U.S. Attitudes Surrounding Spay & Neuter
An estimated 1.5 million cats and dogs are euthanized in the U.S. each year. Spay/neuter practices reduce overcrowding in animal shelters and mean that fewer nonhuman animals will meet such a fate. This article explores how the U.S. public perceives spaying and neutering of dogs and cats to inform efforts to promote the practice, including the potential for policy changes.
The study involved a survey of almost one thousand U.S. respondents, two-thirds of whom had companion animals. The author ensured that half the sample were urban and half rural, as these differences are currently understudied in the literature. Respondents were randomly assigned a survey on cats or on dogs to examine species-specific differences in attitudes.
Results showed positive attitudes towards spaying and neutering of companion animals. Over 90% of respondents were aware that sterilization is possible; over 80% agreed that it’s important to control overpopulation; almost 75% felt that it is the right thing to do; and 65% felt that there are health benefits. Only 17% felt that it is cruel, although roughly a third felt that it can be dangerous.
Caring for a companion animal was significantly related to attitudes on over half the survey items, with companion animal guardians more likely to express positive views and to believe the decision to sterilize should lie with the guardian. Women were more likely than men to be positive about sterilization, but also were more accepting of laws surrounding sterilization. Rural respondents were more positive than urban respondents, which the author suggests may be related to a more utilitarian relationship with nonhuman animals.
Systemic change can be more promising than relying solely on individual guardians. In the case of spay/neuter, however, this survey suggests that public support is not yet there. Although a strong majority of respondents were positive about spaying and neutering, only 38% agreed that it should be legally required, compared to 71% who felt that the animal’s guardian should decide (note: numbers add up to more than 100% because questions were posed separately).
With this skew towards individual rather than institutional decisions about sterilization, what avenues might be promising for advocates hoping to promote the practice? In their discussion, the author mentions two strands: reducing cost barriers, and conducting targeted outreach to millennials. These suggestions are based on the survey’s findings that over half of respondents felt that sterilization is expensive, and that younger respondents expressed concerns about its importance and the potential harms.
In its exploration of attitudes, this study is a valuable complement to existing research into behaviors surrounding spay/neuter practices. Understanding the attitudes of the general public is particularly important for advocates hoping to promote change at the policy level: broad citizen support is key to pass such initiatives. In the meantime, insights from this survey can guide strategies to promote spaying and neutering and lessen the number of nonhuman animals euthanized.