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Timing is everything

Humane Alliance launches When To Spay effort to promote spay/neuter at 4 months

From Animal Sheltering Magazine January/February 2014

Many pet owners wait until age 6 months to spay or neuter their animals, but that’s enough time for an accidental litter to appear.

The Humane Alliance’s When To Spay ( nationwide initiative aims to engage animal welfare professionals at shelters, rescues, and low-cost spay/neuter clinics, veterinarians, and individual advocates to spread the word to pet owners that cats and dogs can safely and easily be sterilized at 4 months—and that it’s the best way to prevent more little ones.

The centerpiece of the effort is a multimedia campaign—with ready-made messaging and images for participating organizations to grab and go—urging pet owners to get the facts on early spay/neuter, so they won’t be caught saying, “Woulda, coulda, shoulda!”

“It’s a campaign, but we’re actually trying to make it a movement. We want it to be something that just becomes the social norm,” says Aimee St. Arnaud, who manages the project for the Asheville, N.C.-based Humane Alliance. “It’s kind of like, ‘Change your oil every 3,000 miles.’ It’s just easy to remember that after your last set of vaccines, book your appointment [for] two weeks after that, and get your animals fixed by 4 months.”

Organizations that join the When To Spay initiative can get access to an online toolkit designed to help them launch the campaign in their own communities. It offers a huge amount of information: marketing materials for print and Web; promotion strategies and media talking points; sample letters, press releases, PSAs for TV and radio; videos and images; and suggested posts for social media. Everything in the toolkit can be downloaded for free, or, for $50, participants can have three posters, three fliers, or three ads customized with their logo and phone number.

“We know how busy all of the animal welfare professionals are. They don’t have time to try and create this. Our goal was to make it as easy as possible to do this,” St. Arnaud says. As of early October, 201 shelters and clinics had signed up to join the effort, according to St. Arnaud, as well as 399 veterinarians.

The Central Oklahoma Humane Society (OK Humane) in Oklahoma City has used a variety of campaign resources: videos and messaging to share on social media, marketing materials, and digital images, including a few that it used on three or four electronic billboards around Oklahoma City.

The ads offered free spay/neuter surgery for pets 4 months and younger at the OK Humane Place Spay and Neuter Clinic, which was paid for with grants the organization had obtained. Thanks to pushing the When To Spay message on Facebook, Twitter, billboards, and in radio PSAs, “our clinic manager there was flooded with calls,” says Christy Counts, OK Humane’s president/executive director. The efforts resulted in about 1,000 spay/neuter appointments being booked.

“The fact that they have this entire toolkit, and all we have to do is slap our name on it and our number, and send it out, is very attractive,” Counts says.

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About the Author

Jim Baker is a former staff writer for the Humane Society of the United States.