Fall 2002 News

by Laura Banks, D.V.M.

Dear Friends,

No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico has accomplished so much in the past few months. I'm very proud of our work. We were able to include six animal welfare groups from around New Mexico in our Matching Grant Program, which will distribute $20,000 for low-income financial assistance for spaying and neutering. We conducted spay/neuter financial assistance programs in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho using funds provided by the Albuquerque Veterinary Association and the City of Albuquerque. And we completed and distributed a comprehensive report on the need for pet population control in New Mexico. Needless to say, we've been busy. My thanks, as always, goes to our great Board of Directors and our volunteers for helping with our many successful projects.

With so much going on, I've adopted the lyrics of a particular song* that seem to describe my efforts toward a more humane world, as well as the efforts of all those around me who work toward that same goal. You know what I mean--those kind of lyrics that speak to your heart, stick in your head, and end up at the bottom of your emails as part of your signature. I'll share these lines with you here if you promise not to hold against me the secret information that they reveal: I listen to Country music. Yep--steel guitars, fiddles, hats, bars, beers, love gone wrong, the whole deal. Please don't hold it against me.

"There's two dates in time that they'll carve on your stone
And everyone knows what they mean.
What's more important is the time that is known
In that little dash there in between."

I've been trying to make the most of that "little dash" and I hope you get a chance to do the same. See ya' round the ol' waterin' hole.

Laura Banks, DVM
President, No More Homeless Pet of New Mexico

*From "Pushing Up Daisies", written by John Hadley, Gary Scruggs, and Kevin Welch.
Performed by Garth Brooks. 2001.


What is it?
How is it done?
Why do it?
How do you talk about it?

by Laura Banks, D.V.M.
President, No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico

Part of being an advocate for pet population control is being able to effectively communicate with pet owners and the general public about pet overpopulation, the causes, and the cures. This means being able to speak frankly about animal reproduction, sterilization procedures, and the myths and "old wives tales" associated with these issues.

To begin with, you need to be comfortable with the terms and language used in veterinary medicine and the animal welfare movement regarding the prevention of pet reproduction. The word spay is the common term for a medical procedure called an ovariohysterectomy, which refers to the surgical removal of the uterus and both ovaries through a small incision in the abdominal wall. The procedure is very similar to a hysterectomy in a woman. After a female is spayed, she no longer has a reproductive cycle of any kind--no "heat" or "season"-- and she cannot reproduce.

The word neuter is used commonly for male dogs and cats, although technically it means "to make neutral" and is used for both males and females in medical settings. The more technically correct term for a procedure in a male is castrate, but this word has negative connotations and is seldom used for pets. The medical term is orchiectomy and refers to the surgical removal of both testicles through small incisions in the testicle sack (scrotum) or in the skin in front of the scrotum. The scrotal sack itself is usually not removed but shrinks over time and disappears. After neutering, a male gradually becomes infertile and loses most of the behaviors associated with male hormones. However, some of these behaviors persist if they have become "learned" behaviors (roaming, mounting, etc.) Other terms used in reference to surgical procedures in either sex include alter, sterilize, or fix. Also, you will often see the grammatically challenged term spay/neuter to refer to pet population control in general.

Now that the language is clear, the question becomes, "Why spay or neuter?" Here are some quick facts:

Every year there are 2,000 dogs and 3,500 cats born in the U.S. for every 415 humans.
Female dogs go into heat 1-3 times per year and have an average litter size of 8; cats go into heat every month for 9-12 months out of the year and have an average litter size of 6.

When discussing pet population control it helps to point out that there are many benefits for the pet owner from having a pet "fixed":

Decreases territorial marking and urine spraying, especially in cats.
Eliminates the problems with a female pet's heat seasons.
No hassle of finding homes for puppies or kittens.
Decreases roaming behavior, especially if done at an early age.
Sterilized dogs are three times less likely to bite people.
Decreases male/male aggression and fighting.
Does not decrease household protective tendencies.

Many pet owners have the misconception that spaying or neutering is cruel. Nothing is further from the truth. There are many health benefits for the pet:

Fewer injuries and diseases from fights with other animals.
Fewer injuries by automobiles from roaming in the streets.
Prevents potentially fatal uterine infections, and some prostate diseases.
Prevents or decreases the pet's chances of developing mammary cancer, testicular cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and anal gland tumors.
Avoids expensive and dangerous complications of breeding like sexually transmitted diseases (yes, they occur in pets!), C-sections, and pregnancy seizures (eclampsia).

Nothing is more frustrating for animal lovers who are trying to stem overpopulation than the vast array of myths and Old Wives "Tails" that abound about spaying and neutering. Here are a few, and some responses that may be appropriate:

It will make my dog fat.
False. It decreases the amount of food needed, so less food can and should be fed. (Isn't that a good thing...?)

My male dog will not reach full size as an adult.
False. Studies show that neutered dogs reach the same size or may actually grow larger than non-neutered dogs.

I am a very careful and watchful pet owner--I know my animal won't breed.
Don't get me started. A vast majority of unwanted litters occur in spite of the watchful eye of the owner. Animals have a very strong urge to breed and it is often impossible to keep stray male animals away from a female in heat.

My pet will be mad at me if I have him neutered.
False. Animals do not have these kinds of complex human emotions. It is kinder by far to prevent unfulfilled mating urges, injury, disease, and early death. Unfortunately, Hollywood and popular culture have portrayed neutering a dog as punishment.

It will be very painful for my pet.
Not true if a veterinarian does the work under anesthesia. Most animals are completely recovered within 1-3 days.

My female pet will become calmer after a litter.
False. Pets become calmer with age. Mother dogs and cats are tired, not permanently calmer.

Females must have a litter before they are spayed, for their health.
Just plain false. This is a myth--and a dangerous one since exactly the opposite is true. A female's chance of getting potentially fatal mammary cancer drops by 90% if she is spayed before 6 months of age. There are no known health benefits from having litters of puppies or kittens.

I want my children to experience the "miracle of birth."
This reason is not worth the price. It teaches children to be selfish and irresponsible by contributing to pet over-population and the miracle of death. And female pets with litters are notoriously aggressive and dangerous for children. Most births are missed by the family, anyway. Get a video.

She/he is a good dog and I want to have puppies just like him/her.
There is no guarantee that the kids will be like the parents--some are very different. I often ask parents if their little darlings are just like them--most shudder and say no!

I will find good homes for all of them.
This is temporarily true, but false in the long run. Pet owners have no control over the future of the puppies and kittens--the "good home" might last only a few weeks before the animal is lost, given away, or sent to the shelter. More importantly, new litters displace pets that may have bean adopted from a shelter. Rather than have puppies, encourage your friends and relatives to adopt.

I can't afford to have my pet fixed.
Most people can afford it, but they choose to spend their money on other things. There may be low-cost spay/neuter clinics available, most veterinarians accept credit cards, some even have financing available. Consider the high cost of medical bills for fight wounds, car injuries, pregnancy complications, cancer and infections.

When should spaying and neutering be done? Some facts:<

Sexual maturity is variable in pets: Male dogs - 7 months, Female dogs - 6 months, Male cats - 10 months, Female cats - 7 months
The benefits to the pet are greatest if the surgery is performed before six months of age (this is the traditional age).
Pets can be spayed or neutered at any age, even as adults. "Early age spay/neuter" refers to the procedures performed on puppies and kittens as young as 8 weeks old, and has been proven to be safe and effective when performed by a qualified veterinarian.

What about "birth control"?

Contraceptive injections and vasectomies are available and can technically prevent "reproduction." However, these don't have the other health and behavioral benefits of surgery, and have some health risks. They are not widely used at this time.

And last but not least, my personal least-favorite myth:

It isn't right to interfere with the natural process of mating and reproduction.

I challenge a pet owner who says this to tell me just what IS natural about their Chihuahua. Or their Great Dane. Or their Basset Hound. Do they have natural predators? Do they have territories to defend? Do they have to fight for survival? Or have you taken care of all of that for them. You have?! Well, my goodness that doesn't sound too natural! So please don't stop now--when "nature" has already caused so many unwanted pets. We have already "interfered with nature" by domesticating dogs and cats. In doing so, we have created their overpopulation. We must now take responsibility for solving the problem.

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