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Be cautious about mandatory pet spay-neuter legislation

March 13, 2010

“The following column, written by Janice Sparhawk Gardner, was originally published in Foster’s Sunday Citizen. It is covered by the author’s Copyright, and cannot be copied, in whole or in part, without her express written consent, in advance. Violations of this copyright will be prosecuted. The author can be contacted through this website.”

by Janice Sparhawk Gardner – 2010

Periodically, a number of facts seem to fall into place, revealing a truth that might not have been apparent previously. Something like this happened to me this week. I had been wondering how it is possible for Americans to be so enchanted with dogs as pets, and at the same time, to hold beliefs that, if put into action, would actually eliminate the species in a relatively short time. Let me review the situation, and let’s see if you agree with my conclusions.

Roughly 37 percent of American homes include at least one pet dog. Most people, mimimally, pay lip service to an appreciation of how much dogs add to our lives, and to our culture. While dogs no longer have the job of warning cave dwellers of approaching danger, the jobs they do perform for us could be even more valuable. Some very special dogs and their handlers search destroyed buildings seeking for survivors, and for the bodies of those who did not survive. Perhaps you noticed the news clips of search and rescue dogs working in the jumble of what used to be homes and businesses in Haiti? If you ever fly, them perhaps you have seen bomb or drug detection dogs making us safer at airports? Military dogs are described by their handlers as their most valuable and reliable protection against roadside bombs. Dogs can also predict epileptic seizures, and locate cancers in humans. Certainly the tasks performed by dogs no longer fit their job description when they lived with prehistoric people, but an argument could easily be made that their modern jobs are even more important.

Studies show that dogs help us maintain good health. They encourage exercise and social contacts. I’ve been told that walking with a dog is the best way to meet new friends. I think it is safe to say that dogs have earned their place in our hearts and in our society. And yet – - – -

And yet laws requiring mandatory spay and neuter of all dogs are spreading throughout the country. I wonder if people have given much thought to the only possible result if the MSN laws become universal? Logically, if all dogs are surgically neutered, then in about ten years there will be no dogs. If all breeding is stopped – where will you find the replacement for the dogs you love now? If you should want to add a purpose-bred dog to your family – will you still be able to in another ten or so years?

James Serpell, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has said: “The thing about mandatory spay-neuter is that those who are most willing to have their dogs spayed or neutered tend to be responsible people. And often, their dogs also happen to be nice animals in temperament. So what you’re doing essentially is taking those dogs out of the breeding population. What will become of dog ownership if only the ill-tempered puppies from disreputable breeding programs are available?”

Dog and cat owners have certainly grasped the idea that responsible pet ownership entails being responsible for the reproductive capacity of their pets. Somehow, the idea is pushed that vast numbers of dogs are roaming around the country, reproducing at any and every opportunity. In actual fact, the reverse is true. Nationally, over 87 percent of dogs have already been surgically neutered.

Our figures here in the northeast are even more impressive. Last August, I asked three friends to help me perform a survey of veterinary hospitals throughout New Hampshire. I was surprised to learn that 98 percent of owned cats and 95 percent of dogs had been surgically neutered. Yes, we have a population of feral cats. But our pet owners have taken their responsibility to heart, as do owners throughout the north-east..

Here is one example of the adage “no good deed goes unpunished.” Since this area of the country has a dearth of available dogs, and especially shelter dogs – we have become the repository of dogs, many with physical or behavioral problems that make them difficult for novice dog owners to deal with, from third-world countries and from parts of our south – where laws and programs such as we have are not established. So – should we welcome these imported dogs, even if in so doing we put some of our own dogs at risk? Or should we help other parts of our country to grasp the lessons we have learned? Being a responsible dog owner does not mean that all of our dogs should be neutered. What it does mean is that instead of importing potentially problematic dogs here, those groups who are profiting from these imports should focus their attention on changing attitudes in the areas these dogs come from.

So – do you really want ALL dogs to be neutered?

Copyright 2010: Janice Sparhawk Gardner
First North American Rights Only


5 Responses to Be cautious about mandatory pet spay-neuter legislation

  1. Amanda on March 14, 2010 at 5:33 am

    This is a very bad news. We should be cautious in this so we can assure the safety of our pets.

  2. Jet on March 15, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Another thoughtful, thought-provoking article on animals published by this paper. I congratulate you for finding people who see throught the rhetoric, the emoton-laddened pleas, straight through to the ultimate result of some VERY BAD legislation that is being promoted by a couple of groups across this country, even here in NH – leading to the END of dogs, cats and other animals.

    Thank you for laying out the numbers: 87% of dogs in this nation are already sugically altered. In NH, 98% of owned cats and 95% of dogs are sugically altered. Maybe this is why the shelters in Manchester, NH have imported puppies from out of state (CA)? Maybe this is why there is a strong upswing of the importation of dogs from other states and countries by shelters here and in other states? Overpopulation, people? Think about it!

    There ARE people who do thoughtful breeding; who look for temperment and health. Yet with more and more restrictions on owning and breeding, more dogs removed from breeding, the gene pool gets smaller and smaller. This causes any genetic health issues to have greater opportunity to become dominate. Fewer breeding stock, less choices within the healthy population. If only people who so obviously know NOTHING about animal husbandry would look to people who do have experience. But no… the latest witch hunt craze is to spay/neuter the dogs of any breeder; kill the dogs of any breeder.

    Bottom-line: At the point in time in the near future, maybe YOU few will realize that You have done something that is Not Heroic, Not Special, Not-Saving-Anyone-or-Anything. You have just spread Sadness all around, the Sadness of No More Dogs and Cats in our lives in the Very Near Future.

  3. Jessica Abrams on April 4, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    While I do feel that the spay/neuter lobby has been well-intentioned, with the aim of ending animal suffering, one has to wonder . . . why stop at neutering cats and dogs? Why not neuter squirrels or geese for that matter? How do squirrels, etc. manage to get along without our intervention? Of course, we all know the answer to this, at least in part: smaller animals still have plenty of predators to keep populations down, while most predators of cats or dogs have been ousted from our area by destruction of their habitat. Maybe instead of focusing on the surgical altering of animals, we should redouble our efforts to maintain wildlife habitats.

    And perhaps we should stop telling our neighbors that it is cruel and irresponsible to let their cats out into the sunshine or night breeze, where they might be eaten by fishers or coyotes, which would, in turn, diminish the cat overpopulation concern. Nobody likes to think of predation against cats, (nor am I convinced that it happens as often as many people seem to think). We prefer to think our plans are better than nature’s, since nature can be cruel. But by going against it, aren’t we creating an increasingly more artificial existence for ourselves and our animals? And who pays the price?

    Some years ago, I took in a feral cat. Few vets would treat him, and the one who would refused unless I consented to having the cat neutered. I was told it would be selfish and irresponsible of me not to neuter. I didn’t like the idea, but went along with it for a variety of reasons, one of which is discussed below. I would have loved to have some kittens fathered by this noble, non-aggessive, wild and free creature with his wonderful heart and deep intelligence. I wouldn’t have become a hoarder just because I love cats and might want two or three of them. I wanted to discuss alternatives to castration with my vet, but he refused–and this from a vet I love and admire. Such is the current political climate.

    Unbelievably, I have actually heard pro-neuter folks claim that cats are actually happier when neutered, that the cats don’t mind, that otherwise the poor females will live wretched lives where they are violently and repeatedly ravaged. Ummmm . . . do we perhaps detect a whiff of anthropomorphism in that objection? If mating were as horrible to cats as some people claim, then mightn’t cats have become extinct centuries ago rather than causing an overpopulation problem?

    However, this is beside the point. It is really we HUMANS who are happier when cats are neutered. Neuters certainly make better pets. They stray less, fight less, are quieter and more docile, won’t go into heat, and above all, don’t spray. Besides, we do tend to think of our cats and dogs as our babies, our children, so pychologically speaking, most of us feel a little more comfortable, myself included, when our furry children have no interest in engaging in shocking adult cat behaviors.

    I am not against neutering, by the way. I think it is the best choice for many of us, at the moment. But I also feel there should BE a choice. While I personally consider neutering to be a bit barbaric, and while I suspect and hope that a hundred years hence New Hamphshire dwellers will shake their heads at the inhumane maiming of cats during the 21st century, at the same time, I am selfish enough to want a cat that does not spray in my house. But I do not pretend it is kinder to the cat to have its nature changed. It just makes him a better pet. Makes life easier for ME.

    Though, if I truly had my wish, I would love for our culture to explore alternative, more humane methods of cat population control. Vasectomy is possible for male cats, and does prevent kittens, though it is an invasive surgery. Perhaps safe medicines can be developed that would act as birth control for cats, added to their food, maybe.

    My main problem with the concept of mandatory neutering is the same objection I’ve had to the emotional blackmail that exists already: the idea that EVERY responsible cat/dog owner must neuter their pets. This seems to be the only opinion allowed. If you think otherwise you are considered to be politically incorrect, irresponsible, and, paradoxically, cruel to animals. I think that in a free country there should always be more than one point of view welcomed. On any issue.

  4. Pam Topping on July 17, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Many of these animals are coming from shelters in Indiana, where they would otherwise have to be euthanized for space. Nearly every state has a surplus of wonderful animals. In my county we have a mandatory spay/neuter law. If someone wants to breed their animal, all they have to do is pick up a free breeder’s permit. I’m not sure about New England, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if animals weren’t treated like groceries, where you go to a store and find whatever you want. The cost of that is way too high for our canine and feline companions.

  5. Jermaine B on October 21, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    I am a proud dog owner, and to pass laws like this is unreal. Those same people who say they love there pet is lying to themselves. If you read this and still say yes to spay/nuetering, you need to rethink your thoughts on have a pet. Thank you for letting me post

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