At Florida Animal Friend, we don’t just fund spay and neuter grants through the sale of our specialty licenses plates. We’re also a valuable resource for animal welfare organizations looking for online spay and neuter training and general industry insights. That’s why we recently sat down with Adam Leath, Director of Volusia County Animal Services (VCAS), to discuss the behind-the-scenes operation of his organization’s successful mobile spay and neuter clinic.
If you’re planning on launching a mobile unit, his expertise and advice will go a long way. Even if there isn’t a mobile spay and neuter unit in your immediate future, our conversation with Adam revealed some tricks of the trade and eye-opening statistics that anyone in the animal welfare field will find enlightening. These are the highlights from our interview.
Why Launch a Mobile Spay and Neuter Clinic?
Volusia County never had to think about expanding their services to include a mobile unit—they were mobile from the beginning, so their shelter location actually came later. When the county recognized the importance of spay and neuter programs in reducing the homeless pet population, mobile service was a no brainer.
“It just made sense,” Adam told us. “You have to meet people where they are.” Many people don’t have veterinarians or shelters in their area, and the cost for service plus transportation may be too high (especially since many cities don’t allow animals on public transportation). Additionally, it often doesn’t make financial sense to bring homeless pets to shelters, and the mobile unit is one way of increasing overall ROI. “It was the most effective use of resources to directly prevent the problem, rather than putting a bandage on a broken bone,” Adam said.
The Results Speak for Themselves
So is it working? Absolutely. Volusia County has seen a 30% reduction in shelter admissions since the launch of their mobile spay and neuter unit, and that number continues to decline.
Furthermore, the mobile unit is multi-use. It works great for personal pets and trap-neuter-release (TNR), but it can also function as an animal hospital in any situation where you may need to triage/stabilize animals before transporting them. This is especially useful in areas that have been affected by a natural disaster or on a large case that involves the seizure and/or rescue of animals from a particular site.
3 Criteria for Determining Mobile Unit Location
Adam’s team uses a weighted algorithm to determine where the highest need for their services is in a given time period. To determine where they can do the most good, the algorithm takes into account the following factors (beginning with the most heavily weighted):
- Low- and no-income data: There is a clear connection between poverty and access to veterinary care, which is why areas with fewer financial resources are of particularly high concern for mobile spay and neuter services.
- Intake volume: A huge boom in the number of animals brought to shelter can indicate a larger problem in the area.
- Distance to nearest veterinary clinic: A lack of geographical access is often just as critical to address as a lack of financial resources.
Once you’re in a high-need area, you can be even more strategic by setting up near other community resources, such as soup kitchens and ministries. And if you work with a municipal agency, it will almost always be easier to park the unit in places owned by the county (e.g., public parks, fire stations, etc.)
Mobile Unit Operations: Key Challenges
One challenge of mobile operations is that there is increased downtime because of travel and additional prep work that can’t be done while the vehicle is in motion. This doesn’t mean that mobile efforts aren’t worthwhile, but since time and space are limited, you will not be able to perform as many surgeries in one day as you can at a stationary location. So don’t expect to.
It’s important to check local regulations and requirements when it comes to a mobile spay and neuter clinic because specifics can change depending on your city or state. Local veterinary boards and government agencies regulate everything from premise permits (this is not the same as a stationary clinic’s premise permit) to the minimum size of your vehicle. For example, VCAS’s mobile unit must have a full prep sink, which is different from a wash sink. It also must have a bathroom, an autoclave, a microscope and more.
As you may have guessed, operating a mobile unit is expensive. You have all the typical costs of running a clinic (paying staff, stocking inventory, etc.) plus getting the bus up and running, which isn’t cheap. According to Adam, the smallest of spay and neuter mobile units are going to cost $100,000 to $200,000, and going bigger could mean writing a check for more than $500,000. Remember, this is start-up cost. The dent you can make in the homeless pet population combined with reduced tax dollars allocated to this issue over time make it worth it, especially if you can make good use of grant money (Florida spay and neuter organizations can apply for a Florida Animal Friend grant through April 1, 2021, at 8:00 PM).
5 Takeaways: Advice to Anyone Launching a Mobile Spay and Neuter Clinic
We asked Adam to share any advice and tips he would give to an organization in the early stages of launching a mobile spay and neuter clinic. Here’s what he said.
1. Invest up front for flexibility later. The time and money you spend to make your mobile unit the best it can be will pay off because it will cost more down the road to replace parts and upgrade equipment.
2. Consider storage capacity. You’ve probably thought about how many surgery tables you need and where you’ll store supplies. But what about housing pets before and after surgery? What will you do with traps or carriers that you didn’t bring with you but now have to take with you? Do as much of the thinking up front as you possibly can.
3. Communicate with the public. The only way people will know where you are is if you tell them ahead of time. VCAS had an interesting situation arise where people were driving past their stationary location to bring their pets to the mobile location. Keeping the public fully informed can help ensure your resources aren’t being spread unnecessarily thin.
4. Save where you can. If you use shoreline power, you can save money by giving your generator a break. Grant money is a great way to cover costs, so be on the lookout for any and all relevant opportunities. VCAS’s first bus was part of a grant given to the county by a foundation.
5. Get the attention of your local officials. If local officials understand that they can effectively combat the pet overpopulation problem while reducing their constituents’ taxes over time, there will be a lot more resources available to do this great work.
Contact Florida Animal Friend for Resources and More
The success of Volusia County’s mobile spay and neuter unit proves that combatting animal homelessness through low-cost or no-cost procedures is working. And innovative organizations are paving the way for the rest of us to launch effective mobile efforts of our own. If you have questions for Adam, he would love to hear from you at [email protected].
Florida Animal Friend is committed to fighting the animal overpopulation problem by funding grants that support affordable spay and neuter services in Florida. We fund these grants through the sale of our specialty license plates, as well as public and private donations. Contact us, apply for a grant or browse our spay and neuter resources today!