Joe Tosini knows how to command a room. When he shakes your hand with an iron grip and leans in to stare you in the face, you know right away that whatever it is he’s about to say, he feels it from his temples to his toes.
“I used to be a preacher,” he said to me, and I believe it. He has that ability to grab a group of people. I first watched him do it at an ACES session at the Helen Woodward Animal Center, when he was there to tell a group of animal rescue advocates from around the country about his company, Ark Sciences, and how he wanted to change the world.
His subject now is not religion but unwanted pets, but he brings the same fist-clenching conviction to the topic that one would expect from any passionate believer. “We’re going to change the world,” he says, while talking of the pain he felt travelling all over the world and seeing the suffering resulting from animal overpopulation. The room felt it too.
With no background in animal science to speak of, Joe founded Ark Sciences and assembled a team of veterinarians, scientists and animal experts to move forward with his goal. They acquired the patent for a form of chemical castration, which had languished as Neutersol, and re-vamped the protocol under a new name, Esterilsol.
So what is it, exactly? Zinc Gluconate is a chemical that, when injected into the testicle, kills the spermatozoa and triggers the formation of scar tissue in the seminiferous tubules and rete testis. That is the short-short version. For the complete explanation, check out the thorough FAQ section of the Ark site.
The earlier form of chemical castration, Neutersol, did not succeed for a variety of reasons, be it business, some early adverse reactions, or a skeptical public. The problems with adverse reactions related to injection technique have been addressed; complication rates are about 1% (which is lower than that for the traditional surgical castration.)
It can be done with mild sedation, removing the need for general anesthesia. And it preserves the Leydig cells responsible for producing testosterone, preserving levels at about 50% of what it was pre-neuter. For many owners, sex hormone preservation and the emerging data regarding its impact on health is a major reason to avoid surgical neutering.
Since launching the product, Esterilsol has been approved in Mexico, approved by the FDA for dog castrations in dogs from 3-10 months (though they are expecting to drop the upper limit by the time it hits US markets), and is pending FDA approval of its US manufacturing facility, expected this year.
After extensive usage and approval in Mexico, Joe brought the Esterilsol product back to the US and began approaching humane societies, animal welfare organizations, and veterinary schools about his vision to end euthanasia due to pet overpopulation with this process that is fast, straightforward, and best of all to a cash strapped organization, cheaper than traditional neutering.
The reaction from the animal welfare community has been enthusiastic. That of the veterinary community is a little more cautious.
“Why wouldn’t you want to use this?” Joe asked me one night. “Why wouldn’t a vet want to start using this tomorrow?”
And I paused, and I laughed, because I totally get how my profession works. We have a procedure, and we know how to do it, and it works. We are born skeptics and born arguers. No one wants to be the first adopter of a new technology that ends up going south. We are old and crotchety and set in our ways.
“It’s going to be a while before it becomes widely accepted,” I said. “Everyone’s going to wait and see what happens when someone else does it before they take a risk on their own clients.”
Joe looked at me, and pulled from his folder the journal articles, the FDA statements, the technical papers from the veterinarians participating in the research. “I have all the proof right here,” he said. “What more do you need?”
“Other vets,” I said immediately. It is how we work.
And he told me about the animals he has seen all over the world, and we talked about that a bit. And I told him about those I have seen in South America, in Mexico, in Africa, and here in the States. I get it. I understand his drive to get this off the ground as soon as he can just as much as I get my colleagues looking at a syringe of something they haven’t tried yet and saying, “you first.”
It’s all quite complex and you might have lots of questions, so please, ask away if you haven’t gotten a chance to check out the Ark website. It’s fascinating, and you know what, it’s exciting. I think this is going to be big.
Joe is not one to be easily deterred. They’re working on the vets as we speak; the last time I spoke with the people at Ark, Western had invited them to teach their technique to the vet students there. Joe fixed me with his gaze and said with certainty, “This is going to save lives.” And you know what? He made a believer out of me.
I am very interested to see where this is going to go.