We all remember Bob Barker's reminder, at the end of every episode of "The Price is Right," to spay and neuter your pets. It offers a profound insight into the problem of pet overpopulation -- namely, reducing (and ultimately ending) euthanasia as a means of population control. The decision to sterilize cats and dogs, as well as rabbits and other small animals, is in the hands of responsible pet owners.Broad and varied experience with community programs over the past decade has led to the notion of "targeted spay and neuter." Quite simply, this notion refers to pet sterilizations that would not otherwise be done, thereby increasing a community's pet sterilization rate (or, if you prefer, decreasing its rate of pet reproduction). Fundamental to this is the availability and affordability of spaying and neutering services, as well as public education about the value of sterilization. Our historical experience shows that each of these is necessary but that neither on its own is sufficient.Experts like Peter Marsh with Solutions to Overpopulation of Pets, believe that over time five or six such targeted surgeries per 1,000 of human population result in lower numbers of animals entering area shelters. That means a higher rate of pet sterilization actually begins to turn the tide of pet overpopulation and to make a difference in the number of healthy and adoptable animals that are euthanized due to space.In Orange County, this translates into 600 to 700 pet sterilizations per year, in addition to those that are already being done by private veterinarians, public and private shelters and assorted animal-rescue organizations.Addressing the problem of pet overpopulation in this way is proactive and positive from the standpoint of people and pets. It promises to be cost-effective as well since community spay-neuter programs can and do limit the actual costs of controlling and caring for what are sometimes referred to as "surplus animals."Indeed, these efforts are a logical extension of established practices such as sterilizing animals prior to their adoption, and motivating people to spay and neuter by reducing the annual licensing fee for sterilized cats and dogs. Both of these are significant accomplishments of Orange County. Other programs of this kind are now underway under the guidance of the Animal Services Advisory Board (ASAB), the citizen advisory board for Orange County's Animal Services Department.Through its Pet Overpopulation Committee the ASAB and staff are working to develop plans to address overpopulation based upon the "best practices" of other communities. Some of the critical concerns of these plans are identified in the Animal Services Department's Monthly Reports, which provide standard statistics for shelter intake and disposition, (and which are available at www.co.orange.nc.us/animalservices/reports.asp.Later this month, Animal Services hopes to conduct some targeted activities as well as educational outreach in celebration of Spay Day USA, an annual event sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States that promotes the spaying and neutering of pets. As part of ongoing efforts to address the problem of pet overpopulation at the front-end, this is expected to be one of many interventions that make us all appreciate the profoundness of Bob Barker's well-known phrase from the standpoint of the human-animal bond in our own and other communities.