Can non-surgical sterilization help solve the pet-overpopulation problem?

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Holly Bukes has been working in animal welfare for over 18 years. She currently serves as president of Coalition: HUMAnE and president of Pit Bull Rescue Central. Holly is also on the board of the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County. Today she updates us on the latest in the cutting-edge field of non-surgical sterilization of pets. She lives in Gig Harbor, WA, with her husband, dog and cat.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs (ACC&D) symposium in Dallas. The symposium focused on finding a simple, safe and effective way to non-surgically sterilize dogs and cats so that we can combat the worldwide pet-overpopulation problem. I was invited to attend, and was provided with a scholarship by the Foundation. I would like to extend a special thank you to Betsy Saul for this honor!

The symposium was like nothing I’d ever attended and was a great learning experience. Prior to attending, I have to admit, I thought non-surgical sterilization was a great idea, but I was fairly skeptical about the development of such a procedure ever coming to fruition and being successfully implemented.

Many animal lovers are interested in the development of a non-surgical
sterilization/contraception option for dogs and cats — a “silver bullet”
for solving the overpopulation problem. In fact, at the symposium I
learned that the Found Animals Foundation is offering a $25 million dollar prize to the person who develops this product. The foundation also offers $50 million in research grants to assist in the effort.

The U.S. has been making somewhat steady progress on pet overpopulation
over the past 20-30 years. Yet pet overpopulation still exists at a
tragic level. In the Dallas area alone, humane organizations will
perform a very impressive 50,000 spay and neuter surgeries in 2010, yet a
staggering 100,000 animals will die in its area shelters during that
same time. Animal welfare professionals seem to agree that about 4
million dogs and cats still lose their lives in U.S. animal shelters
each year simply because they are unwanted.

Animal overpopulation outside the U.S. is an even more significant
problem. Large populations of stray and loosely owned dogs exist in many
countries, often in impoverished and remote areas. There are an
estimated 684 million dogs worldwide, with 284 million of them being
strays. It was interesting to learn that the worldwide cat population is
not as significant and may be held in check by dog overpopulation.

Among the 185 symposium attendees were representatives from 25 different
countries. Many were veterinarians attending from outside the U.S. I
was struck by the fact that the vet from Sierra Leone who attended is
the only vet in his entire country of 6.4 million people. It was moving
and inspiring to hear stories of grassroots efforts to control dog and
cat populations worldwide.

Progress is already being made in non-surgical
contraception/sterilization. Currently, the product most in use
worldwide is EsterilSol, a testicular injection which results in the
permanent sterilization of male dogs. It’s approved and being
manufactured for use in Mexico. It has also been used for special
projects in Guatemala and the Samoan Islands. Additional projects are in
the works in Colombia and beyond.

This product is the same as Neutersol — an FDA-approved product that was
offered in the U.S. from 2003-2005 (it is no longer available in the
U.S. because the patent holder and the company contracted to market the
product had disagreements about how to sell Neutersol here). In Mexico,
vets may use EsterilSol after receiving required training. A field trial
completed in 2006 sterilized 10,000 male dogs in Mexico using this
formula. The product is very appealing in Mexico, where male dog owners
may not want to surgically neuter their dogs because they value

[Editor’s note: EsterilSol is not eligible for the Found Animals
Foundation’s $25 million Michelson Prize because it doesn’t meet the
prize’s criteria
The winning product must be a single-dose, non-surgical sterilant that
is safe and effective in male and female cats and dogs and suitable for
administration in a field setting; it must also have a viable pathway to
regulatory approval and a reasonable manufacturing process and cost.
EsteriSol only works for male animals.]

At the symposium, we watched veterinarian attendees get trained in the
use of EsterilSol, and saw it administered to male dogs from a local
shelter. The protocol for administering the injection is important
because if the product leaks, it is caustic to scrotal skin. It was
amazing to see the dogs’ quick recovery from the procedure, with no
observable pain response.

In the U.S., non-surgical sterilization/contraception holds promise for
feral cat populations, as well as some populations of male dogs. As of
this moment, surgical sterilization is our best weapon in battling pet
overpopulation. But it’s great to know that there may be more offerings
in the future that will allow us to reach pet populations we may not be
able to surgically sterilize. For more information on non-surgical
sterilization/contraception, visit the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs Web site.

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