A low-income population, a lack of animal shelters and poor practices at some of those shelters mean that too many dogs and cats do not get spayed or neutered in Oklahoma, according to a study released Thursday by a nonprofit group.
Less than one-half of Oklahoma residents have convenient access to an animal shelter at which to release an unwanted dog or cat, said the Kirkpatrick Foundation-funded study by Spay First, a nonprofit group that educates about pet overpopulation.
People in households with low-income levels are less likely to spay or neuter their pets, particularly if the procedure is costly and the trip to an animal shelter is long, said Ruth Steinberger, founder of Spay First.
The study found that in 19 Oklahoma counties, mostly in southwest and southeast Oklahoma, between 17 and 24 percent of households have incomes lower than $10,000.
“We know from looking at these parameters that if 24 percent of households are under $10,000 a year, they have minimal to no access to a spay/neuter program and very limited animal sheltering, we know that a lot of animals become at risk,” Steinberger said.
A lack of law enforcement staffing compounds the problem in these areas.
“Which means they cannot devote time and resource to enforcing abandonment, animal cruelty laws,” she said. “It’s really a catch-as-catch-can situation.”
The study also found:
•Unwanted animals are uncounted in much of Oklahoma. It is not known how many enter shelters, how many leave alive and what happens to those that don’t.
•Less than one-half of Oklahoma shelters keep any records of intakes and uses of euthanasia.
•Many shelters refused to respond to inquiries from researchers asking how they euthanize animals.
•Some counties in Oklahoma operate at 15 percent of the national level of law enforcement staffing, meaning animal cruelty cases often go uninvestigated.
•An outdated state statute allows only counties with populations of 200,000 or more to operate an animal shelter, leading many areas to go unserved.
The study recommends that shelters end the practice of releasing animals that have not been spayed or neutered and that more services be made available for low-income people to sterilize their pets. It also recommends that better records be kept for pets that come through animal shelters.
The Oklahoma Legislature created a pet overpopulation fund supported by sales of “animal-friendly license plates.”
“Simply put, money in that fund prevents taxpayer dollars from being spent after unwanted litters are born and there is not enough money in the fund to respond to all those who need services in a timely manner,” the study said.
The study also recommends the removal of the state law that works against opening animal shelters in smaller counties.
“We hope to see the population mandate in Title 4, Chapter 3, Section 43 of the Oklahoma code, struck. It is a law that causes many animals to be abandoned to starve and suffer horrible deaths,” the study said.