By Sandra Ecklund
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- PETA hit the peninsula Tuesday and they had an eye-catching way of getting their message across.
To spread the word that pet owners need to get their four-legged friends fixed, two PETA members, dressed as giant yellow and green condoms, handed out leaflets on animal birth control at the corner of King and George streets.
"If cats and dogs could wear condoms, millions of animals would be spared suffering and death," said PETA Associate Director of Campaigns Lindsay Rajt. "But they can't — so it's up to their guardians to take responsibility for spaying and neutering."
Getting an eyeful
The walking-talking prophylactics got a mixed response ranging from support (one woman came up to window shop and said "Yes! I support this!") to vulgar heckling, confusion and a little disapproval.
While walking past the demonstration, one mother rushed her children past the colorful characters. When her little girl asked what they were, her mom simply said "It's a pepper, honey."
"Can I pet the pepper, mommy?" the little girl asked.
"No, we don't have time for that," her mom answered hurriedly.
"I thought it was a little weird at first," said College of Charleston student Paige Cunningham. "I think you should (spay/neuter your pets), but I don't think this is the right way to go about talking about it."
Not all of the response was negative. There were some drivers at the stop light that supported the movement. More than one driver rolled down their windows to flag Rajt down and ask for a flier. Some pet owners walking their dogs past also voiced their approval.
Some, however, may not have realized exactly what they were looking at. When I asked the parking attendant at the George Street lot what she thought the characters were, she said she thought they were vegetables.
"I was wondering what do vegetables have to do with fixing your dog," she said.
When I told her what they really were, her eyes got huge. In a fit of laughter she said, "Oh, that is crazy. I can't wait to tell them (her coworkers) about this!"
So, why condoms?
"The condoms are a fun way to remind people that preventing unwanted pregnancies is easy for us, but dogs and cats obviously can't even open the wrapper," said Rajt. "It's up to us to spay, neuter and to always adopt from a shelter instead of buying from a breeder."
Highlighting the need for spay/neuter to save the lives of animals is a common message from other animal organizations as well. According to a statement from Pet Helpers, one un-spayed female cat and her offspring can amount to over 420,000 kittens born over a six-year period, and in that same time frame, one unspayed female dog and her offspring can reproduce 67,000 dogs.
Many of these unwanted pets would end up homeless, in shelters or euthanized.
The Charleston Animal Society brings up other benefits of spay/neuter for pet owners that include preventing pyometra, a pus-filled uterus, and breast cancer, which can be fatal in about 50 percent of female dogs and in 90 percent of female cats.
"Charleston Animal Society has been able to reduce the animal overpopulation by 13 percent over the previous year - that means 1,315 fewer animals! Spaying and neutering works," said CAS Chief Executive Officer Joe Elmore. "However, there are still over 10,000 unwanted animals that enter Charleston's sheltering system. Although we do NOT euthanize for space and we save all healthy and treatable animals, the most responsible action animal caretakers and owners can do is to spay or neuter their animals."
PETA's demonstration comes just a couple of weeks before International Spay/Neuter Awareness Month, slated for February.
"We're coming up on Spring and that's a time when a lot of puppies and kittens are coming into the world," said Rajt. "This is the perfect time to take animals in to get spayed and neutered."
Where to get your fix
The Pet Helpers Spay/Neuter Clinic is open to the public Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Appointments can be made by calling (843) 302-0556. Some Charleston residents qualify to get their pets fixed for free. Check the Pet Helpers website for more information by clicking here.
The Charleston Animal Society also has a Spay & Neuter Clinic that offers low-cost vaccinations, microchipping services, heartworm and flea prevention. They even have transportation assistance if you don't have a way to get to their location on Remount Road and they are currently running a promotion that lets North Charleston residents get their furry friends fixed for free.
Their hours run Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Saturday from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Make an appointment or find out more information by calling (843) 556-7729 or visiting their website by clicking here.