Animal Advocacy

The Importance of Enforcing the Oklahoma Dog and Cat Sterilization Act

posted September 16th, 2012 by
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by Ruth Steinberger

The 1986 Oklahoma Dog and Cat Sterilization Act was forward- thinking legislation intended to prevent unwanted litters from being born to former shelter pets; essentially, it was to stop the release of unwanted pets that then produce more unwanted pets. Intact release can quickly turn a shelter into the single largest source of at-risk pets in a community.

The Act mandates that animals released from public or private shelters in Oklahoma be spayed or neutered, either by contract or pre-adoption sterilization. It further stipulates that if a contract is used instead of pre-adoption sterilization, the pet must be altered within 30 days (exceptions are made for animals under six months of age), and the new owner is to pay a deposit of no less than $10, which is to be refunded upon proof of surgery. However, the law has no penalties for non-compliance and has no enforcement mechanism. Therefore, it may be time to update the law and close the loopholes in this important tool to help animals.

TulsaPets Magazine decided to find out how well the statute is working. Our survey shows that with over 25 years since the passage of this statute, compliance is sporadic; some Oklahoma shelters evade even the simple mandate for a contract. And communities that do comply are likely affected by neighbors that do not.

For example, the cities of Tulsa, Claremore, Owasso, and Tulsa SPCA and Washington County SPCA practice pre-adoption sterilization, while Broken Arrow, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Glenpool, Catoosa and Jenks release some or all animals intact. And the further the shelter is from an urban area, the more likely it is to be non-compliant, so while the Pittsburg County Shelter in McAlister, Okla., complies with the statute by sterilizing animals prior to adoption, shelters in cities in neighboring Pushmataha, Latimer, Atoka and Hughes counties release intact pets. In addition to increasing the number of homeless animals, the lack of enforcement invites unscrupulous puppy mill operators and dog dealers to take their pick, placing at-risk animals into a never-never land of horrors in which their suffering is unseen and unaddressed.

Some towns comply in regard to adult animals, while releasing puppies and kittens intact. Unfortunately, this policy places animals with the greatest reproductive timeline (kittens and puppies) into circulation intact, while sterilizing older pets that may produce far fewer litters. Some cities flout the law altogether, making the process of reducing the number of homeless pets virtually impossible while ensuring that animal control costs will steadily rise. For example, the city of Durant releases some intact animals for free and without a contract.

Officer Steve Harris, field supervisor at Tulsa Animal Welfare has worked in animal sheltering for 12 years. “The issue of pre-adoption spay/neuter is all about what happens to the animals after they leave the shelter,” he says. “I don’t care how good your shelter looks or how new it is; if your policies allow animals to end up having litters, you’re a part of the problem. I believe that all of the shelters that neighbor [the] city of Tulsa need to spay or neuter the animals before they are released. It’s the only way we will ever get the problem under control. That goes for the rescues too. They should all spay or neuter before they pass them on to the new owners.”

Additionally, neuter before adoption (NBA) is not a luxury reserved for shelters with in-house clinics. Some shelters that do not have in-house clinics include the cities of Claremore, Stillwater, Moore, and Washington County SPCA, all of which alter all adopted pets before they go to the new home through a combination of relationships that include local veterinarians who arrange last-minute appointments for adopted animals and spay/neuter clinics (the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine provides spay/neuter services for the City of Stillwater and other shelters). While it takes a bit of organizing to get the pet to the clinic, and it’s a bit more work on the front end, it prevents litters and saves time from dealing with contracts later on.

Dawnette Brady, executive director of Washington County SPCA, says, “We stopped allowing deposits to be made for spay/neuters on pets being adopted in [the] fall of 2009. Every animal must be spayed/neutered prior to release. It’s relatively easy to make that change happen, and we have never had someone get upset with our policy. I know how we were able to turn the corner and make the change and will speak with any shelter that wants information on how we did it.”

Senior Animal Control Officer for the City of Lawton Rose Wilson has created a middle ground at her shelter with an abbreviated surgery room. “We partner with a local veterinarian, Dr Wayne Haney, who comes here to spay and neuter on site,” she says. “And just because you are using a contract doesn’t mean you cannot follow through. You need to have officers that are knowledgeable about enforcement, and you need a municipal system that understands the seriousness of this issue and supports what you’re trying to do.” She adds that it may involve taking pictures of those who have lost their lives to euthanasia to get the point across, but that the support is vital to creating change.

“If a shelter is adopting on a spay/ neuter contract, the fee is very important,” Wilson says. “It needs to create an incentive to get it done. And the fine for not complying needs to be high enough to make an impression.”

In our TulsaPets Magazine survey, the best contract we found is the one used by Enid Animal Shelter. Under the Enid contract, the new owner chooses from a list of local clinics and pays for the spay or neuter before taking the pet home. They then take the pet to the clinic to redeem the already paid for surgery. It does not cost more money to fulfill the contract, so it’s an easy choice.

That is not so in cities where the “deposit” is merely a portion of the cost of spaying or neutering the new pet, a process which forces the new owner to pay out more money to complete the adoption process after the animal is in their home. If the surgery costs more than the deposit, the new owner can save money by forfeiting the deposit and leaving the pet intact; basically, there is a financial incentive for noncompliance. It’s an honor system that usually fails. Nationally, the estimate on compliance with sterilization contracts is under 50 percent.

“A lot of places have adoption contracts that they themselves do not understand,” Wilson says. “A contract isn’t worth having if you’re not going to enforce it, or if it just carries a fine that people can laugh at.”

Deposits of $25 to $40 are the average at the Oklahoma shelters that release pets on contract; the City of Enid was the only agency that we spoke with that collects the full cost of the surgery as a deposit. None of the shelters releasing animals on a smaller deposit had programs in place whereby the surgery was paid in full by the smaller deposit.

Nancy Atwater, executive director and founding board member of Tulsa-based Spay Oklahoma, says that the problem of intact release of shelter pets cannot be overstated. “This is a no-brainer,” she says. “Releasing intact animals is self defeating. At least some of the animals will have unwanted litters that will then produce unwanted litters. Intact release also reduces the chances of a successful adoption; the behavior associated with being intact, such as roaming, fighting or attracting males does not make the pet more endearing to people.”

“Things have changed a lot since the passage of this statute in 1986,” Atwater adds. “Veterinarians used to tell people to have pets spayed at 6 months. But a lot of cats are pregnant by 6 months old, and now people are encouraged to avoid the first heat cycle. It’s important to revisit these policies, so they do what they are intended to do.”

Spay Oklahoma helps shelters in the region develop procedures for transport and billing, so that pets can be altered before going into a new home. “A volunteer can accomplish a lot by becoming a spay/neuter transporter for their local shelter,” Atwater says.

Rose Wilson best summed up the importance of the Sterilization Act, and why we should look closely at this issue. “The main thing is that if the law is worth passing, it needs to be enforced,” she says. “There’s no point in passing laws we don’t plan to enforce.”

The following list shows each county in Oklahoma, its’ population, and each town within that county that has a mechanism for handling unwanted dogs, or “animal control”; the population of each town with “animal control” is included beside the name of the town. When added together, the populations of the towns reveal the number of residents of the entire county that can humanely release an unwanted animal. When divided by the overall population, that figure reveals the percentage of the population that has such access and the percentage that does not.  This information was gathered by contacting county clerks and sheriff’s offices, and following those calls with calls to individual municipalities. Despite our best efforts, we estimate that some facilities were missed.  In rural places the information can be rather fluid. Animal control services may be interrupted when an animal control officer vacates their job. A few officers without shelters simply take animals home.  Contractual live animal removal services range from apparently legitimate private services, to a, “man who comes and gets dogs.”Between one third and one half of the municipal facilities collect strays only, refusing owner surrenders. Outside of large shelters, very few accept cats. Limited accurate euthanasia records may be available (based on method, or combination of methods, and therefore payment), but accurate records of animals entering and leaving the shelters alive are actually rare outside of shelters in larger municipalities.  We estimate less than one fifth of rural shelters comply with the state law requiring sterilization of shelter animals. A lack of shelters causes some officers to rely on unacceptable “rescue” channels, an issue tied to several large-scale removals in the last two years, including notorious ones in Stigler and Vici.  Animal disposal in places without shelters (which includes over half of rural Oklahoma) includes abandonment, shooting and drowning.  A limited number of unwanted, but “adoptable,” animals go into private shelters. For older, large, sick, or ugly dogs, and cats, there is virtually no place of refuge.  Most importantly, the focus of most rural services is to eliminate nuisance animals. Animal welfare is occasionally significant to individual officers; this seems to be strengthened if the officer has the assistance and support of local humane volunteers.  Thank you very much for your interest in this information..

Ruth Steinberger and Tara Beres

Population of Oklahoma: 3,523,553

Total population served by animal control: 2,372,182

Overall percentage served by animal control: 67.3%


Oklahoma population with Tulsa and Oklahoma counties removed: 2,273,590 (3,523,553 – 1,249,963)

Population served with Tulsa and Oklahoma counties removed: 1,122,219 (2,372,182- 1,249,963)

Percentage of Oklahoma served by animal control outside of Tulsa and Oklahoma counties: 49.3%


Population in the Oklahoma panhandle (Beaver, Cimarron, Texas counties): 28,667

Population served by animal control in the Oklahoma panhandle: 14,467

Percentage served by animal control in the Oklahoma panhandle: 50.4%


Population in southeastern Oklahoma (Atoka, Bryan, Choctaw, Coal, Haskell, Hughes, Johnston, Latimer,

LeFlore, McCurtain, Marshall, Pontotoc, Pushmataha counties): 241,257

Population served by animal control in southeastern Oklahoma: 86,892

Percentage served by animal control in southeastern Oklahoma: 36%


Population in rural northeastern Oklahoma (Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Creek, Delaware, Logan, Mayes,

Osage, Ottawa, Wagoner, Washington, counties): 358,301

Population served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 153,239

Percentage served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 42%


Population in southwestern Oklahoma (Beckham, Carter, Caddo, Comanche, Cotton, Garvin, Grady, Greer,

Harmon, Jackson, Jefferson, Kiowa, Love, Murray, Stephens, Tillman, Washita counties): 426,339

Population served by animal control in southwestern Oklahoma: 259,549

Percentage served by animal control in southwestern Oklahoma: 60.8%


Population in northwestern Oklahoma (Alfalfa, Blaine, Canadian, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Grant,

Harper, Kingfisher, Logan, Major, Roger Mills, Woods, Woodward counties): 300,347

Population served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 156,757

Percentage served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 52.1%


Data compiled by Ruth Steinberger, Coordinator, Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, 918-367-8999

Tabulations assisted by Tara Beres, Director, Safe Haven Center, Oklahoma City, OK, 405-821-7367

Homeless Pups get a Second Chance

posted September 15th, 2012 by
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by Kiley Roberson

Homeless dogs in the city of Chouteau, Okla., are getting a second chance at life, and the pooches owe it all to pigs. It’s a bizarre and heart-breaking story that seems almost unreal to pet lovers, but it spurred the creation of what is now Chouteau Pound Pals, a non-profit and no-kill organization that helps homeless pups find new forever families.


Nancy Suda is the president of Pound Pals, but she began working as a court clerk for the city of Chouteau in January of 2008. As an avid pet lover, she was shocked to find out that the city’s dog pound was euthanizing the animals and giving away the others to anyone who wanted them.


“I spoke to the chief of police, and he encouraged me to help get them adopted,” Suda says. “So, I found out from a neighboring shelter in Pryor how they advertised their dogs online. I started taking pictures of the dogs as we got them in and posted them to the website for adoption.”


This new undertaking kept Suda extremely busy, but as each dog found a new home she knew her hard work was paying off. Suda wanted to do more for the pups, but it took some pigs to push the limit.


“One day a man came in and said he wanted all the dogs in the pound,” Suda explains. “When I asked as to why he wanted all the dogs he told me that he was going to feed them to his hogs. I was horrified!”

It turns out that the same man had been in several times over the past years and had taken all the dogs in the pound. Suda decided that day that it was time for a change.


“I was sick when I thought about what happened to those poor dogs,” she says. “I went to the City Council at that time and told them about this incident and asked if we could start charging an adoption fee. I also told them that the dogs given away free are sometimes sold to labs for testing on, or used as bait dogs for fighting. They agreed we could start charging $20, so I created an adoption form, and that was the earliest beginnings of what would become Chouteau Pound Pals.”


Chouteau Pound Pals has come a long way since then. The organization provides all of the food, vaccinations, wellness exams, spay/neuter, as well as any emergency care that the dogs in the shelter may need. In 2009, the organization received its 501(c)(3) status, making it an official non-profit group. Then in 2011, it reached another milestone, building a brand new shelter.


“The town shelter when we started consisted of four kennels under a leanto that opened to the north,” Suda explains. “The dogs were always exposed to the elements, cold in winter and summer. In the winter, during the coldest spells of freezing temperatures, we would have to board the dogs to keep them from suffering frostbite or worse. It was so bad that we couldn’t keep fresh water out for them. The water would freeze within 30 minutes.”


The new building has twelve indoor/outdoor kennels, a laundry room, isolation room and an office. It also has central heat and air to keep the dogs comfortable all year around. Before the new shelter was built, the organization could only house an average of 12 dogs at a time. Since the new shelter went up, they’ve had approximately 20 dogs onsite at any given time.


“We’re a little different than your normal rescue group,” Suda says. “We don’t pick dogs to pull from the shelter; we care for every dog that is brought into the town shelter. Our whole reason for being is to help shelter dogs have a better life.”

Ruth Steinberger to address World Health Organization

posted September 3rd, 2012 by
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WHO Dog Population Mgmt2

Ruth Steinberger, Spay FIRST! founder and contributing writer for TulsaPets Magazine, will speak this month at the OIE’s First International Conference on Dog Population Management in York, England.  (The OIE is the animal branch of the World Health Organization.)

Ruth will speak about her work on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where she helped start a spay/neuter program there in 2002 to help decrease the number of stray dogs on the reservation.  Life has much improved for the dogs there, thanks to the good work by Ruth and the others!   Ruth will speak on Friday 7 September about her work that has become a road map for creating measureable outcomes from a high volume spay/neuter program.

The presentation will be available at a link on next week.

Agreement Reached in Latimer County Animal Abuse

posted August 28th, 2012 by
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Latimer County Courthouse

A plea agreement was reached in the case of the District Court for Latimer County, State of Oklahoma vs. Anne Marie Duhan and Shane Duhan.

Bone Pile


No Water, No Food


Only water available for horses

Tanner and Blair

posted July 15th, 2012 by
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by Anna Holton-Dead

Photography by Karen Miller

The heartwarming story of Tanner and Blair is unique to say the least, making local and national news—a seeing eye dog for another canine.

At Woodland West Animal Hospi­tal in Tulsa, the pair’s temporary resi­dence, Blair happened into the yard with blind Tanner and instinctively be­gan to lead him around by holding his leash in her mouth. Tanner, who used to seize nightly, has had a total of three seizures since February when he and Blair connected. Mike Jones, DVM at Woodland West, says he’s never seen anything like it, but at the core of it is something we already know to be true. “It shows that companionship can lead to reduced stress and a bet­ter life,” he says. Less stress and a bet­ter life are something both dogs could certainly use.


   Although she is the service dog as­sisting Tanner, Blair’s rough past has left problems and scars all her own. A Labrador mix believed to be about 2 years old, she was found along with her sister by a Good Samaritan. She had a gunshot wound to her left pelvis, but thankfully, no permanent physi­cal injuries. Emotionally, it’s a different story. “While her sister was easily ad­opted, Blair was extremely shy, scared and wouldn’t come up to people,” Dr. Jones says. She’s been residing at Woodland West Animal Hospital since January of this year.


   Then there’s Tanner, blind with a seizing disorder. In January 2010, he came in to Sooner Golden Retriever Rescue with four siblings at 7 weeks old. He was adopted soon thereafter, but his owner died in November of the same year. He again found himself back at SGRR. Fostered out twice, nei­ther home was able to offer the time he required or the ability to care for his special needs, which were more than a handful at his size during a seizing fit. Neither foster home was able to care for him longer than a month at best.


After a brief stint at Woodland West Animal Hospital, Pam Denny of SGRR fostered him in her own kennel build­ing. “Someone has to be home a fair amount of the time,” Denny says. “While he was with me, I let him out every four hours to take care of busi­ness; he would get anxious, and his sei­zures could occur, causing him to use the bathroom.”

But even with Denny, it was not an ideal long-term situation. Again, Tan­ner found his way back to Woodland West Animal Hospital where he was ambling about the yard the fateful day that Blair trotted up and took his leash. Dr. Jones says he truly believes Blair in­stinctively knew Tanner was blind, and he’s not surprised by their bond or the benefit it has had on both canines.

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“It’s safe to say that we recognize the human-animal bond helps de­crease blood pressure, etc.,” he says. “But I think this shows we should also recognize the animal-animal bond, and the good it can do as well.” Tanner’s re­duction in seizures is the proof of that, and Blair has become friendlier with people.


Since their story made national news, Sooner Golden Retriever Res­cue has received over 100 applications from people all over the country in­terested in taking on the pair. Denny says SGRR is taking its time to respond to each applicant in order to find the most perfect fit to meet Tanner and Blair’s needs. There is much more to consider in choosing the right home than willingness and love.


“We have responded to everyone by email or phone call and are in the process of talking to these various potential adopters,” Denny says. “We are talking to them to let them know what’s going to be involved in the adoption of these two. Do they have experience with blind dogs, seizure dogs? Tanner’s anxiety issues are no­where near what they were. He’s a lot more settled and calm with Blair, but moving them to a new environment will create a toll on him.”


She says some questions that must be considered in finding the right home are: Does the person have a fenced yard, not too large a yard? Are there any obstructions or swimming pools that could be a hazard for a blind dog? Tanner has to be kept in the house with limited access and a safe area.


Another factor is Tanner doesn’t travel well, Denny says. He cannot be crated, or he will get too anxious, which may cause him to seize.


The good news is with so many ap­plicants SGRR has narrowed it down to “a handful of very strong prospects— people who are experienced and un­derstand what will be involved with these two,” Denny says. “We don’t know how Blair will be. She’s becom­ing a better dog, a lot more outgoing and friendly. We are still getting ap­plications actually and a list of people yet to call to get background info on and to explain to them what will be involved. The applicants range from California to New York to Florida, and all over the place.”


Dr. Jones agrees the perfect home will have to meet very specific require­ments. He says the owners must have an intense understanding of seizure disorder and be willing to take on a huge commitment both financially and emotionally, but he’s confident that Tanner and Blair are in good hands for finding the right fit. “There is no doubt [the right person/family is out there], and I applaud Sooner Golden Retriev­er Rescue for taking the time needed to find the right forever home.”

Fabio – Spay First Spokesman

posted July 15th, 2012 by
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by Anna Holton-Dean

OF COURSE, Fabio Lanzoni is known for his long, flowing hair, impeccable phy­sique and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter commercials—he’s also been known to grace the cover of a romance novel or two—but what many may not know is he is a long-time animal lover, advocate and owner of many rescued dogs. We recently had the chance to catch up with him dur­ing his trip to Oklahoma City in support of Spay FIRST! and his new MVP K9 Pro­tein supplements. Knowledgeable and passionate about the pet overpopulation problem, Fabio talks about his own pets and explains to us why the Spay FIRST! program is so important to animals and our country.

Q So what do you think of Oklahoma so far?

A Love it… very pretty town. I know it’s a city, but when you live in New York and Los Angeles, it’s more like a town. The people are so nice. The middle of the U.S. really has the nicest people. [All over the country] there are great people. That’s why I live here.

Q What kind of pets did you have growing up in Italy?

A I’ve had animals since I was 3 years old. My parents always let me keep a few dogs. Me, my sister and my brother, we always had our own dogs. For many years we had German Shepherds, a couple of Dobermans, my brother had a couple of hunting dogs; we had some Great Danes, but eventually I stopped owning Great Danes because their life spans are too short, and you are having to say goodbye. You know, the average age is 6 to 8 years. So I started rescuing Rottweilers, and I cur­rently have six of them. My family has hunt­ing dogs and a Lab.

Q Where do you live now, and how did you get involved with spaying/ neutering efforts there?

A I live in Los Angeles… I live here the majority of the time so that’s where I have the majority of contribution. My best friend is one of the top professors at UC Davis for the vet school, teaching surgery there. That’s why I always get involved with different associations and now with Spay FIRST! I always knew the importance because she told me when you spay and neuter a dog, you improve their life and help prevent cancer; you give them a lon­ger life span, you know. It’s scientifically proven.

First, for health reasons, you have a healthier pet. Second of all, everybody is so concerned about cutting costs. When you think about it, it’s the easiest cost to cut… $2 billion a year to euthanize about 4 million dogs and cats. This is the most advanced country in the world, and this shouldn’t happen here; it’s a shame. It would be way better for everyone to spay or neuter their dog; I think that $2 billion a year should be back in the pockets of taxpayers.

Q How did you get involved with Spay FIRST?

A I used to work a lot for the American Cancer Society with Tina Mosetis. She contacted me with Ruth Steinberger (founder of Spay FIRST!), and said, ‘You’ve had dogs all your life; what about being the spokesperson, making people aware of the situation?’ The majority of dogs I’ve had we’ve always rescued from shelters. Four of my current dogs are shelter dogs, so I know the problem—there’s overpopu­lation. People get a pet then take it to the shelter because they get tired of taking care of it.

Q What would you say to people who do not realize the importance of spaying/neutering pets?

A There’s nothing more awful than an animal lover seeing a dog suffer in the shelter. They can smell the death all around; they can smell all the other dogs that have been euthanized. Even the most macho dogs walk into the shelter, and they start shaking; they know how they are go­ing to end up. It always takes my heart.

In L.A., and other places, I always got involved to help and place some of the dogs, tried to get some of my friends to adopt some of these dogs. I’ve placed at least 50 dogs by convincing friends, ‘Come on, I’ll help you to get a dog.’ You know, it’s amazing they know you saved their life. They really do. When you invest in a dog you didn’t rescue, there’s a dif­ference. The rescue dogs know you saved their life.

Most of these dogs in shelters, they come from mistreatment or abuse, so they really have a tough life. You can tell if you take a before and after picture of a dog who you rescue, you will see in the dog two different faces, two different personalities. I know every time you leave the first year, they are really afraid you are going to leave them [permanently]. Other [non-rescue] dogs wag their tails when you leave and when you come back; they know no difference.

If you want your dog to be healthy and to prolong the life of your dog, it should be spayed or neutered. It also resolves any ag­gression problem. It’s very rare that a dog spayed will bite a person. It’s important to keep the population under control, and if you want to cut costs in government, it’s a good place to start—not kill 4 million ani­mals every year. It’s a no brainer and keeps more money in taxpayers’ pockets.

Q What’s the most important thing you want people to remember about the homeless pet population?

A I want people to realize when they buy a dog, it’s a responsibility, and they should be man or woman enough to care for it. That dog is going to be in their life for 12 or 14 years. Just because it chews on furniture or shoes all of a sudden, you don’t dump it. It’s like a kid; you have to care for it. It’s not something you buy then dispose of like a Kleenex.