Stephanie Downs started volunteering at the Table Mountain Animal Shelter in Golden, Colorado over a decade ago, expecting the responsibilities to be a relaxing break from the daily stress of running her business. When volunteering quickly evolved into her being on the Board of Directors, however, she couldn’t help but look at the shelter’s operations as she would any business. She found it surprising that, the government preferred instead to treat the symptom by euthanizing the animals, instead of providing free spay and neuter programs to help people to do the right thing for their animals and prevent the overpopulation crisis.
How is it that in a country as educated as the United States we can’t see the incongruity of this? Over 2 billion dollars of tax-payer money is spent per year to collect, house, care for, and ultimately kill over 4 million cats and dogs each year. This just didn’t make economic sense, and Stephanie decided to do something to get out in front of this crisis. She knew she needed to gather data to show the return investment, and use that data to work towards a prevention plan. So sparked the idea for the FiXiT Foundation.
To test the benefits of free spay and neuter, Stephanie knew she would need a closed population of a manageable size, such as one found on a small island. Over the course of a few years, she narrowed her choices to the U.S. Virgin islands and made various trips to St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. She met with the animal shelters, vets, and anyone who would listen to her ideas. Many people told her that the cultural beliefs could not be overcome, but she refused to believe this. She was determined to figure out how.
During this time, Stephanie learned of a woman from California who, after adopting 4 babies from one crack addict who passed along her addiction, founded an organization which pays addicts $200 to get sterilized. Stephanie found this woman’s commitment to preventing a problem commendable, despite its controversial nature (read more about this organization at www.projectprevention.org). This was the kind of idea that was going to save animals.
On her next trip to St. Croix, she was chatting with a local man about spay and neuter. He said it was “unnatural” and was very stubborn about it, regardless of whether it was free or not. When she asked if $20 or a case of beer might change his mind, he smiled and said that it just might. Instantly she knew, by his reaction and change in demeanor, that she had found his tipping point.
In 2008, while working on other animal welfare projects, Stephanie met Dr. Kellie Heckman and discovered they shared a passion for the animal overpopulation crisis. It was an instant match with Dr. Heckman providing the research knowledge and Stephanie providing the marketing expertise. In 2009, FiXiT Foundation became official and received 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit status. The Final Fix Project was launched in 2010 in St. Croix to test the incentive-based marketing strategy. There are many ideas to test and many lessons to learn, but we will continue to look for that tipping point. Once we do, we will use it to help spay and neuter programs all over the world.