always have new infections coming in, so you clean and clean and clean."
One of the many dogs at the Silver City Animal Shelter recently looking for new homes.
Grant County has a contract to obtain animal control services from the shelter for an annual fee of $57,500, plus $10 per dog and $5 per cat picked up in the county. The total can't exceed $66,000. The town of Silver City this year pays $34,850, plus $20 for dogs and $10 for cats picked up in the town above the average for the previous three years.
A Silver City ordinance requires that all adopted pets be spayed or neutered before being sent to their new homes. The cost to adopt a dog, including the spay/neuter charge and all vaccinations, ranges from $75 for a less than 20-pound male, up to $105 for a female weighing more than 80 pounds. Puppies cost $55 to adopt. This includes a reduced-rate coupon to get the dog spayed or neutered when old enough.
Nationally, HSUS estimates that 75% of owned pets are neutered or spayed, compared to only 10% of the animals that go into shelters. Local numbers are likely similar.
Shoaf says, "People in our area probably do as well as any that is rural, kind of depressed and is essentially a poor county. It's just one thing that poorer people don't do. They often don't have enough money to pay the gas bill, much less spay the dog."
She adds that it stands to reason that programs like HALT and SNAP are very important. HALT stands for Halt a Litter Today, and is operated by the High Desert Humane Society. Coupons, ranging in value from $25 to $55, depending on the size of the animal being spayed or neutered, are given out at no charge. Owners can take the coupon to their veterinarian. Shoaf says an owner could receive up to three coupons a year.
Grant County's Spay & Neuter Awareness Program — SNAP for short — has an illustrious record since it was started in June 2002 by Mary Jane and Jerry Friedler, Lynn Janes and Kris Wamsley, after receiving $1,500 in seed money from the Las Cruces SNAP. This small band of volunteers has raised at least $20,000 a year, providing for the neutering or spaying of more than 2,000 dogs and cats.