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Saturday, December 1, 2018

UCAN Offers a Solution-Focused and Humane Approach to Pet Overpopulation

By Jennifer Sauers

First the distressing news: according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 3.5 million dogs and 3.3 million cats entered U.S. shelters in 2017. Of those, 1.5 million (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats), or about a quarter, were euthanized even though they were healthy or treatable. Locally, the Hamilton County SPCA took in 6,424 dogs and 5,579 cats. 

Now for the hopeful news: since 2011, the national rate of animals entering shelters declined nearly 6%. This downward trend can be attributed, in part, to the concerted and focused efforts of groups like our local United Coalition for Animals (UCAN), a non-profit organization providing high-volume low-cost spay/neutering for cats and dogs.

UCAN Executive Director Melanie Corwin
Since 2007, UCAN has performed over 112,500 sterilizations – preventing hundreds of thousands of unwanted puppy and kitten pregnancies, and therefore many euthanizations. But sterilizations are only part of UCAN’s mission.

“Everyone deserves a pet,” believes UCAN Executive Director and Mt. Lookout resident Melanie Corwin. “Our job is to make sure they can have a pet instead of having to surrender it.  We won’t turn anyone away. If there are financial difficulties, options are available.” 

UCAN Medical Director Amy Strabala, DVM, performing surgery
For example, pet owners with economic need can pay $20 for a cat sterilization and a free rabies vaccination. In addition to assisting low-income pet owners, UCAN serves people caring for free-roaming cats, rescue groups and animal shelters in the Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana regions.

Melanie, a former attorney who worked in private practice for 25 years, became involved with UCAN about nine years ago after she and her son volunteered to socialize cats and walk dogs. Concerned with the number of cats and dogs who kept coming through the door, she joined the UCAN board and contributed her legal expertise in corporate governance. 

UCAN staffperson interacting with a pet at a Friday vaccine clinic – they want all pets to keep current on their vaccines to avoid preventable illnesses owners cannot afford to treat.
“The more I learned about pet overpopulation and the issues surrounding it, I realized it was a solvable problem. It wasn’t insurmountable,” she said. Ready to roll up her sleeves and attack this stubborn issue, Melanie agreed to become UCAN’s Executive Director and has held this role for six years. Among her duties are overseeing operations, fundraising and writing grants. Her goal? “I want to work myself out of a job,” she smiled.

UCAN is located in the heart of Camp Washington in a spacious building with ample parking that was formerly a Kroger. Long benches suitable for pets, pet carriers and their owners line the lobby. Behind the reception desk and down a short hall is a brightly-lit operatory. 

Melanie and the UCAN staff of 18 follow strict cleanliness protocols. supplies are well-organized and cages are clean. “Sanitation is #1,” she said. An efficient system moves animals through pre-op, surgery and recovery. 

Dan Evans, former Director of the Kenton County Animal Shelter, in a poignant photo - it’s emotionally draining to euthanize animals due to lack of shelter space
For example, on Friday mornings a dog sterilization session takes place. After dogs are anesthetized, they are laid supine with their paws dressed in toddler-sized socks to keep them warm. Each dog is matched with a gowned, gloved and masked licensed veterinarian expertly snipping and excising their reproductive organs in order to spay or neuter them. Surgeries take under 10 minutes for females and even less for males. As soon as the incision is sutured, the dog is tattooed alongside it so to be easily identified as sterilized and not having to undergo unneeded surgery. (Cats are ear-tipped on their left ear to show they’ve been sterilized and vaccinated.  After surgery, registered veterinary technicians bundle the dog in a colorful fleece or terrycloth blanket to be gently placed in an area of the room nicknamed “The Beach” to sleep off anesthesia before being transferred to a cage in the recovery room. 

One of the benefits of an efficient high-volume pet sterilization clinic is it reduces the amount of time animals are under anesthesia to only minutes, allowing for a faster and safer recovery. Moreover, the staff become extremely adept at performing these surgeries, which generates better health outcomes for pets at a lower cost. 

Studies show spayed/neutered pets live longer, and the procedure eliminates - or significantly decreases - risks of certain types of cancer. It also can eliminate crying and nervous behavior during females’ heat cycles, and males are less likely to roam, bite, fight and urine-mark. And besides, it costs much less to sterilize pets rather than care for their litters.

A plea from some adorable kittens
By the afternoon, the veterinarians will have performed 75 surgeries. In fact, last year UCAN performed 13,557 surgeries bringing the total since they opened in 2007 to 108,000. The volume of sterilizations is unfathomable until one realizes in 2015, 28,000 cats and dogs were taken in by seven local shelters  -  and that doesn’t include animals accepted by private rescue groups or who were homeless. Communities spend millions of taxpayer dollars to run shelters and euthanize homeless animals. Pet overpopulation is expensive and depressing, but UCAN’s high-volume/low-cost approach promotes progress. County shelters are receiving fewer cats and dogs and can now use their resources in other areas, such as developing training programs for pets with behavioral problems. 

UCAN’s approach was modeled after a successful program founded in Asheville, North Carolina in 1994. Over the years, this high-volume/low-cost program won national acclaim, and eventually 150 clinics adopted their practices. After having performed 362,055 surgeries in 20 years, plus running training programs across the country, it was acquired in 2015 by the ASCPA. 

Animal welfare groups hope Greater Cincinnati will become a no-kill community, but there are barriers to overcome. Two main reasons people don’t spay or neuter their pets are cost and access. As mentioned earlier, costs are defrayed at UCAN for low-income clients. This is possible due to grants, donations and fundraisers such as UCAN’s cleverly named annual “Spay-ghetti and No Balls” event which was held in July at Carnegie Hall in Newport.

A plea from some adorable kittens
Every effort is made to keep costs reasonable for pet owners; a cat spay/neuter costs $40 and a dog spay/neuter is $75. Each Friday from noon until 2:30 p.m. UCAN runs a Low-Cost Wellness Clinic (they do not treat sick or injured pets), and no appointment is necessary. “We want all pets to keep current on their vaccines so they do not get sick with preventable illnesses owners cannot afford to treat,” said Melanie. Economical services for cats and dogs range from vaccinations (most cost $15) to treatments for heartworm, fleas, ticks and lice. Microchipping with lifetime registration is available for $20. 

Another barrier for people is access to services. Many low-income individuals have difficulty transporting animals for spaying/neutering, but UCAN has circumvented this concern by setting up 12 transport service locations around a 75-mile radius circling nearby counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. UCAN picks up the pets at designated locations at specific dates and times, brings the animals to the clinic for surgery and returns them to the drop-off locations for their owners. 

UCAN is a member of the Pet Coalition of Cincinnati, an umbrella organization which strengthens fostering options as well as other initiatives. Another organization which has provided significant support is the Joanie Bernard Foundation, which strives to create a no-kill nation for cats. Its support underwrote capital costs for UCAN as well as helped subsidize cat spaying/neutering. In fact, the current “save rate” of felines has risen dramatically from 20% five or six years ago to 93% today.

Several Northern Kentucky counties also have demonstrated striking results. For instance, Grant County has collaborated with UCAN via monthly transports for five years. They currently have no dogs in their shelter and note a brisk turnaround on cat adoptions.

With over 13,000 sterilizations completed last year, UCAN is on track to accomplish 14,000 this year. Interested in joining their mission? Visit their website at and find out how you can volunteer, donate or help in other ways. 


Help UCAN provide more spay/neuter surgeries by donating or coordinating a drive at your church, school or workplace for wish list items below.
Paper Towels
Ziplock Bags – all sizes
Bleach and Dryer Sheets
Black Sharpies and Pens
Garbage Bags – 13 gallon and 55 gallon
Distilled Water
New or gently used towels, sheets and blankets
Cat Litter
Gift Cards to Walmart, Target or Staples
New or used dog collars, leashes and toys for clients 

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