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Servadelic Spotlight...People Who Serve: Ruth Steinberger, Founder of Spay FIRST.

FACTS: Roughly eight million unwanted pets enter shelters in the U.S. each year. Millions more are born, never to even be counted. Most animals that enter shelters do not come out alive. Many shelters are bursting at the seams creating a nationwide crisis of animal abandonment. Over two billion dollars are spent in the U.S. each year on animal control (collection, housing and disposal), while only a tiny fraction of that is spent on preventing unplanned litters.

The most basic step in caring for a pet is having the ability to get it spayed or neutered. Affordability is the greatest roadblock to timely spaying/neutering of pets. Spay FIRST! brings years of experience to the table to enable under- served communities to know “where to start” to solve pet problems.

NYGA: I loved the opening sentences in your blog post "Preventing Animal Suffering Reaches Many Lives: " :

"A community is an extended family, a social ecosystem that includes both our environment and our relationship to all those around us, human and non-human alike. When any member of this family suffers neglect, all members are diminished and the community as a whole is harmed."

This sentiment echoes what permaculture is all about - the interconnectedness of all things and how we need to create sustainable environments working in unison where all parts help each other.

Ruth: Spay/neuter is very Zen--we celebrate what is not! Our success is measured in litters that are not born, in misery that does not have to be resolved and in taxpayer dollars not spent on resolving the misery that was totally preventable in the first place. Our success is in kittens and puppies that are NOT born to be not wanted!

As a vegetarian for 43 years I know that the impact we have on animals we never see, in this case on those that are never even born, may be far greater than it is on those we can rescue one at a time.

NYGA: In the 'environmental space" many people have told me they began their advocacy work when they had some kind of "epiphany" where they realized they needed to do something to make our world a better place; or to help solve some fundamental problem. How did you become an advocate? Was there some kind of special trigger or event that caused you to have a life mission?

Ruth: Yes-for me the moment was when I was in my 20s and because I was known for helping stray or unwanted animals people started to bring them to me. And people would call me to help them find homes for them. One situation involved a cat-- she had wandered up to a home; the people took her in and fed her but were trying hard to "get rid of" her. They told me what a great cat she was, how loving and affectionate she was, and this was in addition to being an excellent mouser.

I called my mentor, an artist and activist named Carol Hoge (the then president of our local Humane Society) to see if she could help find a home for the cat. Carol said to ask the people if they would keep her themselves if we paid to get her spayed. The people were surprised and they were absolutely thrilled; the cat remained in the home and her future became secure because of the simple difference of not being able to produce litters. From that moment forward, the value of spay/neuter to the animal itself (especially for females) and the humane value of prevention have been a mantra for me.

NYGA: Are there any anecdotes or insight you can give to shed light on environmental impact of owning/feeding pets? How can pet owners reduce the environmental impact of owning a pet? For instance can you say anything about how to reduce waste from pets or make that waste compostable?

Ruth: Yes-pets like anything else, require various items and food. If we purchase plastic dog toys, synthetic dog beds and more, we contribute to solid waste that does not decompose. We can choose toys that are biodegradable or very sturdy toys (like Kong toys) that use organic fillings or offer organic treats.

There is environmentally-friendly kitty litter. And of course the more we feed dog and cat foods with food color, resulting in allergies in our pets, the further we go from a green, healthy lifestyle. This isn't something "just for the wealthy;" it is for the dedicated. You can sew catnip purchased online or at a health food store into a small cotton pouch, you can bake wholesome treats from whole grains bought in bulk and avoid packaging.

Sheltering on a mass level instead of providing municipal space for low-income spay/neuter programs is an example of "not going green" and also "not going compassionate or intelligent". Preventing litters saves money and sorrow. Euthanasia is neither pretty nor green. Rescuing unwanted animals is lifesaving work, but transport programs use thousands of gallons of gas and diesel fuel to move homeless pets from one area of the nation to another multiple times the cost that it would have been to prevent the birth of the homeless pet to begin with.

Remember, most homeless pets of today are mixed breed pets born into unplanned litters to begin with. This story is well understood and the tragedies are predictable and preventable. We need good quality shelters but we also need a paradigm shift nationwide to a prevention based first-strike approach to addressing the number of unwanted animals.

NYGA: A few last questions - What is environmentally-friendly cat litter? What is it made of as opposed to what is non-friendly litter? Any brands in particular? Is there any way to compost litter into something useful as opposed to all that waste going into a landfill etc?

Ruth: Kitty litter can be a bit complicated. The clay kind that most people use is associated with land removal in strip mining. And teaching cats to use a toilet (which some people do) is good but if the waste goes to a waste water treatment system that puts water back into public waterways, cat poop can carry diseases to marine life later on down the pike. The best thing is to use something like Fresh Step or pine pellets and compost it if possible. Beyond that, people need to be aware of what happens to their waste as they make decisions, and then plan how they can best remain green.

Fabio is one of the celebrity supporters of SPAY First. Check out a video of Fabio advocating about this important issue.

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