Five Saves Lives

posted January 15th, 2008 by
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Story by Ruth Steinberger

Five Saves Lives is a simple concept that could dramatically reduce the number of animals euthanized in shelters across the country without any additional expense, facilities or staffing. In fact, while reducing the number of unwanted litters, fewer resources will be used, money will be saved and animal welfare programs made easier and more streamlined. Does it sound like a dream come true? It is not. 


Five Saves Lives  is a brand new nationwide campaign developed to educate the public, as well as veterinarians, on the importance of sterilizing kittens and puppies by five months of age in order to prevent pets from producing early, unwanted litters, which often come as a surprise. A Tulsa spay/neuter program is rolling out the carpet for the concept.

According to Peter Marsh, Esq., of Concord, New Hampshire, a founder of the first statewide spay/neuter program in the US, and co-developer of Five Saves Lives, Oklahoma will be the first state in which a large scale FSL campaign will be rolled out. 

The Five Saves Lives Campaign will emphasize two facts that many pet owners may not be aware of: that health benefits from pet sterilization are the greatest for female cats and dogs if they are sterilized before their first heat cycle and female kittens and puppies can go into heat as early as five months of age. As a result, the best time for sterilizing female pets is at five months of age or earlier. Any delay beyond that time will jeopardize the pet’s health.

Dr. Brenda Griffin

Marsh explained that timely pet sterilization will not only benefit individual cats and dogs, it will also reduce pet overpopulation. A study by Dr. Andrew Rowan, a veterinary expert on pet overpopulation, found that close to 90% of all kittens and puppies are born to females who are sterilized after they have given birth to at least one litter. Many of these litters are unplanned and unwanted.

‘Early age’ spay/neuter normally refers to pets that are at least eight weeks old and weigh at least two pounds. According to research accepted by the American Veterinary Medical Association, early age spay/neuter is safe.  Five Saves Lives is a modest approach to the early age concept, moving the timeline back just a few weeks from the traditional six month recommendation.   For veterinarians uncomfortable with the more drastic change from six months to eight weeks, this protocol can have dramatic benefits with a less drastic change in recommendations. 

In support of the concept of preventing the first litter, SPAY OK, a high volume income based spay/neuter clinic located in North Tulsa, will reduce the price of surgeries for kittens and puppies less than five months of age as of January 1, 2008. Spaying or neutering a puppy will cost $20 and a kitten will cost $15.


Esther Mechler, Executive Director of SPAY USA and co-founder of Five Saves Lives said, “Millions of kittens born in this country are in ‘whoops litters,’ meaning they are born accidentally. Many are born because some veterinarians are not spaying cats before six months old.” Noting that cats mature at four to five months of age, Mechler said, “Those few weeks, the ones between four and a half months and six months, are when a lot of unwanted litters are produced. Moving the surgery back in time just a few weeks will save millions of lives on a nationwide scale.” 

Mechler said, “We can gain a lot of ground by changing the timeline slightly. It doesn’t cost a penny more to spay a few weeks earlier, it is easier on animal shelters because the litters are just not born.” 

Brenda Griffin, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM (Internal Medicine), Director of Clinical Programs for the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine said, “Five Saves Lives refers to spaying and neutering pets before sexual maturity, and that not only prevents the birth of unwanted litters, it improves the health of the pets having surgery—and that’s what people need to get.”

Brenda Griffin, DVM, MS Diplomate ACVIM (internal Medicine), Director of Clinincal Programs for the Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, NY

Griffin explained the health benefits to animals sterilized before sexual maturity. She said, “For female dogs you virtually eliminate the risk of breast cancer, which is the most common type of cancer in female dogs. Griffin added, “Everyone has known someone with breast cancer, yet breast cancer is much more common in dogs than it is in people.”  Griffin continued, “If the dog begins to come into season you reduce that benefit. In unspayed dogs we also commonly see serious uterine infections (called pyometra) which are often handled as emergencies once they get older.” Griffin said, “A parallel situation exists for cats.” 

Griffin explained that for male pets, neutering decreases the risk of prostate disease, perianal tumors and hernias.  She said, “We also decrease scent marking by dogs and spraying by cats, as well as inter-male aggression. Many people neuter working dogs because it means that they keep their mind on the job. Less marking, spraying and fighting and better working ability means better pets, so you see, Five Saves Lives is life-saving in many ways!” 

Tulsa Pets Magazine asked Dr. Griffin what she views as the most important part of pet ownership. She said, “Spaying or neutering a young pet is one of the most important things people can do for the life of the animal.  Vaccination, sterilization, some basic training and making sure your pet has identification are the most important things you can do for them.”

Judy Kishner, President of SPAY OK, said, “In addition to the health benefits of spaying pets before sexual maturity, the failure to spay a pet in a timely manner results in euthanasias, animal abandonment, wasted shelter resources and more. An unwanted litter is a completely preventable tragedy.”

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