We had to use a stretcher to carry Maggie from the lobby to the prep room for surgery.

In the parking lot, her owners had lifted her out of the car and placed her on a blanket, which they used to pull her into the lobby in the first place. She had pyometra, an infection of the uterus, and the only way to save the life of the obese, over 8-year-old bearded collie mix was to spay her as soon as possible.

The procedure wasn’t easy and though she recovered well, the entire episode could have been avoided if she’d been spayed at a younger age.

First instituted by Doris Day and her Animal League in 1995 to raise awareness, the last Tuesday in February is designated as Spay Day USA, which falls on February 23rd this year. Intended to bring attention to pet overpopulation in the United States and to promote spay and neuter of pets to directly control this problem, the annual observance of Spay Day has become an event observed world wide.

Since that first Spay Day 21 years ago, euthanasia of homeless dogs and cats in shelters has decreased from an estimated 17 million, to less than 3 million, but there is still much work to be done and there are ways you can help.

Most importantly, all pet owners can educate themselves about the benefits of spaying and neutering their pets. Altered pets generally live longer and healthier lives. Without the urge to roam, spayed and neutered pets are less likely to wander, become lost, get into fights, and suffer injuries associated with being loose, such as being hit by a car.

Spaying and neutering also reduces the risks of certain cancers as well as other conditions, such as the uterine infection my patient Maggie suffered from. Because the health issues associated with intact reproductive systems are nearly eliminated, the cost to care for an altered pet is often reduced compared to their intact counterparts. They are less expensive to license.

Lastly, several behavior problems, such as urine spraying, aggression, vocalizing or barking, and attempts to escape from home, are reduced in spayed and neutered pets.

There are many options in the Omaha area for having your pet spayed or neutered from the veterinary hospital in your neighborhood to area spay/neuter centers and animal welfare organizations that may be able to assist in other ways.

If you aren’t a pet owner, you can still help homeless pets through donations to local humane organizations. Often old, clean towels or blankets can line a cage floor to comfort a lost pet. Even a donation of your time, to walk or just sit with a homeless animal, can mean a lot to both you and the creature you comfort.

Together, we can make the community better for both pets and people.

- Dr. Laura Andersen, D.V.M. has worked in private veterinary practice and academics as well as shelter medicine. She completed a residency in shelter medicine and is currently a shelter veterinarian at the Nebraska Humane Society.

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