COVID-19 Closes Our Spay/Neuter Clinic (For Now)

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At Willamette Humane Society (WHS), we know that spays (and neuters) save lives. Each time we alter a cat or dog, we reduce that animal’s ability to contribute to animal overpopulation in our community. 

It’s critical work, and since our Spay and Neuter Clinic opened in 2010, we have performed more than 50,000 such surgeries. 

But life during the COVID-19 crisis forces changes, and sometimes, we have to take steps we just never considered before. 

One of those steps involved our Spay and Neuter Clinic. We’re temporarily closed, as mandated by the Governor of Oregon, and we want to tell you why that decision was made and how it changes our work. 

Three Key Reasons We Closed Our Clinic

We didn’t take the decision to close lightly. We consulted with experts in veterinary medicine, community leaders, our lawyers, and more. These are just three of the reasons we believed we couldn’t continue to keep our clinic doors open during the COVID-19 crisis. 

1. Oregon’s Requirements are Clear 

When Governor Kate Brown released guidelines regarding surgeries in Oregon, they explicitly banned all non-emergency procedures to help preserve personal protection equipment such as gloves and masks. 

All medical professionals (veterinarians, orthopedists, dentists, and more) will perform surgeries ONLY if they are essential to the health and well-being of a patient in the current moment. 

A spay/neuter surgery often saves an animal from future distress. That procedure also might save that animal’s offspring from trauma. But at the moment, a routine spay/neuter doesn’t relieve distress or save an animal’s life. 

The University of Wisconsin-Madison explains this best: “For the purpose of these recommendations a non-emergency (‘elective’ or ‘non-essential’) surgical procedure is one that is not urgently required in order to maintain the health of the patient. Most spays and neuters, even pre-adoption, are non-emergency procedures.”

We didn’t write the mandate, but we must abide by it. 

2. Protective Equipment is Difficult to Obtain

To perform surgery while reducing infection risks, our surgeons and technicians must use gowns, masks, and gloves. These are the same pieces of equipment medical professionals in the human field need to save human lives. 

In Salem, we’re running desperately low on personal protective equipment. Our own Salem hospital recently asked the community to come together to make masks for nurses and doctors putting their lives on the line for patients every day. 

Using our equipment for non-routine surgeries could mean putting even more healthcare workers at risk. And if we kept up with surgical volume, we may not have the equipment we need to handle a future surgery. 

New animals come to us all the time, and some need emergency medical help. We must have supplies to help the animals with open wounds, broken bones, blocked bladders, and other urgent problems. There’s no way of knowing if we could replace our supplies once they are depleted. 

3. Social Distancing Saves Lives 

We have a commitment to protect our staff from infectious disease, and we have amended our workflows to ensure that people can stay at least 6 feet apart while working, per Governor Brown’s orders. That simply isn’t possible during a surgery.

It takes two or three sets of hands to lift a pet onto the table, prepare the area, monitor oxygen levels, hold skin for sutures and all of the other steps required during a surgery. We can’t ask our staff to huddle close together unless it’s absolutely vital. 

We Will Return

Animal agencies all around the country are dealing with this same issue, and the answers aren’t easy to come by. 

The ASPCA says this: “All of us in the animal welfare community are committed to spay/neuter as a critical priority. The measures we are compelled to take in these dire circumstances are not inconsistent with this commitment as both share the goal of ensuring that adoptable shelter animals get out of the shelter alive. They are temporary, compassionate and necessary measures, undertaken in a time of unparalleled urgency. When we weather the storm that is COVID-19, we will, together, ensure that spay/neuter continues to play its vital life-saving role in communities across the country.” 

“We are very proud of the work we’ve done in our Spay and Neuter Clinic these last 10 years, and it’s very hard to see those closed doors,” says Dr. Amanda Luell, Lead Clinic Veterinarian. “But we know that staying closed is the right thing right now. We need to protect our staff and our community, and we want to do everything we can to support our first responders as they manage the human health crisis unfolding all around us. As soon as it’s safe to open back up, we will absolutely do that. We hope it happens soon. We’d love to get back to work!”