The nonprofit Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D) recently completed its inaugural Challenge, Marking Methods to Identify Contracepted/Sterilized Cats and Dogs. Through the Challenge, ACC&D generated novel ideals for identifying effective, non-surgical, and humane methods of marking individual animals that will identify them as “contracepted” on a permanent or long term basis. We recently spoke with Joyce Briggs, President of ACC&D, about her organization and the results of the Challenge.
Hello Ms. Briggs – thank you for joining us today. Could you start by telling us a bit about the history, mission, and goals of ACC&D?
ACC&D’s mission is to expedite the successful introduction of methods to non-surgically sterilize dogs and cats, and to support the distribution and promotion of these products to humanely control cat and dog populations.
Sterilization has long been recognized as the most humane and effective way of managing reproduction in cats and dogs. We absolutely support traditional surgical sterilization, but we want to expand the “toolbox.” Relying only on surgery, we continue to have millions of homeless animals, overcrowded shelters, and avoidable suffering. Non-surgical sterilization and contraception options omit the need for skilled veterinary surgeons, a sterile surgical environment, recovery space, anesthesia, and incision monitoring. As a result, we expand options for lower-income communities, animal shelters, and free-roaming cat and dog populations. This has tremendous benefits for animal welfare, shelter resources, and even public health.
ACC&D was founded in 2000 as a program of Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In 2006, we became an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit. We now have a small staff and a very engaged Board of Directors and Scientific Advisory Board. Board members and Scientific Advisors hail from leading animal welfare organizations, veterinary schools, and research institutions; they are a vital asset.
In 2008, ACC&D’s work was advanced when Found Animals Foundation launched the Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology. This committed up to $75 million in research support and award money to develop a non-surgical sterilant that is safe, effective, and practical for use in male and female cats and dogs. Add to that the first FDA-approved non-surgical sterilant for male dogs (Zeuterin™), which is expected to be available commercially in the U.S. in mid-2013, and ACC&D’s mission and objectives have received a lot of attention in recent years! We’ll host our 5th International Symposium June 20-22 in Portland, Oregon. We also just released a free e-book on fertility control in dogs and cats—the definitive reference guide to this growing field.
Can you help us understand more about the importance of humane cat and dog population control and how the issue has evolved over the past decade?
Geographic scope matters when answering this question. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 3-4 million animals are euthanized each year. Any unsterilized dog or cat is at risk of contributing to these numbers. Low-cost, high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter resources have expanded in the past decade, which has helped make surgical sterilization more affordable. Even so, this has not been able to keep millions of animals from ending up euthanized—an animal welfare issue to be sure, but also a social and economic burden for communities. Adding non-surgical options to the “toolbox” is vital to reducing numbers of homeless animals.
The situation in many other parts of the world is much more desperate. In dozens of nations, poverty is endemic. Limited veterinary and financial resources simply cannot support large-scale surgical sterilization for canine and feline population control. Municipal animal care and control systems are primitive or non-existent, and surplus animals are often killed by archaic methods such as drowning, electrocution, and poisoning.
Public health and rabies are also a consideration. In many countries free-roaming dogs are common. The World Health Organization estimates that over 55,000 people die of rabies annually, mostly in Asia and Africa; dogs are the source of the majority of human rabies deaths.
In recent decades, it has become widely accepted that “culling” does not permanently reduce canine populations or prevent rabies. Canine contraception and rabies vaccination are essential. In communities with limited resources, non-surgical options, particularly injectible ones, have the potential to vastly increase the numbers of dogs both sterilized and vaccinated against rabies. The result is improved animal and human health and welfare.
What prompted you to partner with InnoCentive and use crowdsourcing as part of your strategy rather than rely on traditional avenues of research such as grants?
I’ve discussed the tremendous potential of non-surgical sterilants, but our InnoCentive Challenge was actually about a related issue: how to identify animals who have been treated non-surgically, since the animals’ physical changes are often less apparent, and if the treatment temporarily contracepts rather than sterilizes an animal, he or she will need to be retreated. Keep in mind that we want the mark to be long-lasting or permanent, safe, humane, applied without anesthesia, and appropriate for free-roaming cat and dog populations who cannot relate their treatment history! Given that this question hasn’t been thoroughly considered before, we thought it was a great time to tap peoples’ creativity and intelligence through crowdsourcing and see what ideas emerged.
In May, ACC&D will hold a “Think Tank” on the subject of identifying non-surgically sterilized or contracepted dogs and cats; we’ll convene experts in veterinary medicine, animal handling, animal welfare, and technology. Two of our top InnoCentive Solvers will also attend; they’ll offer truly unique and valuable perspectives on this subject. Without InnoCentive, we would have never met these individuals or had the diversity of ideas to further evaluate.
I understand that you’re planning to recognize two first-place Solvers. What stood out about these Solvers and differentiated them from the others, and what can you tell us about your plans to further apply and develop the winning solutions?
Yes! As our committee reviewed Solvers’ proposals, several individuals offered good “short-term” possibilities—i.e., marking methods that utilize current resources and technology. Another cohort offered “longer-term” possibilities—ways to “push the ball forward” with RFID technology and smartphone capabilities and in turn advance our ability to mark, monitor, and manage cat and dog populations. Recognizing the value of both short- and longer-term solutions, we decided to award solutions in each category.
One of the first-place Solvers had an excellent proposal for refining ear markings. Traditional ear tags present challenges—they get caught, tear, are too large for cats and small dogs, can be painful to apply, and often cause infection. This Solver offered a fantastic proposal for an improved ear tag with analgesic, antibiotic, and antiseptic properties.
Our “longer-term” winner, Eugene Pancheri, offered incredibly thoughtful and well-researched information and suggestions on how to improve and adapt RFID technology to better suit our goals for monitoring and managing free-roaming populations. In fact, he and one of our runners-up will attend our Think Tank. We look forward to developing a plan to test marking options as an outcome of this Think Tank.
Overall, how would you describe your first experience with crowdsourcing innovation problems via InnoCentive?
Overwhelmingly positive! Solvers were creative and provided great solutions and ideas that we’ll explore at our upcoming Think Tank and beyond. It’s also notable that Solvers were very collegial, complementing and building on one another’s ideas and seldom criticizing proposals that may have been off the mark. InnoCentive provided a great platform for crowdsourcing innovation, and we would readily work with the organization again.
Thanks for your time Ms. Briggs. Do you have any particular advice or guidance for our Solvers as they tackle future Challenges?
Please continue to be creative! This is one of the most valuable aspects of InnoCentive and crowdsourcing. Some of the proposed solutions were adaptations of existing methods of marking animals. Others were truly “outside the box,” and they’ve helped ACC&D think “outside the box” as a result. We also appreciated when Solvers engaged in dialogue with one another—in fact, bouncing ideas off one another led to some of the most valuable suggestions.