Aiming to reduce the thousands of homeless and stray dogs that end up in county animal shelters each year, the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society is conducting a monthlong initiative to spay and neuter large-breed canines for a reduced rate.

By surgically removing animals' reproductive organs, spaying/neutering prevents the chance that unwanted litters of puppies or kittens will end up abandoned, said Sean Hawkins, executive director of the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society.

For the 2016-17 fiscal year, there were 3,117 homeless dogs and 2,622 homeless cats in Santa Barbara County.

The monthlong “Dog Days” promotion — which provides large-breed dog owners an opportunity to have their dogs spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies, microchipped and given a county license for $80 — has resulted in a quadrupling of the number of dogs "fixed" in August compared to a typical month. The price is about $500 less than what consumers would pay at a typical veterinary clinic, said Hawkins, adding that funds from Santa Barbara County enabled the reduced rate.

In a typical month, the shelter has around 200 dogs and cats brought in by members of the public. Of those, around 10 percent, or 20 dogs, are large dogs — which is defined as 40 pounds or more.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the shelter had fixed 88 large dogs — more than four times the 20 or so dogs fixed by the shelter in a typical month.

Large-breed dogs were chosen for the promotion since their spay and neuter costs are generally much higher than that of smaller dogs, Hawkins said.

“The big guys cost a lot more because they take more anesthesia and a lot more time.”

On Wednesday, the surgery area of the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society was full. Numerous cats and dogs — appearing slightly grumpy and on pain medication — laid down in kennels to recover from their surgeries earlier in the day.

While neuters — meaning castration or the removal of a dog's testicles — can often be done in under 10 minutes, spays — which involves the surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries from the abdomen — generally take around 15 to 20 minutes.

“In a private practice, it may take a veterinarian a lot longer since they’re not doing as many,” Hawkins said. “We do a lot of surgeries so these guys are really proficient. When you do this all day, you get really good at it.”

There were 25 total animals spayed or neutered on Wednesday, including eight large dogs — like Woody the boxer or Stella the husky/shepherd mix — that were brought in through the “Dog Days” promotion.

“If you think about it, it’s in the county’s best interest to subsidize spays and neuters because if a dog has a litter of puppies and all those puppies end up in the animal shelter, it costs us anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 per dog to process them through the shelter,” Hawkins said. “It’s cheaper to work with citizens to keep their pets spayed and neutered.”

Aside from benefiting the larger community at large, having a dog or cat spayed or neutered can lead to stronger health outcomes for the animals, Hawkins said.

“Spayed or neutered dogs and cats live longer and healthier lives,” Hawkins said. “Female dogs will not develop uterine cancers or mammary cancers; male dogs will not develop testicular or prostate cancer. You will also see a lot of the behavioral traits that don’t make pets good indoor companions — like marking territory with urine, going into heat, roaming in search of a mate — all of that is also eliminated.”

“It’s actually a smart business model to invest in prevention,” Hawkins continued. “Of course, it keeps homeless puppies out of the shelter but it’s a smart financial move for the county.

“We spend about a $1,000 per pet to get them ready for adoption — and it’s we the taxpayers who pay for county animal shelters,” Hawkins said. “It is a smarter business decision for the county to invest in prevention than to invest in building bigger animal shelters. Instead of paying $1,000 to re-home a pet, the county can invest $80 to prevent a whole litter of puppies from being born.”

The shelter also hopes to help tackle cats next month.

On Sept. 16, in partnership with the Pomona-based Western University College of Veterinary Medicine, the shelter will spay or neuter the first 100 cats that arrive with an appointment for free during a "Beat the Heat" event.

Those interested in learning more about Dog Days, Beat the Heat or making an appointment for a spay/neuter should call the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society at 805-349-3435.

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed


City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.