By Betsy Denhart
REGION — Lately, residents may have noticed a brightly colored bus, adorned with oversized pictures of dogs, cats and rabbits, cruising through North County. The Spay Neuter Action Project’s (SNAP) new mobile surgical unit is here, bringing much needed services to pet owners who might otherwise be unable to afford them.
Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez is thrilled about SNAP’s expanded North County schedule. “I am so excited to welcome the SNAP Neuter Scooter! This nonprofit has been a mainstay in San Diego County for many years and I am thankful that they selected Oceanside to benefit from their services, and will help our residents with this critical aspect of responsible pet ownership.”
During the early days of pandemic, staff and funding shortages caused SNAP to hold fewer clinics and prevented its usual once-monthly visits to North County, even as demand rose sharply. Unfortunately, when spay and neuter are postponed, the need can grow exponentially.
Kittens can themselves become pregnant at 5 months of age, increasing the need for homes as well as surgeries, a snowball effect that SNAP Executive Director Dorell Sackett is painfully aware of. “Funds were tight. We couldn’t afford to go, but we knew not going would wind up costing even more. Escondido and Oceanside had the 3rd and 4th highest call volume on our hotline.”
A number of pandemic related factors have caused demand to increase. Working or schooling from home and fewer opportunities for social interaction have led many to add pets to their families. The reluctance of shelters to admit animals leaves good Samaritans attempting to help strays with unexpected responsibilities — and a strong desire to prevent litters.
Veterinary clinics are swamped with new clients, often booked weeks in advance, and have little incentive to offer reduced cost services, despite the economic challenges many pet owners currently face. Plus, due to pandemic precautions, San Diego Humane Society (SDHS), which in the past offered free and low-cost pet sterilizations, has suspended its Community Spay/Neuter services until further notice.
Even before COVID-19, San Diego County saw a continuing reduction in affordable spay/neuter resources and venues. Since the 2018 change from county to SDHS animal control services, two outstanding and popular programs have largely slipped through the cracks.
First, a voucher system that allotted residents $25-$50 per pet, funded by dog license fees, was somehow lost in the contract negotiations. While the City of San Diego recently allotted funds for a new voucher program, it is only available to their residents and sets specific income requirements.
Second, a list of veterinarians willing to do sterilizations for a set, reduced price has atrophied drastically. While County of San Diego Animal Care and Control, which originally worked with SNAP to create the list and recruit vets, still displays it on its website, it is sadly out of date.
SDHS, which also displays the list, keeps it edited and current, but has made no effort to recruit new vets or adjust prices to more attractive levels. Participation has dwindled to less than half of previous numbers.
SNAP is pulling out all the stops to take up the slack, but every day they receive far more calls than they can immediately accommodate. “We’re so successful, we’re going broke,” quips SNAP Advisory Committee member Laurie Michaels — a not too subtle reminder that SNAP relies on donations to keep going.
Since the launch of its first Neuter Scooter in 2003, SNAP has fixed over 68,000 animals in San Diego County. For more information, visit snap-sandiego.org.