The local fix for unwanted pets is costly

The cost of getting your dog spayed in Whitehorse: $450. The cost of getting your unwanted dog killed at the animal shelter: free. The number of unwanted cats and dogs in Whitehorse is a problem, said Gerry Steers, president of the Mae Bachur Humane Society.

The cost of getting your dog spayed in Whitehorse: $450.

The cost of getting your unwanted dog killed at the animal shelter: free.

The number of unwanted cats and dogs in Whitehorse is a problem, said Gerry Steers, president of the Mae Bachur Humane Society.

“We get a flood of puppies at the shelter each spring and fall and we’re in a panic trying to find foster homes for all of them.”

And getting a pet fixed in the Yukon is costly, between 68 per cent and 300 per cent more expensive than it is down south.

Unlike other Canadian cities, Whitehorse has few options for pet owners looking to spay and neuter their dog or cat, the primary way of keeping animal populations down.

Here, pet owners are dependent on a handful of vets for spay or neuter services. There are no low-cost spay/neuter clinics, which are common throughout BC as far north as Prince George.

Spaying a small dog in Whitehorse will set you back about $250. This doesn’t include an intravenous tube during the operation, blood work, post-operation medication, a pre-surgery exam (if the animal has never been to the clinic before), and plastic cones so that the animal doesn’t bite or lick the wound. All these cost extra—up to $200 more if you opt for them all.

In the end, fixing your small dog could land you a hefty $450 bill.

At an SPCA clinic in downtown Vancouver, that would cost you $149.

Though Mae Bachur manager Tracy Smythe has never heard of anyone dropping off a dog or cat at the shelter because they couldn’t afford to spay or neuter them, most of the animals Smythe finds tethered to the clinic in the morning, or dropped off by people who can no longer care for them, aren’t fixed.

In June alone, 31 animals were brought to the shelter.

“We’re full, full, full,” Smythe sighed as she counted the number of animals currently at the shelter, 24 dogs and 21 cats.

“There’s not enough people spaying or neutering their animals,” said Smythe.

“We’re always trying to get the word out there.”

The shelter offers low-cost spay and neuters for people on social assistance, giving 25 to 75 per cent reductions on operations.

But the shelter can only offer as many of these surgeries as its budget will allow.

“Just keeping our shelter running uses up a lot of our costs,” said Steers.

They have considered running day-long spay/neuter clinics with reduced rates for surgeries, but the expense has held them back.

“It’s a matter of priorities. We would have to find the money, time and effort to hold a public spay-and-neuter clinic,” she said.

“When you’re focused on putting out fires, it’s difficult to do forward planning for a spay/neuter program.”

The shelter already spends $3,000 to $4,000 per month performing spays and neuters on animals that come into the shelter, said Smythe. That number doesn’t even include the donated labour the shelter receives from Alpine Clinic veterinarians.

The British Columbia branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals spent $2.2 million last year on low-cost or no-cost spay/neuter clinics to reduce pet overpopulation in the province.

The BC SPCA spay/neuter clinic in Prince George may perform up to 20 operations a day, offering pet owners reduced rates to fix an animal.

This northern community of 72,000 is able to offer cat neuters and spays at $55 and $85 respectively, a price that is even cheaper than the $120 flat fee charged at Vancouver’s SPCA spay-and-neuter clinic.

This is compared to $105 and $190 that someone might spend if they took their cat to a vet clinic in Whitehorse.

The Prince George SPCA also offers reduced rates to those who can’t afford it and the Humane Society of Prince George will step in to cover partial costs if a pet owner can’t.

“Before we used to only offer reduced rates to people living below the poverty line,” said Mandy Rositano of the Prince George clinic.

“But now we’re saying that if you want to spay or neuter your animal we won’t turn you away. Controlling the pet population here is too important.”

Animals in Prince George are no longer euthanized because of shortage of space at the SPCA shelter or city-run animal control shelter.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Ann Gough, branch manager at the BC SPCA North Caribou District Branch in Prince George.

“The only time we euthanize at our shelter is when dogs have gotten a behaviour assessment and display aggressive behaviour to people or if they are too sick or suffering too much.”

She said that space isn’t as much of an issue because of the spay-and-neuter clinic in town and an SPCA program that transfers dogs and cats to the lower mainland where they’re more likely to be adopted.

Without an SPCA in Whitehorse to offer low-cost spay/neuter clinics, pet owners are forced to either pay the high costs of fixing their pets or opt not to fix them at all, a decision that could lead to overpopulation.

“These operations are very important in keeping populations down,” said Christine Chene of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.

The Federation doesn’t keep tabs on the costs of spays and neuters across the country, as they vary, said Chene.

“But some people have said that the cost is prohibitive,” she said.

There is no veterinary association in the Yukon to ensure the costs of spay-and-neuter programs aren’t prohibitively expensive, as happens in other provinces in Canada.

The British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association can’t regulate the prices that veterinarians set for their surgeries, but they can “regulate fees that are unconscionably high,” said association president Jeffrey Grognet.

Costs in the North are inflated because costs of living here are generally more expensive than other parts of Canada, said Rick Brown of Alpine Veterinary Medical Centre in Whitehorse.

“Geography makes our costs higher, considerably higher than down south,” said Brown.

Transporting equipment and drugs is what cost the most, said Caroline Fujda of Lots of Latitude Mobile Vet.

Northern prices are an issue, but lack of competition is what keeps prices where they are in Whitehorse, said Jamie Lawson, chief animal health officer for the BC SPCA.

Each year, every provincial veterinary association puts out its own suggested fee guide that Brown says his vets adhere to.

“We know what the regulations are for the different (provincial) associations and we adhere to them,” said Brown.

But because the Yukon industry is self-regulated, if the public has a complaint over a certain veterinary cost they have nobody to address their concerns to.

They can’t even look at what the suggested prices are for each province as it costs $100 for non-members to access this document.

A veterinary association in the Yukon isn’t feasible, said Brown.

“We need the number of professionals to make an association happen up here,” said Brown.

Joining the BC or Alberta veterinary association is not something that has been discussed by vets in the Yukon, said Brown.

At the end of the day, people should know what kind of costs they’re getting themselves into when they get a dog or cat, he said.

“I don’t think the costs of (spays and neuters) are prohibitive if people are willing to take on the cost of owning a pet anyway.”

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com