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posted November 4th, 2014 by
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by Ruth Steinberger



Pet overpopulation is a serious problem in most communities, but in small towns and rural areas where people have little or no access to veterinary care, the costs can be staggering. Unsterilized pets are not only predisposed to health problems, taxpayers also bear the burden due to the large number of unwanted pets that find their way into shelters.


But long-time animal activist Ruth Steinberger is addressing this growing problem head on through her organization SpayFIRST!

Steinberger founded Spay FIRST! in November 2010 to reach out directly to those on the forefront of controlling the pet population, including pet owners, communities and veterinarians. Through education and coordinated efforts that enable communities to provide sterilization services, Steinberger hopes to lessen the burden of unwanted animals.

The statistics are staggering. According to Steinberger, approximately $2 billion is spent annually in the U.S. just to shelter unwanted dogs, yet less than 3 percent of that amount is spent on prevention.

Steinberger brings years of experience and firsthand knowledge of the cost these unwanted litters heap onto communities, and she is making strides by teaching pet owners the importance of sterilization by working with communities and animal professionals.

Below, Steinberger explains to OKC Pets Magazine the importance of pet sterilization and how SpayFIRST! is making a difference.

You have a long history of involvement in animal advocacy. What led you to become so active in this area and start your organization Spay FIRST?

About 30 years ago, my home became an “accidental rescue,” as happens to others. You know, people realize that you care  about animals, they bring them to you, and suddenly you’re a safety net for unwanted animals.

Through my mentor, activist and artist Carol Hoge, I came to realize that not only could we prevent litters, but that the threat of litters was why many people “get rid of” female pets. Being spayed or neutered is a huge factor in keeping pets in their homes. In rural areas, that security means life and death.

Why is spaying and neutering pets so important, not only for the animals, but for communities?

People and the animals that live with them are not separate; we affect each other. If animals “mark” their adoptive homes, get into fights, roam or have litters, they will not remain welcome. Dog bites, maulings and characteristic male dog behaviors overwhelmingly come from intact male dogs.

These disproportionately affect low-income communities where access to spay/ neuter is limited. When we talk about the importance of compassion instead of killing, spay/neuter is absolutely at the center of that discussion. A litter of puppies may be cute, but many children realize that the puppies were eventually abandoned, otherwise killed, or they simply die from disease and neglect. Is this good? Witnessing neglect does not teach compassion.

A lot of pet owners say they want their dog or cat to have a litter before they are spayed or neutered, or they would like their children to experience the birth process with their pet. Explain why letting a dog or cat become sexually mature before spaying or neutering is harmful to their health.

First, there are significant health benefits to avoiding a first estrus or “heat” cycle. Research shows that preventing the hormonal changes during even one heat cycle has a tremendous impact on reducing incidents of mammary cancer in dogs. That’s no small thing.

Dogs are nine times more likely than people to get mammary cancer, and the preventive value is lost with successive heat cycles. Characteristic male dog behavior, like marking furniture, is much easier to prevent than to stop later on.

There is no “miracle” to the birth of surplus pets. It teaches kids that it’s OK to produce surplus animals on a self-centered whim. It teaches irresponsibility.

Historically, veterinarians recommended pets be sterilized at about 6 months of age, but that is changing. Pets can now be sterilized much earlier. At what age is this safe?

The age approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is             8 weeks or two pounds, and in a shelter setting, all pets should be spayed or neutered before release. Many private clinics recommend that kittens or puppies finish their juvenile wellness vaccinations and be altered shortly thereafter. Some offer kitten or puppy wellness packages that facilitate that timeline.

There is some controversy about the impact of early sterilization on giant breeds, and there is controversy about the quality of the studies that supposedly support that controversy. However, the fact remains that the single leading cause of death of dogs and cats in the U.S. is euthanization in shelters… because an unwanted litter is born in the U.S. every 20 seconds.

Is surgery the only option?

No. There are other options and more are being explored by both public agencies and private entities. And we need all of the tools available to stop litters.

Worldwide, 75 percent of dogs, and about the same percentage of cats, are unwanted. That is over 600 million animals! Knocking the numbers down humanely is the first step to stopping suffering, and it cannot be done without non-surgical methods.

In many places across the globe, basic medical care for people is a luxury; children still get polio, and tens of thousands of people die of rabies from dog bites in developing nations. Sadly, in these circumstances, the resources needed to provide surgery is decades away from being available for millions of street animals.

Because of the potential to work in the poorest of regions, our most important work is in the field of non-surgical sterilization. Spay FIRST! has partnered with Pueblo Animal Health Services,   Native American Veterinary Services and an organization in Lahore, Pakistan, called Vets Care Organization, to promote the use of a non-surgical option for neutering male dogs and cats.

We are working with two Oklahoma veterinarians to closely monitor colony cats on a feed-through contraceptive and under the leadership of SpayFIRST! founding board member Dr. Charles Helwig and our advisory board member Dr. Billy Clay, we have partnered with the USDA on research of an injectable contraceptive that will hopefully be proven effective in dogs.

Your organization focuses a lot of its outreach in poor or underserved com-munities, especially those with little or no access to veterinary services, with your MASH unit. Can you explain what this is?

MASH, or Mobile Animal Surgical Hospital, refers to programs in which surgical equipment is brought onsite to a remote location in order to set up temporary spay/neuter services.

This is a program often used to provide services on Native American lands. It is a labor intensive program, but it’s a great way to get a lot done. It is the most cost-effective model there is.

If someone said to you they don’t think it matters if their pet is sterilized, what would be the most important thing they need to know about their decision?

They need to know that their decision does not support the best care for their own pet, and if unwanted litters are born, they are contributing to the world in a terribly negative way. I’ve heard people say they found good homes for the offspring. If indeed they did, some other kitten or puppy died.

One way or the other, for better or for worse, the decision that each one of us makes has an impact. According to American Pet Products Manufacturers, 38 percent of dogs and 75 percent of cats are obtained from family, friends or other incidental sources. That’s how many incidental, unplanned animals are never even counted in the shelter numbers… Staggering.

For more information about Spay FIRST! or to donate, visit Follow Spay FIRST! on Facebook and Twitter or follow Steinberger’s blog at

Oklahoma Shelter Animal Survey

posted July 15th, 2014 by
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by Ruth Steinberger

for The Kirkpatrick Foundation

Read the entire  2014 Spay FIRST Survey

The Oklahoma Shelter Animal Survey was designed to examine the myriad of factors that affect the numbers and conditions of unwanted dogs and cats in Oklahoma. We gathered data on shelter access, shelter protocols, affordable spay/neuter programs, household incomes and population density in order to present a matrix that describes the lives of at-risk pets.  We hope that this information will help to define the challenges facing those who strive to help homeless animals; we hope this information will empower their efforts.

We surveyed municipal shelters regarding general practices and asked for 1) the number of animals received, 2) the number euthanized, 3) method of euthanasia and carcass disposal, 4) what agency typically handles cruelty complaints, 5) are animals adopted out already altered or with a spay/neuter contract, 6) if a contract is used, is it enforced, 7) an estimate on number of calls for help from outside of jurisdiction, 8) is there a tag and/or spay neuter ordinance and, 9) is it enforced?   We truly appreciate the officers who spent time speaking with us.  We located as many as we learned of; please let us know if you see shelters that are not included in the survey.  It will remain online and information will be added in as it gets to us. Whenever animals are at risk, information about them is vital.

Because population is generally concentrated near highways, the information cites highway corridors in order to give the reader a visual description of the data.  The number of people per square mile is cited for each county because that information, combined with income levels, indicates the depth of the tax base that supports public services, including animal sheltering.

Many people care about the animals. However, in small cities in Oklahoma it is typical for a part time worker to manage the shelter and be responsible for other public works as well; animal welfare often takes a back seat.  Fewer than one fourth of cities have procedures that actually support compliance with the 1986 Oklahoma Dog and Cat Sterilization Act, a law intended to keep shelter animals from giving birth to more unwanted animals; many do not keep records of the number of animals handled and 28 shelters refused to return calls or told us they would not discuss their shelter policies with the public.    A small number of shelters regularly shoot at least some of the animals; shooting was earlier deemed a humane method of killing and to be acceptable for Oklahoma towns and cities with populations under 10,000 people.   That population describes over three quarters of Oklahoma municipalities.

Sensitive comments were excluded from this data.  Staff reports of using gunshot to kill dogs are not listed, as we could not confirm the information with city officials. Other shelters without licensed euthanasia technicians, and which refused to speak with us, may do likewise.

Unless the animal is being released to a research facility, there is no mandatory record keeping on the intakes, hold times and disposal of sheltered animals in Oklahoma.

With the exception of Broken Arrow all Oklahoma cities at or close to populations of 100,000 (Oklahoma City, City of Tulsa, City of Norman, City of Lawton) provided actual numbers for this survey.  With the exception of Broken Arrow the large cities sterilize all animals before release; Broken Arrow continues to release intact kittens and puppies.     Large population cities adopt out the greatest volume of shelter animals, meaning that it is likely that most shelter animals in Oklahoma are altered before release.

However, a steady flow of intact animals are released from shelters in rural areas that concomitantly have the least access to shelters overall, keep few records and have the lowest levels of income and law enforcement staffing per population; these areas lag far behind in terms of prevention, shelter access and animal welfare. The offspring of pets which are released to county homes that allow them to have a litter are without the original safety net of the shelter that originally released the parent, a situation that represents a decline in safety for the pets.

Two components have the greatest impact on the numbers of, and quality of life of, at-risk animals; the first is convenient access to affordable spay/neuter  programs  so  households may  prevent unwanted  litters  (see  map  on page  62), and the  second is  whether  or  not the  local municipality operates an animal collection facility that strives to engage best practices. We assessed the portion of households in each county that have access to a shelter and which do not (pp 63-73).    Those without shelter access are left to their own devices to deal with a stray or unwanted animal. A lack of sheltering makes abandonment into a de facto solution.

To describe access to spay/neuter services we focused on households earning under $25,000 per year, those earning under $35,000 per year and whether or not the home has access to services that charge under 90 percent of a day’s take home pay at minimum wage ($48 to $53) for a spay or neuter, the services are located within 40 miles from the county and are able to provide an appointment within 30 days.  We used those parameters as gas money, time lost from work and other incidentals add to the cost.

We focused on those two particular income groups because $35,000 has been defined as a threshold under which there is a significant decline in neutering of pets [JAVMA, Vol 234, No.8, April 15, 2009] and almost one third of US households earn under $25,000 per year [].  The volume of Oklahoma households in these income groups is higher than the national average; data at the bottom of each map comp ares the corridor to the national and state average.   Spay/neuter events such as Spay Day events were not included as spay/neuter access for the purpose of this survey.

It is a bit complicated to describe the number of homes with access to an animal shelter. A little known state statute limits sheltering to counties with populations exceeding 200,000 people, and only three out of 77 Oklahoma counties meet that population.  This statute creates a lack of infrastructure and a lot of suffering; legislative resistance to changing that law has come from county commissioners’ organi zations. Because of this statute people living within a town or city that is within a certain county have access to a shelter, those living in the county do not.

Our vision was to understand at-risk animals in the contexts in which they live and to define as many factors as possible that affect their lives.

In 19 Oklahoma counties, between 17 and 24 percent of households earn under $10,000 per year; 14 of those counties do not have easy access to affordable spay/neuter services, most have minimal access to sheltering and sheltering in these counties is generally not compliant with good practices.  We called these the ‘crisis counties.’  Law enforcement staffing in the crisis counties operates at 15 to 40 percent of the national level of law enforcement staffing (see pages 76-77).  Infrastructure for stopping neglect is poor as in these 19 counties as, 1) it is virtually impossible for many homes to prevent litters because they cannot afford to have pets spayed at full service prices, clinics are far away and our state license plate fund is underfunded, 2) there is little household access to shelters at which to release an unwanted animal and 3) deputies handle two to five times the number of cases as their counterparts in other states, making investigation of cruelty or abandonment problematic.

Abandonment is described as a problem in all Oklahoma counties; if we presume that most do not have a fairy tale ending, it is safe to say that conservatively thousands of animals are at-risk of becoming abandoned and subject to cruelty that are never even counted.

We collected data from phone calls, and relied on and Dept of Justice (DoJ) for statistics regarding population, income and law enforcement staffing.   We made at least three attempts to reach shelters before deeming them unwilling to speak.   Those that personally refused to respond are listed as such. Shelters were asked to provide either actual or estimated numbers.

We extend our warmest thanks to the officers and county workers who generously shared their time to provide insights, observations and guidance as we sought to understand these issues.   Many officers expressed the desire to see meaningful change for homeless animals in our state and we know they truly meant it.  We thank the Kirkpatrick Foundation for generous funding, and Program Director Paulette Black, Executive Director Louisa McCune and survey coordinator Kristi Wicker for their thoughtful guidance as this survey developed.   Thank you to Spay Oklahoma for support of my role in this endeavor, to the Spay FIRST board for supporting all efforts to help animals that are left out in the cold and to Melanie Anderson for the connections that brought us together.  Last but certainly not least, a very warm thank y ou to Vanessa Wandersee of Mission, SD, a dedicated research assistant who spent countless hours reaching out to shelters and documenting the status of companion animals in Oklahoma.  Her compassion toward animals, and insight about the communities they live in, contributed greatly to this document.

Thank you and we hope you will join us in seeking greater accountability for the lives of homeless pets in Oklahoma.


Ruth Steinberger

[email protected]




posted March 9th, 2013 by
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by Ruth Steinberger

Until faced with trying to “find someplace” for an unwanted dog, many people think the closest city shelter will be able to help them should the need arise. But think again… in Oklahoma, a state statute declares that county shelters may only be operated by counties with populations over 200,000—a number that includes fewer than five Oklahoma counties.

and it gets worse; while that statute gives county commissioners in low population counties an easy and cheap excuse to leave animals out in the cold, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Cleveland counties, all with populations significantly over 200,000, do not operate county-wide public animal shelters even though they can.

While communities without animal sheltering are common in rural areas of Oklahoma, few people realize that communities in Tulsa county— including Turley, Sperry, Coweta and as many as another 10,000 households in unincorporated areas of Tulsa county—do not have access to a shelter at which to relinquish a stray or unwanted animal.

The city of Tulsa Animal Welfare Division serves the 164,535 households that are within the Tulsa city limits. For the 75,139 Tulsa county households that are outside of the city of Tulsa, access to an animal shelter depends entirely on where the individual lives. Populated areas without shelters share boundary lines with cities that do have shelters.

Because placing an unwanted or unwelcome dog or cat can be impossible for thousands of Tulsa county households, at-risk animals can quickly turn into victims. Abandonment is seen as an easy fi x, and free listings on sites such as craigslist place pets at risk for a poor quality home, exploitation and even intentional cruelty.

The births of unwanted companion animals can and should be prevented and Tulsa County can enact a county tag law with a sterilization mandate in order to reduce the number of animals that will become surplus and fall between the cracks. However, unlimited access shelters are vital to ensuring safety for animals that become unwanted. Leaving tens of thousands of households without sheltering options blatantly turns a blind eye to surplus companion animals. Pretending that homeless animals do not exist, and refusing to count them, does not prevent suffering; it ensures it

The Animal Resource Center

posted November 24th, 2012 by
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 Barbara Lewis, the board president of the Animal Resource Center (ARC) in Oklahoma City, has been the driving force behind an innovative approach to addressing many stumbling blocks for animal advocacy—effectively keeping dogs and cats out of shelters and in their homes. Her goal is to help each rescue organization or shelter to be as effective as possible and to help at-risk pet owners keep their pets.

In order to get there, Lewis did her homework. “We surveyed a lot of the rescue groups to see what they felt would help them best do their job, and the biggest number said a facility they could afford to rent at which they could hold adoption events, fundraisers, etc., was badly needed,” she said. “Also, shelter intakes are not getting better.

The Lockhart Foundation was trying to figure out what could be done to keep dogs in their homes and really saw that there was no central site for services like when someone loses a job and needs pet food, or even simply getting help overcoming problem behavior by talking with a trainer.” The Lockhart Foundation has generously supported the non-profit ARC since its start up. ARC is located in a 32,000-square-foot building in Oklahoma City equipped with rooms for dog training classes, an open bathing/ grooming program, an “animal library” and spaces for rent for animal and nonanimal events. It’s conveniently located at the intersection of I-240 and I-35 with ample parking.

The ARC also holds workshops for the public on responsible pet ownership, adoption events and obedience classes, ranging from puppy kindergarten to agility. On the second Saturday of the month, ARC has a free presentation that is open to the public on an animal related topic, and on Saturday mornings two groomers are on site to provide free baths while teaching owners how to clean ears, clip nails and basically care for their pets (appointments are needed).

The ARC stresses the need to help owners become more responsible in their decisions. “It’s dogs, and it’s cats too,” Lewis said. “Cats often impact the neighbors more than dogs, but there are solutions for those problems… we can help keep someone from surrendering their cat because their neighbor is mad.” The library is open to the public and includes children’s animal literature, dog training books, animal novels and books on pet care and more. “People may just want to read a novel about a dog,” she says. “They can probably find the right one in our library. But if they need help with a serious house training issue, we can probably help them with that as well.”

The ARC’s mission is uniquely inclusive, and this is evident from the fact that those who are a part of this vision are as diverse as are pet owners themselves. Mascotas Latinas, an organization dedicated to assisting pet owners in the Latino community, has an office at ARC, as does Spay FIRST!, an organization dedicated to expanding spay/ neuter options in underserved, low-income communities. Yet multiple dog obedience clubs house their activities in the giant building too, and the Oklahoma American Kennel Club (AKC) dog clubs held an educational event there this year.

ARC has space available for rent for large parties and gatherings and holds events in conjunction with other community service organizations. The 2012 Peruvian Festival was held there, a professional filming of a M*A*S*H style spay/neuter clinic was held there, and during spring break, ARC partnered with the Boys and Girls Club to hold a five-day camp focusing on a different animal each day. Twentyfive at-risk youths, ranging from 6 to 12 years of age, attended. The animals of the day included rabbits, dogs, cats, insects and reptiles. Barbara fondly refers to the insects as “bugs” and said that the camp created art with live maggots that crawled through water-based paint, leaving their creative footprint on paper (and the maggots were not injured in the making of the art).

ARC may replace the bugs with a different animal next spring, but the spirit of creatively reaching out in order to make communities better, safer and kinder to all animals will remain the same. Check out this wonderful facility when you’re in Oklahoma City. Hours of operation are from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday). Call (405) 604-2892 or visit for more information.

Ruth Steinberger

The Importance of Enforcing the Oklahoma Dog and Cat Sterilization Act

posted September 16th, 2012 by
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by Ruth Steinberger

The 1986 Oklahoma Dog and Cat Sterilization Act was forward- thinking legislation intended to prevent unwanted litters from being born to former shelter pets; essentially, it was to stop the release of unwanted pets that then produce more unwanted pets. Intact release can quickly turn a shelter into the single largest source of at-risk pets in a community.

The Act mandates that animals released from public or private shelters in Oklahoma be spayed or neutered, either by contract or pre-adoption sterilization. It further stipulates that if a contract is used instead of pre-adoption sterilization, the pet must be altered within 30 days (exceptions are made for animals under six months of age), and the new owner is to pay a deposit of no less than $10, which is to be refunded upon proof of surgery. However, the law has no penalties for non-compliance and has no enforcement mechanism. Therefore, it may be time to update the law and close the loopholes in this important tool to help animals.

TulsaPets Magazine decided to find out how well the statute is working. Our survey shows that with over 25 years since the passage of this statute, compliance is sporadic; some Oklahoma shelters evade even the simple mandate for a contract. And communities that do comply are likely affected by neighbors that do not.

For example, the cities of Tulsa, Claremore, Owasso, and Tulsa SPCA and Washington County SPCA practice pre-adoption sterilization, while Broken Arrow, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Glenpool, Catoosa and Jenks release some or all animals intact. And the further the shelter is from an urban area, the more likely it is to be non-compliant, so while the Pittsburg County Shelter in McAlister, Okla., complies with the statute by sterilizing animals prior to adoption, shelters in cities in neighboring Pushmataha, Latimer, Atoka and Hughes counties release intact pets. In addition to increasing the number of homeless animals, the lack of enforcement invites unscrupulous puppy mill operators and dog dealers to take their pick, placing at-risk animals into a never-never land of horrors in which their suffering is unseen and unaddressed.

Some towns comply in regard to adult animals, while releasing puppies and kittens intact. Unfortunately, this policy places animals with the greatest reproductive timeline (kittens and puppies) into circulation intact, while sterilizing older pets that may produce far fewer litters. Some cities flout the law altogether, making the process of reducing the number of homeless pets virtually impossible while ensuring that animal control costs will steadily rise. For example, the city of Durant releases some intact animals for free and without a contract.

Officer Steve Harris, field supervisor at Tulsa Animal Welfare has worked in animal sheltering for 12 years. “The issue of pre-adoption spay/neuter is all about what happens to the animals after they leave the shelter,” he says. “I don’t care how good your shelter looks or how new it is; if your policies allow animals to end up having litters, you’re a part of the problem. I believe that all of the shelters that neighbor [the] city of Tulsa need to spay or neuter the animals before they are released. It’s the only way we will ever get the problem under control. That goes for the rescues too. They should all spay or neuter before they pass them on to the new owners.”

Additionally, neuter before adoption (NBA) is not a luxury reserved for shelters with in-house clinics. Some shelters that do not have in-house clinics include the cities of Claremore, Stillwater, Moore, and Washington County SPCA, all of which alter all adopted pets before they go to the new home through a combination of relationships that include local veterinarians who arrange last-minute appointments for adopted animals and spay/neuter clinics (the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine provides spay/neuter services for the City of Stillwater and other shelters). While it takes a bit of organizing to get the pet to the clinic, and it’s a bit more work on the front end, it prevents litters and saves time from dealing with contracts later on.

Dawnette Brady, executive director of Washington County SPCA, says, “We stopped allowing deposits to be made for spay/neuters on pets being adopted in [the] fall of 2009. Every animal must be spayed/neutered prior to release. It’s relatively easy to make that change happen, and we have never had someone get upset with our policy. I know how we were able to turn the corner and make the change and will speak with any shelter that wants information on how we did it.”

Senior Animal Control Officer for the City of Lawton Rose Wilson has created a middle ground at her shelter with an abbreviated surgery room. “We partner with a local veterinarian, Dr Wayne Haney, who comes here to spay and neuter on site,” she says. “And just because you are using a contract doesn’t mean you cannot follow through. You need to have officers that are knowledgeable about enforcement, and you need a municipal system that understands the seriousness of this issue and supports what you’re trying to do.” She adds that it may involve taking pictures of those who have lost their lives to euthanasia to get the point across, but that the support is vital to creating change.

“If a shelter is adopting on a spay/ neuter contract, the fee is very important,” Wilson says. “It needs to create an incentive to get it done. And the fine for not complying needs to be high enough to make an impression.”

In our TulsaPets Magazine survey, the best contract we found is the one used by Enid Animal Shelter. Under the Enid contract, the new owner chooses from a list of local clinics and pays for the spay or neuter before taking the pet home. They then take the pet to the clinic to redeem the already paid for surgery. It does not cost more money to fulfill the contract, so it’s an easy choice.

That is not so in cities where the “deposit” is merely a portion of the cost of spaying or neutering the new pet, a process which forces the new owner to pay out more money to complete the adoption process after the animal is in their home. If the surgery costs more than the deposit, the new owner can save money by forfeiting the deposit and leaving the pet intact; basically, there is a financial incentive for noncompliance. It’s an honor system that usually fails. Nationally, the estimate on compliance with sterilization contracts is under 50 percent.

“A lot of places have adoption contracts that they themselves do not understand,” Wilson says. “A contract isn’t worth having if you’re not going to enforce it, or if it just carries a fine that people can laugh at.”

Deposits of $25 to $40 are the average at the Oklahoma shelters that release pets on contract; the City of Enid was the only agency that we spoke with that collects the full cost of the surgery as a deposit. None of the shelters releasing animals on a smaller deposit had programs in place whereby the surgery was paid in full by the smaller deposit.

Nancy Atwater, executive director and founding board member of Tulsa-based Spay Oklahoma, says that the problem of intact release of shelter pets cannot be overstated. “This is a no-brainer,” she says. “Releasing intact animals is self defeating. At least some of the animals will have unwanted litters that will then produce unwanted litters. Intact release also reduces the chances of a successful adoption; the behavior associated with being intact, such as roaming, fighting or attracting males does not make the pet more endearing to people.”

“Things have changed a lot since the passage of this statute in 1986,” Atwater adds. “Veterinarians used to tell people to have pets spayed at 6 months. But a lot of cats are pregnant by 6 months old, and now people are encouraged to avoid the first heat cycle. It’s important to revisit these policies, so they do what they are intended to do.”

Spay Oklahoma helps shelters in the region develop procedures for transport and billing, so that pets can be altered before going into a new home. “A volunteer can accomplish a lot by becoming a spay/neuter transporter for their local shelter,” Atwater says.

Rose Wilson best summed up the importance of the Sterilization Act, and why we should look closely at this issue. “The main thing is that if the law is worth passing, it needs to be enforced,” she says. “There’s no point in passing laws we don’t plan to enforce.”

The following list shows each county in Oklahoma, its’ population, and each town within that county that has a mechanism for handling unwanted dogs, or “animal control”; the population of each town with “animal control” is included beside the name of the town. When added together, the populations of the towns reveal the number of residents of the entire county that can humanely release an unwanted animal. When divided by the overall population, that figure reveals the percentage of the population that has such access and the percentage that does not.  This information was gathered by contacting county clerks and sheriff’s offices, and following those calls with calls to individual municipalities. Despite our best efforts, we estimate that some facilities were missed.  In rural places the information can be rather fluid. Animal control services may be interrupted when an animal control officer vacates their job. A few officers without shelters simply take animals home.  Contractual live animal removal services range from apparently legitimate private services, to a, “man who comes and gets dogs.”Between one third and one half of the municipal facilities collect strays only, refusing owner surrenders. Outside of large shelters, very few accept cats. Limited accurate euthanasia records may be available (based on method, or combination of methods, and therefore payment), but accurate records of animals entering and leaving the shelters alive are actually rare outside of shelters in larger municipalities.  We estimate less than one fifth of rural shelters comply with the state law requiring sterilization of shelter animals. A lack of shelters causes some officers to rely on unacceptable “rescue” channels, an issue tied to several large-scale removals in the last two years, including notorious ones in Stigler and Vici.  Animal disposal in places without shelters (which includes over half of rural Oklahoma) includes abandonment, shooting and drowning.  A limited number of unwanted, but “adoptable,” animals go into private shelters. For older, large, sick, or ugly dogs, and cats, there is virtually no place of refuge.  Most importantly, the focus of most rural services is to eliminate nuisance animals. Animal welfare is occasionally significant to individual officers; this seems to be strengthened if the officer has the assistance and support of local humane volunteers.  Thank you very much for your interest in this information..

Ruth Steinberger and Tara Beres

Population of Oklahoma: 3,523,553

Total population served by animal control: 2,372,182

Overall percentage served by animal control: 67.3%


Oklahoma population with Tulsa and Oklahoma counties removed: 2,273,590 (3,523,553 – 1,249,963)

Population served with Tulsa and Oklahoma counties removed: 1,122,219 (2,372,182- 1,249,963)

Percentage of Oklahoma served by animal control outside of Tulsa and Oklahoma counties: 49.3%


Population in the Oklahoma panhandle (Beaver, Cimarron, Texas counties): 28,667

Population served by animal control in the Oklahoma panhandle: 14,467

Percentage served by animal control in the Oklahoma panhandle: 50.4%


Population in southeastern Oklahoma (Atoka, Bryan, Choctaw, Coal, Haskell, Hughes, Johnston, Latimer,

LeFlore, McCurtain, Marshall, Pontotoc, Pushmataha counties): 241,257

Population served by animal control in southeastern Oklahoma: 86,892

Percentage served by animal control in southeastern Oklahoma: 36%


Population in rural northeastern Oklahoma (Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Creek, Delaware, Logan, Mayes,

Osage, Ottawa, Wagoner, Washington, counties): 358,301

Population served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 153,239

Percentage served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 42%


Population in southwestern Oklahoma (Beckham, Carter, Caddo, Comanche, Cotton, Garvin, Grady, Greer,

Harmon, Jackson, Jefferson, Kiowa, Love, Murray, Stephens, Tillman, Washita counties): 426,339

Population served by animal control in southwestern Oklahoma: 259,549

Percentage served by animal control in southwestern Oklahoma: 60.8%


Population in northwestern Oklahoma (Alfalfa, Blaine, Canadian, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Grant,

Harper, Kingfisher, Logan, Major, Roger Mills, Woods, Woodward counties): 300,347

Population served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 156,757

Percentage served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 52.1%


Data compiled by Ruth Steinberger, Coordinator, Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, 918-367-8999

Tabulations assisted by Tara Beres, Director, Safe Haven Center, Oklahoma City, OK, 405-821-7367

Ruth Steinberger’s presentation to the World Health Organization’s OIE Conference

posted September 12th, 2012 by
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Ruth Steinberger (2)

We are thrilled to share Ruth Steinberger’s presentation on spay/neuter at the OIE’s First International Conference on Dog Population Management in York, England.  (The OIE is the animal branch of the World Health Organization.)   Ruth was a speaker at the conference, her presentation focused on her creation of a spay/neuter program for the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.   Ruth is truly a leader in the protection of our animals and her work with spay/neuter is priceless!!!  See her presentation at:

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