Method To Our Madness

FiXiT was first conceived as a methodology. The idea was to bring spay/neuter to everyone by 1) removing any cost restrictions and 2) by motivating pet owners with incentive-based promotions. This past week represented a huge milestone in FiXiT’s history: not only was it our second anniversary, but we also launched a promotion giving spay/neuter for free to St. Croix as part of our Final Fix Project.

Plenty of programs out there offer free spay/neuter, including our own GetYourFix.org, so why is our promotion so special? With our methodology, we are beginning to quantify how demand changes with varying promotions over time. Understanding the response to different media, messages and incentives provides us a unique insight into the behaviors of pet owners who continue to allow unwanted kittens and puppies to be born. With this program, we can respond to and produce a lasting impact on the overpopulation crisis.

In the first week, we have seen a huge turnaround in the demand for surgeries on St. Croix. In those few days, pet owners called to get 70 animals fixed for free. If all of these animals were fixed, this would mean a huge increase in demand – nearly 10 times what we have seen in the past. The population of St. Croix is 53,000; our goal of approximately 75 animals per week, would allow us to see a long-term shift in population growth. It will be interesting to see if the demand can be maintained through the upcoming months, and where it will go when we launch our final incentive level – free with an incentive.

In the meantime, we must thank all of the vets on the island and their staff for being supportive of our program. Every vet on island is participating in our free offer, despite a potentially burdensome increase in workload (with minimal reward). We truly appreciate that are working with us to test our methodology –one that we believe can end the crisis of companion animal overpopulation.

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The Joys of Refrigerator Repair

It has been one of those days. The kids left the freezer drawer open all night; in addition to everything in looking like an ice palace by morning, the entire appliance sounded like it was preparing for take-off. So here I have sat. All day. Trapped in the house, awaiting a repair guy who gave me the dreaded “4 hour window” for his arrival time.  Of course he arrived 10 minutes after that window had closed. Sigh.

I swallow my irritation and explain how my kids, who obviously haven’t yet grasped the idea of shutting anything—drawers, doors, etc.—had left the freezer door ajar all night, and the hideous noise I’ve listened to which is now, of course, not occurring. Nodding seriously, he starts into it with a flashlight, and a wrench thingy and a few other man tools that are not familiar to me.

While it all was just about the crappiest part of my week, our cat clearly found it fascinating; evidently, nothing peaks that natural cat curiosity more than a stranger with all those flashy tool thingys and all those different smells poking through that cold thing that houses her “treat” food. I mean she was all in his business. So taken with him she was, that when he stepped out through the garage to get another man tool thingy, out she bolted behind him. Great! The day just keeps getting better and better. Thankfully, I managed to tackle her before she made it to his van in the street.

“Sorry ‘bout that, ma’am” he sings out behind me. “I didn’t think she’d tear off after me like that.”

It’s no problem, I explain. I’ve got her. We’re good. Please let’s get all this going I think.

“Mind if I ask if she’s fixed?” he asks upon his return.

Gasp! What’s this? The fridge repair guy caring about a cat being spayed or not?!

“Why yes, she in fact is. Why do you ask?”

“It’s just that back some time ago, we inherited this mule of a Tom Cat. 24 pounds that thing was. ‘Bout ate us out of house and home. Anyway, he was always waiting for that door to open, waitin’ for his chance to bolt. Be gone for days. Show back up all straggley lookin’. Finally had him neutered. Didn’t stop all that eatin’ but sure did stop that bolting he was doin’. And I’m sure it helped reduce them wild cat colonies you’re always hearin’ about ‘round here. Anyway [tool sound, tool sound, tool sound], that’s just why I was askin’.”

And there it was. The silver lining in my crappiest day of the week. A random stranger who not only agrees with spay/neuter, but even touts the importance of it to random customers. Eureka!  Naturally, I explained my involvement with FiXiT’s cause and all, to which he just smiled.

“Somethin’ that sure is worthwhile” he says [tool sound, tool sound].

I was so inspired by his words of support, and so impressed by his ability to sneak a random conversation about spaying and neutering into his line of work, that the irritation over the 4 hour wait and the $65 service charge to tell me that the “blah blah yadda exhaust fan yadda” was merely rubbing the ice that had formed around it during the night while the door was open just didn’t seem so bad. Not so bad at all.

Anyone can spread the word about the importance of spaying and neutering. Anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mechanic, a nail tech, a teacher, a lawyer or a lawn specialist. Please visit www.FiXiT-Foundation.org  for facts you can share with others. 

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Say Hello, Home Depot

Last week I discussed one pattern I noticed while conducting our annual census on St. Croix. Well, as the census progressed a new pattern made me put on my breaks (literally): so many dogs with homes are walking around free. And of course we know what can happen when dogs are left to their own devices: PUPPIES!

During the census, I record the animals that I see into 4 categories: stray, confined owned, chained owned, and loose owned. Not only am I getting a sense of how many animals there are in particular neighborhoods, but I am also gathering a better understanding how people care for their animals and how their behavior contributes to overpopulation. Last year I discovered that half of all dogs were confined by a fenced yard, protected from wandering dogs, and the remaining were at risk of contributing new puppies to the population.

This year, however, I was startled to see this proportion change. There were dogs running around everywhere! The number of loose animals doubled to represent one third of all dogs that I counted. I saw this across the board, in all 5 random areas of the island that I sampled. While loose dogs are more likely to be small in size—and can be seen squeezing in and out of their fenced yards—it was still very common to see large dogs in the streets as well.

Faulty fencing won’t help keep a bulging dog population from growing. So I am putting out a plea to Home Depot to provide in-neighborhood fence building workshops; proper fencing will keep even the most clever Chihuahua from escaping. Why Home Dept? They opened up a new store and Caribbean distribution center here on St. Croix just 2 weeks ago. Talk about a great way to say hello to your new neighbors, Home Depot – join us in our mission to end overpopulation!

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If This Doghouse Could Talk

This week I began the Final Fix Project’s second annual census on St. Croix. Last year, I kicked off my move to St. Croix by counting the number of dogs and cats that I could see in 5 randomly chosen areas of the island. Well, time flies! I have been on St. Croix for a year now and it is that time again.

It’s still early, but I am already noticing an absence of many of the dogs that I came to expect from just one year ago. Many people here keep their dogs outside on a chain as a means of protection. The validity of that practice is a (predictable) discussion for another time, but what that behavior should do is allow me to see the same dogs over and over. Surprisingly, that is not what I have been finding.

Photo taken last year during the animal census.

This makes me think of an experience that I had at AT&T, of all places. While buying a cell phone for our project, I had an interesting conversation with the salesperson that helped me. I was excited to hear her describe how she adopted her dog from the animal shelter and how he is such a great dog. The ball dropped when she complained about the shelter’s requirement for buying and implanting a microchip. Her rational was that dogs here don’t last long enough to make it worth the cost. Of course, my heart sunk by this turn in the conversation and was even more disturbed to think that it could be true.

Now, as I drive around looking at the empty doghouses in the familiar neighborhoods, I find myself reflecting on that conversation at AT&T. Again I am saddened to think of the harsh reality that dogs face on St. Croix living outside in an environment of extremes: hot, humid, and down-pouring rain. The thought of their shortened lives with limited socialization is heartbreaking. I have met many of these pitiful dogs in the spay/neuter clinic, which would most likely be their only experience off the chain and certainly their only visit to a vet.

Photo taken this week during the animal census.

Fortunately, there are people on island who are dedicated to educating school children about how to properly care for dogs and cats, including how to keep then safe, healthy, and the importance of spay and neuter. Let’s hope that we can break this cycle and give the animals here the long and happy lives they deserve!

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Reba: The Jaycee Dugard of Dogs

My 7-year-old learned to ride a two-wheeler a mere 10 days ago. Note I said “ride”…stopping was a whole other story. She’s was not only unable to stop, she was afraid to even try. Luckily, we have a park nearby with a nice, flat bike path, and grass for soft landings close to each side, so it was there that I was determined to get her to at least attempt this vital component of bike riding. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going very well. At all. Until we saw Reba.

On the path, just before the dreaded “stopping point”—which  we were approaching in tears, mind you—was the cutest Jack Russell Terrier I’d seen in many a year. That back and forth hobble, that cute nubby tail, scruffy bearded face. And Eureka! My dog-loving beginner bike-rider now had the perfect reason to practice braking and stopping: to visit with that adorable dog.

So it came to pass that my daughter’s first successful stop on a bike involved meeting “Reba.”  And oh was she well rewarded. All licks and snuggles, nubby tail just going as fast as it could, Reba was clearly a people dog, and a perfectly gentle lady with the kids.

“Never ceases to amaze me,” her proud person began, “that a dog who lived in a metal cage in someone’s nasty backyard cranking out litter after litter for 8 years can be so sweet.”

Wow. Honestly, as my heart began to sink when I pictured this sweet dog in those conditions, the first thing that came to my mind was “You poor, poor thing. You are the Jaycee Dugard of dogs.”

The girl who, at 11 years old, was snatched just feet from her parent’s house by a predator and his brainwashed wife, Jaycee Dugard was forced to live in tin shacks in the backyard of their house for 18 years, was raped by and bore children for her captor…all against her will. And, while it may at first seem absurd to compare this young woman’s torment to the suffering of sweet Reba the Jack Russell Terrier, I must ask, aren’t their situations at least parallel?

In fact, to even further connect the circumstances, I have to wonder about all those who just didn’t see the signs of Reba’s suffering, just as none seemed to notice Jaycee’s. Did any of the people who purchased Reba’s countless puppies even ask about their mother? Did they even wonder how she was being “housed”? Were they aware of the loneliness and squalor in which she lived? Or worse still, did they know and just not care enough to do or say anything?

The most devastating part of Reba’s tragic first 8 years, in my mind anyway, is that it all could have been prevented. I mean think of it, had Reba’s owner had her spayed as soon as she reached sexual maturity, would her “captor” even have been interested in her? As most backyard puppy-mill owners’ are only interested in money, it’s likely they would not have been.  And while her story will now likely have a very happy ending, one simple surgery damn sure would have spared this sweet dog 8 long years of sheer misery.

Please, please choose to do the right thing. Spay and neuter your pets. Do it for all the “Rebas” out there. The “breeder dogs” crouched in tiny wire cages in filthy backyards, lonely, in ill health and pregnant for the third time in a year. You can prevent it all.

Celebrate this coming Puppy Mill Awareness Day on September 17 by adopting from a shelter or rescue. Learn more about puppy mills. And please visit www.GetYourFix.org to help support others who are choosing to do the right thing as well.

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United Spays of America

Animal groups from all over the country (and beyond) approach us when they hear that FiXiT is working on novel and out of the box solutions for bringing an end to pet overpopulation in their neck of the woods. Of course, we are still a small organization with limited resources ourselves, but it inevitably results in interesting discussions about how different regions of the country can be so similar yet so different.

Yesterday, after a particular interesting discussion with the director of Spay Tennessee, I was inspired to know more about where GetYourFix Users come from and if there was some variable that was important for driving this pattern. Which states have the most/least Users? Does this correlate with the human population, area, density or shelter euthanasia rate? Here is what I found:

States with the most Users (#1 is the most):

1. California                                                                                                                                         2. Arizona                                                                                                                                               3. Texas                                                                                                                                               4. Florida                                                                                                                                             5. Georgia

States with the least Users (#1 is the least; #2 is a 5-way tie):

1.  Alaska                                                                                                                                             2. Delaware                                                                                                                                         2. Vermont                                                                                                                                         2. North Dakota                                                                                                                                 2. South Dakota                                                                                                                                 2. Wyoming

The best indicator of GetYourFix Users is total population size in the state – so more people = more Users. That makes sense. That also makes me happy, indicating that we are reaching people all over the country.

The one anomaly in this pattern is Arizona, which is only the 16th most populous state. Arizona has the MOST Users per 1000 state residents and the MOST Users per density (people per square mile). Hmm. Arizona’s published euthanasia rates in Animal People’s July 2011 issue are high, but not nearly as high as other states, such as Tennessee and New Mexico, who aren’t in our top ten states.

So what is going on in Arizona? How are they doing such a good job at getting Users on GetYourFix? We will have to dig a little deeper to find out. In the meantime, we continue to welcome Users and Funders from around the country!

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Back to School Shopping with “GoodShop”

For the past week, each morning has started with the same question: “How many days of summer are left now?!” While it was clear that local stores wanted my kids to prepare to return to school three weeks into the summer by stocking the shelves full of “Back To School” items, our family is definitely waiting until the very last minute to admit that the time has indeed arrived. But arrive it has, and this is the week we’ll be doing all the shopping: school supplies, goodies to pack for lunches, and that special outfit for the “first day of school pictures.”  This year, however, I don’t plan on fighting the crowds or facing the “sorry-we-ran-out-of-that-one-very-specific-thing-your-kids’-teachers-are-asking-for” issues…and I’m going to earn money for FiXiT while finding everything we need!

FiXiT recently added our organization to a fantastic little network called “GoodSearch” and its “Sister” site, “GoodShop.” Amazingly, by running a simple internet search (yes, just any search!) and shopping for the things you need at the stores you usually shop at can earn FiXiT some serious cash for our cause! In fact, the ASPCA has earned $40,000 using these sites! And practically every store you can think of for “back to school” shopping is available to you there: Target, Staples, Sears, Lands End, Toys ‘R Us, Gap, Kohls, Old Navy, it goes on and on. And each store will donate anywhere from 1% to 4% of your purchases to FiXiT!

So take a few minutes right now and go to GoodSearch, type “FiXiT” in as your cause, and you’re ready to go! Perform all your internet searches through the site, or do all the online shopping you need to do through GoodShop, and start earning cash for the cause. Honestly, what could be better that getting that daunting “Back To School To Do” list checked off quickly and raising money for animals in need at the same time? It’ll sure make our family’s last week of summer more enjoyable!

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