Whether you live in Puerto Escondido or are just visiting, it’s impossible not to notice the large population of street animals that wander the city. Overpopulation of dogs and cats is evident and many local shelters and rescuers are at their breaking point.
But a local organization is tackling this issue on the Oaxaca coast in a humane way: donation-based spay and neuter surgeries. This week, the Snipsisters Puerto Escondido chapter marked the completion of 6,000 surgeries since its start in 2019.
Heidi Wagner is the founder of Snipsisters, whose main chapter is in Huatulco. For the professional with a background in photography, it is truly a passion project. Wagner notes that seeing street animals while traveling the world has always hit a chord. After seeing the situation upon arriving in Huatulco in 2011 Wagner says, “It was heartbreaking . . . I thought something needs to be done.”
So she went door-to-door asking if people would have their animals sterilized. She acknowledges that it was an unconventional method. “A lot of people were hesitant, so we started bringing the vet.” People began to recognize the initiative and it became a trusted name.
In 2019, Wagner presented the idea of a Snipsisters chapter in Puerto Escondido to Susan Allison, who has lived in Puerto since 2015 and was actively rescuing and fostering animals. With funding for the first campaign in place, she decided to take on the task.
With the exception of that first campaign, Allison and a dedicated group of volunteers have managed to fundraise for each subsequent campaign in Puerto Escondido. The ability to fund the campaigns is an impressive feat when you realize that they are held monthly.
Asked how she manages this schedule, Allison said, “I try to take three days after each campaign to reset . . . It’s a full-time job — unpaid.”
Snipsisters has been using the same veterinarian for the last five years. Dr. Ruben is flown in each month from Mexico City and works almost non-stop during campaign days. He focuses specifically on spaying and neutering campaigns, traveling throughout Mexico for his work. He is the only person who is paid in the entire operation. Other than that, it’s completely volunteer run. And it’s not always easy to get long-term help.
Allison, Dr. Ruben, and volunteers are on the move before the first surgery on campaign days. There is the task of setting up and breaking down each day. Additionally, the animals are constantly monitored as they come off anesthesia in order to ensure any complications are caught in time.
“Ideally, we have volunteers. But I’ve done campaigns where it’s just me and the vet,” Allison said.
Each campaign runs for about 10 days each month. With quality procedures and an experienced veterinarian, Snipsisters has earned the trust of the community. And long gone are the days when Wagner went knocking on doors, encouraging people to get their animals sterilized.
“Everything is by appointment. We have a waiting list. And our August campaign is already booked.” Allison is in charge of organizing all the appointments and has a phone number dedicated solely to scheduling them. “I have two phones now. I did it all on my personal phone until the beginning of this year . . .”
No animal is ever turned away, as long as an appointment has been made. And while the organization was initially started to give people of lower means the opportunity to get their animals sterilized, now it’s arguably the most trusted spay and neuter organization in Puerto Escondido.
Allison says, “The cost of each operation is $350. That doesn’t include the cost of instruments or the vet’s flight. We encourage people to donate what they can.”
Somehow Allison is always able to find the necessary funding. Since its start in 2019, the Snipsisters Puerto Escondido chapter has done 2,225,400 pesos in surgeries alone. On Monday, they celebrated hitting 6,000 surgeries.
Allison notes the realities of animal overpopulation. “Unfortunately, we don’t necessarily see the change [on the streets]. But, logically, when we look at the numbers, we know we’ve made an impact.”
Over seven years, an unspayed female cat and her offspring can produce 370,000 cats. An unspayed female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 dogs in just six years. Many animal advocates find sterilization to be the most humane manner to tackle the issue.
The goal had been 100 surgeries a month but Snipsisters did 1,553 in 2021. When they decided to try for 2,022 in 2022, says Allison, “Everyone was like, nah, we can’t do it.”
As the year progressed, Allison’s ambitious goal seemed attainable. But they ended up doing 2,107, beating the goal by 85.”
Like any project, Snipsisters has its critics. Allison notes, “Some people say we should just do street dogs. Or only sterilizations for [animals of] people who can’t afford it. But we can’t tell people to be responsible pet owners and not have it available to them. So we have to do a mix. We want people to be responsible . . . We want it to be easy for them.”
Each campaign does have one day dedicated to street dogs specifically. These are usually categorized as “dogs on the streets.” They tend to have someone or various people who feed them but don’t necessarily have a home. In fact, many dogs are brought to the campaign by people who have been adopted by them. These dogs and cats turn up at their homes or on their land and don’t leave. So Snipsisters makes it easy for those people to get these animals sterilized.
Sterilization campaigns often have something of a negative stigma. However, by consistently providing quality care, from compassionate volunteers and an experienced veterinarian, Snipsisters is changing that narrative. “We want people to have confidence in bringing their animals to us, and we’ve gained that.”
The organization operates on a “spay it forward” logic. Wagner and Allison encourage those who can pay to do so, as well as consider sponsoring other animals’ surgery cost. Donations can be made in person at the campaigns as well as on the Snipsisters’ website.
Allison says, “We always need donations. There’s no lack of patients, but we need funds.”
El Sol de Puerto