Spring 2018

The $25 Million Pill

Two Cummings School alums help lead the charge to find a better way to control the number of free-roaming cats and dogs.

By Elizabeth Gehrman

Since the 1970s, the number of unwanted dogs and cats euthanized annually in the United States has dropped from 15 million to 3 million, despite their population having increased by 250 percent over that time. That’s largely because of spaying and neutering, first mandated by the ASPCA in 1972 and the subject of an intensive public-education campaign ever since.

But in some parts of the world surgical sterilization is not affordable or practical—or is even illegal. So with more than 300 million stray dogs and feral cats worldwide—and about 55,000 human deaths from rabies every year—animal-welfare groups are desperate to find a solution that can work around the globe.

The Oregon-based Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D) has been working toward that goal since its founding in 2000. And two graduates of Cummings School’s M.S. in animals and public policy program are at the heart of the effort, making up two-thirds of the nonprofit’s full-time staff. “It’s important for the welfare of the animals to ensure that they have enough food and homes and are not abused or neglected or able to transmit diseases to the human population,” said Valerie Benka, VG12, director of programs at ACC&D. “There are a lot of potential pathways for nonsurgical birth control—vaccines, implants, a single, permanent intratesticular injection. Researchers are looking for a widespread option that’s less expensive than surgical sterilization.”

The Michelson Prize—a program of the Found Animals Foundation in Los Angeles, which ACC&D helped launch more than a decade ago—is offering $25 million to the first entity to develop a permanent nonsurgical alternative for cats and dogs, as well as an additional $50 million in grants and incentives to help scientists create new products.

“Unwanted litters often face really negative outcomes,” said Susan Getty, VG13, ACC&D’s coordinator. “A lot of animal welfare is trying to solve problems that already exist. But if someone finds a nonsurgical sterilization technique that we can use in the field to prevent unwanted litters, that will prevent the suffering in the first place.”

For alumni interested in continuing education, ACC&D will be holding its 6th International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods of Pet Population Control in Boston from July 22 through 24.

Top Stories

A Revolution in Grafton

Over 40 years, Cummings School has built itself into an international leader in veterinary education, expert clinical care, and interdisciplinary research.

Editor's Picks

A Mastiff Issue in China

A conservation medicine alum addresses the problem of free-ranging dogs on the Tibetan plateau.

On the Road with the Goat Doc

After she had trouble finding care for her own dairy goats, Cara Sammons-Shepard, V16, decided to become a traveling veterinarian herself.

Birth of the Veterinary School

Over 40 years, Cummings School has become an international leader in veterinary medicine. And all it took was buying nearly 600 acres for a dollar, palpating police horses, and performing the occasional surgery by penlight.