He’s the person who gave birth to the animal rights movement in the United States. Heck, he’s the reason the phrase “animal rights” became a household word. His work while at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) helped to save millions of lives. Now he’s focused on preventing the births of stray dogs.
In 1980, Alex Pacheco co-founded PETA. He grew the organization from a few people in a basement to the world’s largest animal rights organization. Specializing in undercover investigations, litigation, and lobbying, Pacheco served as the organization’s chairman for 20 years, making people around the world change the way they think about how animals are treated.
I first met Pacheco in 1993, when I was a fresh-out-of-college intern at PETA. I later worked for him at the New England Antivivisection Society. I even bailed him out of a Miami jail one New Year’s Eve after we protested elephants being forced to march down Biscayne Boulevard in the parade. I’m proud to have called him a friend for more than 20 years. There are few people I admire as much as I do him.
Pacheco and PETA parted ways in 2000, and since 2009 he’s been focusing his efforts on the global pet overpopulation crisis. His nonprofit group, 600 Million Dogs, is working to develop a dog food that will sterilize dogs and, he believes, end the cycle of suffering for the 600 million homeless, diseased, and starving stray dogs around the world — without surgery or euthanasia.
Unlike human birth control pills, Spay Food will work in a single dose for both male and female dogs. A formula for cats is also in the works.
Because it is still in development and because there are many legally binding confidentiality agreements in place, Pacheco could not disclose the actual formula. He was able to tell me that zinc is one of the active ingredients. Variations of zinc, when combined with other ingredients, are known to be capable of sterilizing dogs and cats.
He was also able to tell me that the finished Spay Food formulas will be oral and delivered in the form of treated, canned dog food. Flavoring will be determined after the formulas are finalized. “Based on the many years of data on the ingredients we are using, there are no negative side effects when used as intended (even if dogs eat multiple portions); [the food] will not harm people, will not harm other animals, and will not harm the environment,” Pacheco explains.
Spay Food would also help to prevent the deaths of people who die from rabies. More than 95 percent of the 55,000 people who die from rabies worldwide each year receive the infections from a stray dog bite, according to the World Health Organization.
“We have found a way to end this cycle of suffering without having to capture the animals, without surgery, and without euthanasia,” Pacheco says. “I am certain that this new super birth control for dogs will make a dramatic, historic difference for hundreds of millions of animals.”
The 600 Million Dogs organization still has a long road ahead of it. Why? Money. Pacheco notes that all of the people working on this cause — from the chemists, to those keeping the website current, even himself — are all volunteers. “For the sake of the world’s starving stray dogs, we must finance all of this ourselves,” he says. And it’s an expensive undertaking. A proper budget to complete the clinical trials for a single-dose formula version of Spay Food is between $1 million and $4 million per year, depending on which country much of the work is carried out in.
The organization has targeted 60 countries with a high stray-dog population to receive the food once available, including Mexico. In Mexico City, there are approximately three million stray dogs. Mexico City authorities report that they capture and kill an estimated 20,000 dogs per month in their city alone. There are more than 16,000 dogs and cats living on the streets in Manzanilla, a city in Colima, Mexico.
Part of the problem is that spaying and neutering is not widely accepted there. Many Mexican men believe by doing so will “make the dogs gay,” as reported by Smithsonian Magazine. This belief was also explored in a documentary about Mexican street dogs called Companions to None, which exposes the animal cruelty and overpopulation crisis in the country.
Common methods of animal control in Mexico City are not pleasant. Stray dogs who are caught are killed by electrocution, and the ones who are not caught are fatally poisoned. Eventually, with Spay Food delivered, Pacheco says, the number of stray dogs will be significantly reduced.
Food distribution also will vary by country. In some countries, veterinarians will be allowed to administer the products, and in others, only municipal health departments (such as rabies control or wildlife agencies) will be able to dispense the food. Some may allow registered nonprofit shelters to do so, and others may allow individuals to acquire the products directly.
“After more than 30 years of working full-time protecting animals, I have come to believe that Spay Food can and will save more animals and will prevent more suffering than any other single project in history, and [that it is] one that can be accomplished in our lifetime,” Pacheco explains.
“I believe in spending my time on whatever will do the most good, whatever will save the most animals, whatever will end the most suffering. It’s not about what is my favorite project. It’s about which project will help the most animals,” he says. “At this stage, our crucial goals are to raise desperately needed funds to be able to hire full-time employees such as chemists to work on Spay Food and to continue working on the clinical trials.”
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About the author: Jennifer Cohen is a long-time animal advocate. She lives in South Florida with her twin daughters, Sydney and Alexandria, who are winners of the Animal Hero Kids Award 2014; their rescue dogs Jake and Max; and their rescue parrot, Sam.