Local Hero – Thinking Outside the Box

April 25, 2012 by Tails Magazine in May 2012, News, Rescue with 0 Comments
Downs (r) and Volunteer

Stephanie Downs (right) and FiXit are researching the best ways to deliver spay/neuter messages. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Downs.

FiXit Foundation takes innovative approach to promote spay/neuter

By Brendan Quealy

Stephanie Downs’ idea of a vacation is spending a few weeks in Africa helping impoverished children and another couple weeks in India attempting to ease the feral cow problem. That may not seem like the ideal R & R for most, but Downs is passionate about making a difference locally, as well as internationally. Downs, who has endless energy, is especially chipper while talking about her pride and joy: the FiXit Foundation.

“The original idea came while I was working at a shelter in 2001,” Downs says. “I would see all of these people coming in with boxes of puppies and just dropping them off. We were already putting down 5 million animals a year in this country, so it seemed like spay/neuter was something we needed to focus on.”

Downs refers to her time volunteering at Los Angeles-area shelters as her “gateway drug” into animal welfare. With her background in marketing, Downs was interested in creating targeted campaigns that would motivate people in underserved communities to spay and neuter their pets. “There is a segment of the population that we are not meeting,” Downs says. “Twenty to 25 percent of the people in this country either do not know, or are misinformed, about spay/neuter.”

With a mission of providing low-cost spay/neuter services to low-income neighborhoods around the country, Downs and co-founder Kellie Heckman established the FiXit Foundation in 2009.

One of the projects they are working on is “The Final Fix,” a research study on the island of St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands. “It is the perfect place to conduct this study,” Downs explains. “It is a U.S. territory, which makes it easier to fight for legislation based on our results. It has an ideal population size, the demographics of the people give us a wide range to deal with. The environment is comparable to low-income, low-education populations.”

They are testing the effectiveness of incentives and marketing messages to increase spay and neuter. The first incentive Downs and Heckman presented included a reduced surgery price and a free bag of dog food. The second campaign offered both free. Then, in an attempt to try something completely different, they gave away a bottle of rum with every surgery hoping it would bring in more people. “We saw an uptick when we gave them a Big Mac value meal or a bottle of rum,” Downs reports. “The ultimate goal here is to put together a methodology that would work anywhere.”

The first step is to talk to the people. They hired St. Croix residents to do preliminary research and have conversations with the locals. The Final Fix team developed and tweaked marketing messages based on the feedback. “It is a revolutionary idea,” Downs says. “We need to figure out what will play with the local community.”

Downs believes this project will make a sizeable difference. Targeted spay/neuter marketing can be applied anywhere, she says, from the impoverished rural communities in Alabama, Kentucky, and Arkansas to the inner-city neighborhoods of Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia. “We want to create change and fight the barriers that affect spay/neuter,” Downs says. “The next generation of people will remember that pets are supposed to be taken care of [not just thrown away] because we are not treating the symptoms—we are treating the ailment.”

Please visit GetYourFix.org for more info!

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