By Kellie Heckman
This past weekend I spent time at the Virgin Islands Agrifest (did you hear that they had tofu kabobs?!). This is a major event here—hotels and rental cars on the island have been booked solid for weeks. While I was working at the animal shelter booth, what struck me is the diversity of people that live here as they walked around looking at the livestock, shopping, and no doubt eating lots of food. Of course, my mind was racing with ideas of how to convince all these different people of the importance of spay and neuter.
When Stephanie and I came to St. Croix, we knew that there wouldn’t be one magical solution to fixing the animal overpopulation problem here. This is why we have chosen a more scientific approach. We started our project with a spay/neuter perception survey –sampling over 2% of the island, which gave us some valuable insight into the pet population (and their owners) on the island. We learned that 38% of people own or take care of at least one dog or cat – that’s over 20,000 people. Of these, 64% do not have their companion animals fixed. YIKES!
Dogs are the most popular companion on island—30% households have at least 1 dog (78% of pet owners) and only 16% have at least one cat. This corresponds exactly with shelter intake data: dogs enter the shelter at a ratio of 2:1 relative to cats. In the continental U.S., dogs and cats are more equally represented. Dogs can be found in 39% of households and cats are found in 33%, but overall there are more cats.
So here is our challenge: change the actions or perceptions of nearly 13,000 Crucians with diverse cultural backgrounds in order to get their Fido’s and Felix’s spayed and neutered. While everyday seems to be a learning experience, we believe our systematic approach for identifying what people here find compelling will pay off and we will meet this challenge!