Oklahoma woman devotes life to preventing animal cruelty due to overpopulation

Ruth Steinberger is a crusader for animal rights — she has devoted her professional life to making spay and neuter services easily accessible to all Oklahomans.
by Heather Warlick Published: April 3, 2012
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Litters of tiny puppies and kittens may be cute, but overpopulation of pets in the U.S. is a major problem that many animal rights activists are working hard to correct.

Ruth Steinberger is one such activist. The Bristow woman has devoted her professional life to preventing pet overpopulation by making sure as many pets as possible are spayed or neutered.

“Most animals that are victims of intentional cruelty are intact (not spayed or neutered), roaming strays,” she said. “Standing up against cruelty is a huge step, but I think it's tragic that we're not preventing a whole lot more than we are.”

She recalls a disturbing, yet vivid example of how preventing an unwanted litter can prevent animal cruelty.

In March, a puppy was beaten to death in Bristow by a person with a baseball bat. A man who heard about the incident called Steinberger before he even called the police.

Steinberger is known in Bristow and across Oklahoma as a no-nonsense animal advocate.

Steinberger went to the scene of the crime — a low-income housing addition, she said — and found the lifeless dog. Neighbors and their children surrounding the scene looked on in horror — “It was so terrifying to the kids that this animal was killed like this,” she said.

Neighbors came forward as witnesses, Steinberger said, and the alleged perpetrator is in jail.

Unfortunately, this type of cruelty to animals is all too common, Seinberger said, and a big reason for the cruelty is pet overpopulation, a problem for which there is a simple solution — permanent birth control in the form of spaying or neutering.

Saving lives by preventing them

Finding ways to keep unwanted litters of puppies and kittens from being born is atop Steinberger's agenda.

That's why she created Spay First!, a national nonprofit organization at the front lines of educating the public about the crisis of pet overpopulation and preventing animal cruelty by establishing affordable spay/neuter programs in underserved areas.

For each spay or neuter surgery performed, Steinberger says at least one litter or about six unwanted animals won't be born.

But for many low-income Oklahomans, altering their pets is very low on their lists of financial priorities, Steinberger said. As part of her mission to see as many pets spayed and neutered as possible, Steinberger set up the Oklahoma Spay Network, which started as a small rural shelter in Durant and grew into a group of nonprofit providers in Oklahoma who provide more than 25,000 spay and neuter procedures for low income family pets each year. Fees are determined by a sliding scale based on clients' incomes. These providers can be found online at Okspaynetwork.org.

By reducing the unwanted animal population, Steinberger hopes to lessen the number of animals euthanized in shelters. So much of her goal depends on the willingness of veterinarians to volunteer their time and resources to provide the services. Due to the relationships she's made with Oklahoma veterinarians, Steinberger was recently made an honorary member of Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association.

According to Spay First!, less than 50 percent of homes in Oklahoma earning under $35,000 per year have their pets spayed or neutered. Nearly half of Americans earn under $35,000 and the number of homes living in poverty increased dramatically in the last two years, so pets' lives are urgently fragile. Euthanasia, due to homelessness, is the single leading cause of death of dogs and cats. Seven million animals each year wind up in shelters; the majority is euthanized.

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by Heather Warlick
Life & Style Editor
Since graduating from University of Central Oklahoma with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism, Staff Writer Heather Warlick has written stories for The Oklahoman's Life section. Her beats have included science, health, home and garden, family,...
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People in chronic poverty want to be able to be compassionate and act on compassion. We absolutely know that when people are empowered to care, they do care.”

Ruth Steinberger

SpayFirst founder

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