February is known nationally as Spay/Neuter Awareness Month with the intent of encouraging pet owners to have their pets sterilized before their springtime urge to mate results in litters and litters of unintended puppies and kittens.
Many of those puppies and kittens end up in already crowded animal shelters, often behind steel bars, waiting day after day to be given a chance at adoption if they’re lucky, or to be humanely euthanized if they end up in a shelter with limited space and resources.
The good news is that the awareness campaign is working. According to the ASPCA’s estimation, the number of dogs and cats entering U.S. animal shelters every year has decreased from 7.2 million in 2011 to 6.5 million more recently, and the number of cats and dogs euthanized in shelters has decreased from approximately 2.6 million to 1.5 million over the same time period. 
The bad news is that’s still 6.5 million companion animals entering U.S. shelters and 1.5 million of them being euthanized; every year.
This means there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of pet owners who need to know the facts so they can get their pets fixed and contribute to the decline in these heartbreaking numbers.
So, what are the facts? Despite the success of the awareness campaign, there are still a lot of myths and misconceptions about spay and neuter. Here are a few of the most popular, along with clarification.
Myth: Spaying or neutering my pet will make him fat.
Fact: Sterilization surgery alone does not contribute to weight gain – lack of exercise and overfeeding does. Monitor your pet’s food intake and provide opportunities for exercise and your pet will remain fit and healthy.
Myth: It’s better for my female cat/dog to have one litter before spaying her.
Fact: There is no medical evidence to support this claim. According to Best Friends Animal Society’s medical director, Dr. Susan Konecny, “spaying female dogs and cats before their first heat cycle eliminates their risk of ovarian or uterine cancer, and it also greatly reduces their risk of mammary cancer.” 
Myth: Neutering my male cat/dog will diminish his masculinity.
Fact: Unlike humans, animals have absolutely no concept of sexuality and neutering your male dog won’t make him feel less than in any way. What will diminish is the likelihood that he will roam to find a mate or mark territory with urine.
Myth: I’ll find homes for the puppies/kittens!
Fact: Good luck. Even if you give them away for free, how do you know the person you turn them over to will properly care for them? And how likely is it that they also will allow the dog or cat to breed, continuing the cycle of overpopulation? Consider also that for every home you find, that’s one less home available to adopt a shelter pet who’s already waited too long.
Myth: I can’t afford to have my pet spayed/neutered.
Fact: Yes, you can. Thanks to the development of high volume/low cost spay and neuter programs across the country, pet sterilization is now more affordable and accessible than ever. Here are your options locally:
The SPCA Veterinary Care Center: Regular price surgery ranges from $40 - $125 and is available to anyone without income or residency restrictions. Even more affordable pricing is available through City and County programs based on owner income level and residency.
City of Aiken Residents: a $20 voucher program is available to city residents meeting certain income levels. The $20 copay includes surgery, microchipping, rabies vaccination and a lifetime city pet registration.
Aiken County and North Augusta Residents: a $15 voucher program is available to residents living outside Aiken City limits but within Aiken County and meeting certain income levels. The $15 copay includes surgery, microchipping and a rabies vaccination.
Edgefield County Residents: a $15 voucher program is available to Edgefield County residents meeting certain income levels.
To see if you qualify or to get more information, visit spcavetcare.org or call 803-648-6864. Appointments are required for spay/neuter surgery. 
The most important fact is this: every single day homeless, companion animals are entering shelters with limited space and resources to care for them all. Some of them are adopted, but not all. We cannot adopt our way out of this problem. The only solution is prevention. Please spread the word, this Spay/Neuter Awareness month and every day of the year.
Sarah Neikam is the Operations Manager for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the Albrecht Center since 2012. Sarah's family includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA Albrecht Center.