A dog and owner wait their turn at a spay clinic
A dog and owner wait their turn at a 2012 clinic in Chicago. Photo by Sally Ryan for the HSUS

The last week in February 2018, animal lovers around the world took to Twitter and Facebook to share photos, statistics and the hashtag #WorldSpayDay.

“Great success,” announced the Afghani nonprofit Nowzad, which sterilized 27 street dogs in Kabul. In India, the HOPE & Animal Trust spayed or neutered 40 street dogs and reached an impressive milestone: a whopping 70,000 sterilizations over 10 years. In the other hemisphere, a coalition in Mexico sterilized 400 cats in a weeklong MASH-style operation, a Maryland organization held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its newly expanded low-cost spay/neuter clinic, and dozens of organizations offered free sterilization surgeries for dogs, cats and rabbits.

After a quarter of a century, World Spay Day has reached nearly every corner of the globe.

A group of people gathered for world spay day
A 2002 Spay Day event in Buenos Aires, Argentina, attracts a crowd. Photo by the Humane Society of the United States
A sign promoting world spay day
A sign in Lincoln, Nebraska, spreads the message. Photo by the Humane Society of the United States

It started in the early ’90s, when Holly Hazard was working for the Doris Day Animal League. Traveling around the U.S., she met lots of small groups of dedicated activists working to reduce animal overpopulation in their communities. “They just seemed so alone and without any support,” says Hazard, who recently retired from her position as a senior vice president at the Humane Society of the United States. “It seemed we could build a stronger and more cohesive force and support. If people had a day, they could be part of something bigger.”

"Being a part of something bigger just gives something a gravitas that it doesn’t have when you’re out there working by yourself 365 days a year."

—Holly Hazard, retired senior vice president at the HSUS and World Spay Day pioneer

She hoped that promoting local spay/neuter efforts as part of a national campaign would also make them more newsworthy and more likely to attract grant funding. “Being a part of something bigger just gives something a gravitas that it doesn’t have when you’re out there working by yourself 365 days a year,” she says.

In 1995, Spay Day USA launched on the last Tuesday of February. “Tuesday is a slow day for veterinarians, and February is a slow month,” Hazard explains.

Of course, labeling a random date as a day of action to promote the sterilization of pets is one thing; making that label stick is another. But with Doris Day as the spokeswoman and media kits and other materials provided free to participating organizations, Spay Day USA was an immediate success.

After DDAL joined forces with the Humane Society of the United States, it wasn’t long before its international affiliate, Humane Society International, decided that Spay Day needed to go global. The event has been known as World Spay Day since 2012.

Vicki Stevens, senior marketing communications manager at the HSUS, helped manage the campaign for over a decade, and she’s seen how years of coordinating and promoting Spay Day have paid off. “World Spay Day has taken on a life of its own,” she says. “It’s no longer just an HSUS thing; it belongs to everyone.”

That evolution has coincided with a sea change in public awareness and spay/neuter capacity. “It’s not as if the day itself is responsible,” says Hazard, “but it’s pushed people. There are more animals spayed today than would have been had Spay Day not come into fruition, and that’s a really good feeling.”

What will the next 25 years hold for World Spay Day? “We can hope that spay/neuter will be something unnecessary to talk about anymore,” she says. “It will be like wearing seatbelts; everyone who has a pet knows that it’s the appropriate thing to do.”

a couple stands next to their recently spayed dog
Photo by the Humane Society of the United States
a vet tech shaves a dog while the veterinarian looks on
Photo by Martha Gagnon
a roadside billboard promoting world spay day
Photo by Beverly Chestnut
a group of people gathered around a spay day sign
Through billboards, public service announcements, community proclamations, celebrity endorsements, special events and more, World Spay Day is now a globally recognized day of action to combat companion animal overpopulation. Photo by the Humane Society of the United States

About the Author

Julie Falconer

Julie Falconer is a senior editor at the Humane Society of the United States. She’s passionate about a wide range of animal protection topics, which she writes about for HumanePro, All Animals magazine and humanesociety.org. She is a longtime volunteer with rescue and animal advocacy organizations and spends much of her free time immersed in trap-neuter-return for community cats—which means her car is perpetually filled with traps, carriers, cases of canned food and cat hair. She lives in Maryland with her partner and they share their home with a neurotic hound mix, three cats (one of whom they can pet) and an assortment of foster animals.


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