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PHS' 'Surgery Suite on Wheels' Can't Get Traction in East Palo Alto

The mobile spay/neuter clinic has been successful in many other Bay Area cities, but hasn't caught on in EPA.

I’d much rather cover our organization’s successes, but sometimes feel the need to write about a failure.

This is one of those occasions.

We’ve tried, but cannot give away spay and neuter surgeries in East Palo Alto!

We bring our mobile spay/neuter clinic – our custom-painted, 25-foot long “surgery suite on wheels” to a busy town hub (Bell Street Park on University Avenue). We make the surgeries free and we allow people to drop off their pets without an appointment from 8- 9 am. We even throw in free vaccinations.

We've had great success in other Peninsula communities since the program’s inception six years ago, but we can’t get a full clinic in East Palo Alto.

On average, we take the clinic out 5-6 times per month, targeting communities where we see a higher number of homeless animals and believe that hurdles of cost and transportation are keeping some (many?) residents from fixing their pets.

We visit San Francisco twice per month and have to give out rain checks due to reaching capacity. We visit the Fair Oaks community in Redwood City – same deal. A full boat each time. 

We’re a hit everywhere but EPA.

We kicked off a second series of clinics for EPA residents on May 9, and will continue visiting on the second Wednesday of each month, indefinitely. For that May 9 event, we had a modest turn-out: Six pets  (15 is about the maximum).

A few years ago, when we made our first effort to reach this community with our vital service, we had clinics with just three and four  pets!

This was disheartening, since we know this community needs our service; we need only look at the high number of stray and unwanted Pit Bulls, Chihuahuas and other dogs and cats coming to us from EPA to know people could use a no-cost, easy way to prevent unwanted litters.

Location, as they say, is key, and we have a great one for our EPA clinics. 

The price can’t be beat. Promotion is a factor. In every other community we’ve targeted, we’ve had great success with volunteers blanketing the community with bilingual fliers announcing our clinics. Flier distribution in spots with high foot traffic – churches, libraries, town centers, delis, coffee shops -- usually does the trick. 

We also send email blasts to city groups and leaders, pursue local cable TV spots and a few other avenues. The key is getting the message to the community we’re targeting; a widespread message reaches a larger audience and tempts “outsiders” with no moral compass to take advantage of a great deal. In every community, people love deals.

We’re going to stick with EPA since it's the right thing for us to do as a humane society concerned with overpopulation. This time around, we recruited another animal welfare organization. The Palo Alto Humane Society doesn’t shelter or adopt animals; their mission is to keep animals from entering shelters in the first place, and getting pets fixed, as we all know, is the best way to do this. We’re hopeful their involvement on the promotion/education front will boost attendance.

We’ve come to believe that East Palo Alto is the one community where we simply need to work harder, and that's OK. We’re paying for print ads in the East Palo Alto Today newspaper. On one level, it’s hard to justify paying $500 to promote a free service.

Maybe local residents think the deal is too good to be true. Or maybe they want to keep pets intact so they can sell the puppies and kittens.  A free fix doesn’t mean much to the person selling puppies for $150!

If you know someone in this community who can benefit from this service, please spread the word. 

Our next three clinics are on June 13, July 11 and August 8. We admit dogs and cats, no appointment needed, between 8-9 a.m. and only ask that they fast from midnight on the night before. Water after midnight is ok. We instruct owners to return the same day, late afternoon, to pick-up their pets and give them recovery instructions for home.

Oh, and if you’re in the area on the second Wednesday of the month, look for the vehicle emblazoned with “Go Nuts!” across the back end.  It’s a serious business, but we have fun where we can!

Shannon Pekary May 21, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Having been an EPA resident for 21 years, I echo the comments from Alissa, and would like to add more. Culturally, EPA is very different from the rest of the peninsula, so you can't expect to get results using the same methods. But even so, I have never heard of your van. On top of that, people think of their pets differently that you might, and for some their pets are an extension of themselves. So, you can imagine how they would feel about getting their pets 'fixed'. They take great pride in the offspring of their pets, for better or worse. You are going to need to do some education in addition to advertising. In September, at Cesar Chavez school, we get over 1500 residents every Saturday for soccer games. Email info@ryaa.org for more info and to arrange a time to come out and educate the public. Also, public service announcements on Spanish speaking television are an excellent way to reach this community.
Melissa May 21, 2012 at 10:41 PM
There needs to be education everywhere! I have taken in dozens of abandoned cats in nice neighborhoods with educated people. In my quest to work on that problem I am amazed at how many people believe that it is okay to have a cat and then abandon it when they move or don't feel like caring for it any more. They actually believe that domesticated pets can fend for themselves if suddenly abandoned. ...Since that is what I find amongst the educated--I am not surprised there is a problem in EPA.
Scott Delucchi May 29, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Hi Alissa, Thank you for your sugggestions. Really, some great ideas. I've been told Mr. Parker sent word of our past clinics to folks on his list, but I sent him a message asking if he could kindly do that again.
Karen D May 31, 2012 at 02:16 AM
As an animal lover, a supporter of the Peninsula SPCA, and a member of EPA Today's board, I would like to thank Scott and the PSPCA for the important work they do on behalf of animals and pets in bay area communities. I volunteer for a rescue group where we try to find homes for last chance pets -- animals who have run out of time at shelters. Through this effort, I am reminded every day about the value of spaying and neutering animals. I am committed to working with our board to see how we can help the PSPCA communicate information about this life-saving service.
shannon August 22, 2012 at 02:09 AM
I showed up august 11 at 6 am because i was told it gets busy! But it never came? I guess it was canceled? now its every 2nd wednesday of the month? please let me know when the next epa bus is sceduled or if it has been canceled forever in EPA?

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