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Local vet aims to stem the area’s tide of unwanted animals

OCEANSIDE — Young Gary Haver brought turtles and other critters home like most kids. At 14, he had a life-altering experience when he took his cat to Dr. Howard Kessler in Manhattan.
“I asked for a job and he gave me one, cleaning cages and gradually assuming more responsibility,” he said. “After college he hired me as a veterinarian.”
Haver’s love of fishing brought him to San Diego around 2003. He found work as an independent contractor for private veterinarians, humane societies and county shelters in Carlsbad and San Diego.
Few people understand the plight of unwanted pets like he does.
“People have pets for the wrong reasons,” he said. “It’s a disposable society and if someone has to get rid of something, it’s often the family pet.”
Pit bulls bear the brunt of shelter overcrowding.
“There’s nothing wrong with pit bulls,” he said. “It’s just that there are too many of them. They are the first ones to be euthanized at shelters.”
To curb overbreeding, Haver performs low-cost spay and neutering on Neuter Scooter buses operated by the Spay Neuter Action Project, or SNAP. The nonprofit is beginning to have an impact on the overbreeding problem in the neighborhood surrounding Joe Balderrama Recreation Center.
“We educate people about responsible pet ownership which includes having pets spayed and neutered as a means of emptying shelters,” said Dorell Phillips, SNAP’s humane educator and events coordinator.
A fertile cat or dog can produce kittens and puppies who in turn have offspring that can total 50 to 200 kittens or puppies in one year.
“There are prolific breeders in the neighborhood with pit bulls that produce litters of 10 puppies two times a year,” said Pamela Montanez, center supervisor. “Through educational efforts with SNAP we have had success fixing dogs that were once used to breed.”
Spaying and neutering can also improve the temperament of males and sometimes prevent testicular, mammary and ovarian cancers.
Haver performs 25 procedures each visit to the center at a reduced cost of $20 to $40 per animal.
He has earned respect for the focus and extra TLC he extends to each of his patients, even when the waiting room is full.
“Every animal he sees is special to Dr. Haver, especially the most vulnerable,” said Candy Schumann, founder of SNAP
This has been a big year for Haver personally.
Last month he and his fiancée Dana Hilke, a fourth-grade teacher at La Paloma Elementary School in Fallbrook, bought their first home for their family which includes three dogs, a bird and fish. A few weeks later the couple married. Next month Haver celebrates his 40th birthday.
Another major life decision, to start his own practice, will come to fruition in the new year with the opening of his Surfside Animal Hospital at the corner of Mission Avenue and El Camino Real with Dr. Gary Siebert. Haver said his associate is “a great guy and an excellent doctor that has worked in Oceanside for over 20 years.”
“I will continue to work for SNAP because it’s a passion,” he said. “I hope that one day I’m successful enough to help more animals in need. My goal is not to retire young.”
To learn more about SNAP’s Neuter Scooter bus, call (619) 525-3047 or visit
For more information about Haver and his in-home pet euthanasia service call (760) 730-3300 or visit