Pasco officials are rolling out a new spay and neuter program they hope will curb animal overpopulation and ultimately reduce the number of dogs and cats that are put down.
Targeted at low-income pet owners, the program allows people to spay or neuter their dog for $20 and get a similar procedure for their cat for $10. Fees cover an examination, sterilization surgery, a rabies shot and a county registration tag.
Other states with similar programs have seen sharp declines in the number of animals brought to public shelters, said county Animals Services director John Malley.
"The less animals that come in, that means less euthanasia," he said. "I'd be happy with a 25 percent decrease in intake. That would greatly help us."
County commissioners approved the program Tuesday. Residents can immediately begin applying for the spay and neuter discounts through the nonprofit Spay Pasco that administers the program.
The new effort complements an existing rebate program that has not worked as well as expected. Animals Services gives all registered pet owners a $40 rebate off a typical $150 fee for a spay surgery. Only dogs are eligible, and owners must pay up front and wait up to six weeks for a rebate check. Those rebates will remain in effect.
The existing rebate "helps for the middle-income family or people who just wanted that incentive to spay or neuter," said San Antonio veterinarian Diana Mattox, who is also president of Spay Pasco. "It didn't work for truly low-income people."
Malley said it can be hard for a family to pay for a spay or neuter surgery "when that means the difference of putting food on the table or clothes on your children."
Spay Pasco in 2007 launched a scaled-down version of the low-income pet sterilization program with grant money, but the grants ran out a little more than year ago. Mattox said the grant program helped reduce the number of animals brought to the county's shelter.
Here's how the program works: People apply to Spay Pasco, which checks their information and issues a certificate. That usually takes about two weeks. Owners can then schedule an appointment with one of 12 participating clinics and use the certificate to get the discount. The veterinarians, in turn, collect a set amount for each procedure from Spay Pasco, which has received county funding for the program.
To be eligible, pet owners must receive benefits under one of several government assistance programs like food stamps or Medicaid. People can also provide pay stubs or a tax return showing their household income falls under state low-income limits.
The program is similar to a statewide low-income spay and neuter program in New Hampshire that began in 1994. According to research from Mattox, that state put down 70 percent fewer animals after the program's first seven years.
Pasco also joins several other Florida counties that provide low-income spay and neuter services. After Hillsborough adopted its program in 2002, it saw the number of euthanized animals drop from about 30,000 in 2005 to a little less than 20,000 by 2009.
"It absolutely is something that has been valuable for us," said Hillsborough animal services spokeswoman Marti Ryan. "We highly recommend it."
If Pasco sees similar success, Malley expects it will boost employee morale at Animal Services.
"It gives them a ray of light for what has traditionally been for years an unwinnable battle," he said.
The program will cost $45,000 the first year, which will cover 450 dogs and 450 cats. By the third year, the program is expected to include 2,000 animals.
Money for the new program comes from pet registration fees currently set aside for the rebate program. That program has been running a surplus for several years. Two years ago, it took in $160,000 while issuing $60,000 in rebates. Malley said the county expects to collect enough fees to pay for both programs for at least the next seven years.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.