What you have here is one of my favorite photos of my three boys, one in which you can definitely see their distinct personalities shining through. It is also one of the few I have of my three babies together, as the kitten was only three and a half months old at the time, he had been with us for a little more than two months, and it had only been a few days prior that I had finally allowed my dogs and cat to hang out together (okay, so maybe it would be more accurate to say that it had only been a week since one day, much to my horror, the kitten snuck past me out of the room in which he was being kept, and didn’t get eaten), and we lost Terri less than two months later. In fact we lost him three months ago today, that’s what drove me to share this picture, and yet I hesitate to do it, knowing I will be criticized because the only thing many people will care about is the rather obvious fact that my second dog is not neutered.
That, according to some animal lovers’ standards, is an unforgivable sin that makes me unfit as a pet parent. Never mind that that perspective is not nearly as prevalent outside of the United States, or that the reason my boy is not neutered is… because my vet actually advised against it. It should be a shameful fact, something I should strive to conceal along with this picture, end of story.
Well, I am done concealing it, especially because I am tired of being bullied for my beliefs when it comes to that one. That photo is one I will always treasure. No, I did not neuter my boy because, after a long talk with a professional, I did not think it was in his best interest. To me that –and not some abstract notion about what’s best for dogkind– was my top priority. Does that mean I am indifferent to the problems caused by overpopulation, and the number of unwanted animals waiting for a forever home in countless shelters, many of them on death watch. No, nowhere near it, but I do believe in taking a more nuanced approach than the ‘sterilize them all’ police would like to see implemented on a global scale.
As for the reason the vet advised against having him neutered, well, there were a number of threads involved in that particular conversation, but the main one was a serious case of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ Namely what she told me was that what I had were two male dogs who got along just fine. One was neutered, the other was not. If a problem ever arose as a result we could always revisit that particular decision, and have the second dog fixed (not that he was broken, but hey, those were her words), but for the time being she didn’t see the point in introducing an unpredictable variable, especially one that couldn’t possibly be reversed, into their dynamics. As for the population control aspect of the whole thing, she told me that while she always advocated on behalf of spaying, she was nowhere near as adamant when it came to neutering.
Yes, we like to think it is a matter of equality, especially because from a surgical perspective neutering is a far simpler procedure, and how dare we keep putting the blame for the number of unwanted puppies being born squarely on the females. That is not fair! We must release female dogs from this unwarranted assault by the patriarchy, or some such nonsense. Unfortunately out in the real world the fact remains that it is the number of eggs released by the female that determines the number of puppies that are actually born, and that an intact female that is not carefully watched will find (or will be found by) an intact male. That means that neutering an individual animal doesn’t really make much of a difference, and that the most neutering can do is to change the genetic make up of those puppies. In addition to that there is also the fact that, almost by definition, gonadectomies do have a significant impact on the animal’s endocrine system. What you are doing is taking a critical piece out of a mobile, and hoping that the whole thing will not become hopelessly unbalanced as a result. Now, considering the stress that the frequent pregnancies and deliveries, to say nothing of the associated nursing, place on the mother’s body, spaying makes sense not only as a means of population control, but also as a procedure that will, over all, improve the dog’s quality of life.
For males, whether we like it or not, the equation is fundamentally different, as reproduction does not have the same associated biological costs, it is completely worthless as a means of population control, and in their case the damage done to the endocrine system is just not worth it. To me that argument actually made sense, though there are some benefits to neutering that are undeniable, such as the fact that a dog that has been neutered is less likely to get lost, to get hurt in a fight, or to be hit by a car (or at least that is the theory. Unfortunately Terri’s passing taught me that accidents can and will happen no matter what you do).
Anyway, personally I find this more nuanced approach to be more reasonable than the extremist position adopted by most rescues, and a good share of self-described animal lovers, though that does mean that my rescues will probably have to be unofficial ones from now on. If that is the price I have to pay to do what I think is best for my boys, so be it. (BTW, this post refers only to dogs. My cat is neutered. No, I am not too happy about that, but the bottom line is that while it is possible to train a dog out of an unwanted sexual behavior, cats… well, cats are cats. They are going to do what they are going to do, and the only way to keep them from spraying all over the place, or from roaming in search of females, is to have them neutered, preferably at an early age. With a cat a fence and some basic discipline just won’t cut it. If there had been an alternative I would most definitely have taken it, but when it came to that one, there wasn’t).
And sorry about the rant, but the horrified reaction from one of my friends when I tried to share one of my most precious memories with her on a day I am mourning the loss of my best friend really bothered me.