Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What if We All Neutered Our Pets Today?

I no longer believe in the concept of "pet overpopulation" in this country. That myth has been debunked to my satisfaction by Nathan Winograd. But setting that aside, let's say for the sake of discussion that there are - if not a surplus of pets, at least way too many being killed in animal shelters. It's good to have a general agreement on what the problem is when considering possible solutions. So let's consider this guy's idea, which is not his alone, but rather one shared by many people concerned about pets being killed in shelters:
The Executive Director of what is now the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia in Gainesville says he would support a law requiring cat and dog owners to spay and neuter their pets.
As regular readers know, I do not support mandatory spay-neuter laws in any way, shape or form. But again, for discussion purposes, let's give the proposal a whirl.

So we all spay and neuter our pets. Well hold on a sec actually because I could not afford to spay and neuter all of mine at once. And there are most likely many others like me. So will there suddenly be funding for low cost spay-neuter services everywhere they are needed, especially in rural areas of the South for owners like me? That seems hard to believe since, if funding were available, wouldn't we have low cost spay-neuter services available everywhere already? But let's just say that all the needed neuter clinics appear magically throughout the U.S. Further, let's set aside the concerns about vaccinations (mandatory or owner discretion?), individuals with medical concerns (senior pets, anesthesia sensitivity, etc.), transportation (how do I get my pets to and from the clinic?) and any other potential conflicts. We'll just make this happen.

So now we've all got our pets neutered. But wait - is it reasonable to assume that every single pet owner complied? Probably not. People who rely on selling puppies and kittens as a means of income may not be willing to give up their livelihoods and in fact, unscrupulous individuals may see a black market developing for their product. Other owners may be involved with criminal activities involving their dogs and cats (dogfighting, crush videos) and may intend to continue but even if they were willing to abandon their practices, they likely wouldn't want to come forward to have any official records created on their animals.

In my estimation, we'd still have black market entrepreneurs and other criminals with intact dogs and cats. Then there are the strays, reproducing at will all over the country. Stray dogs and cats, lacking in socialization and definitely going without health screening or even basic health care. Litters born under abandoned trailers in the cold and the wet. Those lucky enough to survive spend their lives evading animal control, scrounging for scraps, and reproducing at will.

Back at home, 10 years into the future, all my pets will have died. And so will everyone else's who complied with the MSN law. But we really want to have pets. Veterans and other individuals need service dogs to assist them in day to day life. Farmers need stock dogs. Families need companion animals. Etc. What are we to do?

We can try to trap and domesticate a stray dog or cat. That may or may not work out so well, especially if our needs are for a particular type of pet. And if we successfully catch and tame a stray pet, the animal will need to undergo training for the work we require him to perform. He may or may not be physically and mentally suited for this training. If we get lucky and all goes well, we can hope that he is able to provide several years of service/companionship but of course he'd have to be neutered, leaving us stranded in the same boat eventually.

Alternately, to find a pet of a specific type, with predictable behavior and aptitude, we could seek out a criminal. Because those are the only people with intact pets who would be breeding anymore in this country. Again, that may or may not work out so well and probably isn't worth the risk.

Finally we might have the option of importing a pet from a foreign country. But surely foreign breeders will seize the opportunity to make financial and other demands on U.S. buyers, since the market will bear it. And some breeders will not sell stock to a country where sterilization is mandatory. The average pet owner will most likely be unable to import a pet. Perhaps U.S. shelters will import pets from foreign sources - strays rounded up off the streets or taken from shelters. Will these pets be well cared for in transit and what will the cost be to adopt these precious few available pets? If we look at how American consumers have historically fared when we've relied upon foreign products, we could get a glimpse into how the foreign pet trade might look.

So where are we in 10 years if we pass mandatory neuter laws all over the U.S.? We can have a pet, provided we're skilled in trapping and taming strays, willing to buy from a criminal and hope we don't get caught, or wealthy enough to import a pet. These unlikely and undesirable options will not apply to the average pet owner though. The average pet owner will be a thing of the past - not in 1000 years or 100 years but in 10 years.

There is another approach to tackling the problem of killing shelter pets. It makes sense and allows all of us to keep owning pets for as long as we can do it responsibly. No Kill now.


CyborgSuzy said...

It's weird that those in favor of MSN seem to want it both ways. They hate hearing the argument that you lay out here, they say it's an unrealistic scenario because there WILL always be breeders of some kind.

The point of MSN is to stop breeding, but it won't stop breeding because there will always be breeding. But it's not a waste of time because it will stop breeding!

YesBiscuit! said...

"The point of MSN is to stop breeding, but it won't stop breeding because there will always be breeding. But it's not a waste of time because it will stop breeding!"

You say it so much more succinctly than I ever could.

Katie said...

Wait, you forgot that the puppymills will all have been exempted because they've got some lobbyists and some money and some power to defend their businesses. Because puppy growing is agriculture!

Michael DeAntonio said...

That's why the government shouldn't mandate it, but responsible pet owners should fix their pets and encourage others to do the same. That way, the noble few can continue to rescue the unwanted pets from kill shelters which will always exist (they probably have lobbyists, too).

Why breed or buy from breeders when their are so many wonderful and healthy dogs on death row that need a good home?

EmilyS said...

we buy from breeders because we want a particular breed. GOOD breeders perpetuate good purebred dogs... without which there would only be randomly bred mixed dogs. Which are fine for many/most people. But some people want the particular characteristics/temperament/appearance of a purebred dog. If all dogs were MSN, of course there could be no responsibly bred purebred dogs.

Pai said...
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Pai said...

If everyone who got a pet (around 20 million annually) went to a shelter instead of buying (which get 8 million annually), the shelters would not be able to meet the demand. There are not enough dogs in shelters to meet the demand for pets in this country, let alone the fact the the type of common shelter dog (large, mix breed, male) is not what everyone who is looking for a dog wants or can properly care for. That's just a fact. Most small dogs get adopted very quickly -- but the others are not. There just isn't as much demand for them, and it often takes more effort to rehome them. Many shelters just euthanize them instead of implementing No-Kill policies and programs (which I feel is wrong). But we don't HAVE to kill those dogs. And we don't need to demonize or punish breeders or buyers in order to save them. We just have to CHANGE THE WAY SHELTERS WORK.

Dogs are not a 'one size fits all' product -- they are individuals with needs and energy levels that do no match every person's lifestyle. There's nothing wrong with wanting a specific kind of dog. It is naive to believe everyone who gets a dog should be happy with a random shelter dog, and that they are 'selfish' for having preferences.

Michael DeAntonio said...

any type of purebred dog you could want can be found at a shelter (death row).Boxers, Chihuahuas, poodles, ect.

The only thing is when you rescue a purebred dog, you don't get a fancy certificate.

Anyways, hasn't America (the melting pot) proved that mutts make better pets?

EmilyS said...

so Michael, how do you know a dog in a shelter is "purebred"?

YesBiscuit! said...

Michael - where are these shelters that have any purebred dog anyone could want available for adoption? And are these dogs of the age and gender I desire with an established lineage of health info and a relationship w/a breeder who will offer me support for the life of the dog? Because those are all reasons people buy from breeders.

Michael DeAntonio said...

I get shelter animals because I can't stand the thought of animals dying. I didn't know that was such a radical idea.

YesBiscuit! said...

Michael - you posed a question about why should anyone buy a dog from a breeder when you can find nice dogs at shelters. You got some answers to that question. Now you're straying into this "radical idea" territory. Back to the topic please because no one here will be baited into defending shelter adoptions as if we didn't all support the idea from the outset. (Reminder: Your topic was regarding why buy when shelter pets die.)

Michael DeAntonio said...

I'm not straying into any territory, and it doesn't seem like you support shelter adoptions. The answers I got from my "why buy when shelter animals die?" question seem a tad materialistic. Dogs don't have warranties. They're not cars. I don't need paperwork to tell me I've got a good dog. Their lineage means nothing. I know lots of guys who love their wives, but hate their inlaws. Did that affect their decision to marry that particular woman rather than a gal with better papers? I'm just saying that owning a pet should be about the love of animals and trying to help animals rather than social posturing.

I didn't intend to create a verbal slapdown. Sorry.

YesBiscuit! said...

I don't support shelter adoptions? Well I guess if you only ever read this one post, didn't look at my profile or the links on the sidebar, and ignored the blog header - I can see how you might think that. Just please don't tell my shelter pet Emily or my local shelter I just brought food and homemade treats to this weekend.

Heather Houlahan said...

An excellent reason someone might buy from a breeder is the same reason I have for stopping by the local hardware store, farm market, bakery, butcher, and diner, instead of making one stop at the Walmart with the in-store McDonald's.

Because I want those businesses to continue in my community.

And I want good dog breeders to continue the hard work of producing healthy, happy, easily-trained dogs that are suitable for the homes that they are destined to live in.

About every three years or so, I do it myself.

And I don't think my bona fides in terms of rescuing animals in need or my ass covering the checks my mouth writes on a commitment to "no kill" are really open to serious question by reasonable people. Citation: the last ten months of my blog.

So Michael, please, continue acquiring your pets by the means that makes you feel most virtuous. But you might consider finding a horse to ride that doesn't require an extension ladder to mount.

Ang said...

We have two pure bred dogs, a black lab and a German shepherd. Both have "fancy certificates", both are from good lines, both have excellent temperament. The lab (our first dog) is from a registered breeder, the shepherd is from a rescue. The reason our lab is from a breeder is because before we got involved in the dog community we had no idea you could get good tempered pure bred dogs from a shelter/rescue. Public education is the ultimate key to our animal problems, that and enforced laws against animal cruelty (and I consider puppy mills animal cruelty). Before I speak to them, most people don't know there are places other than the pet store to get a puppy.

EmilyS said...

Pet stores are bad places to acquire a pet, in almost all cases. Shelters are often bad places to acquire a pet, because so many provide no follow up with care/assistance (which is why so many dogs that end up in shelters have been there before). Rescues can be bad places to acquire a pet if you don't meet their often ludicrous and intrusive requirements. Many breeders are bad sources to acquire a pet because they don't follow the principles of responsible breeding. But one thing is for sure: those of us who have chosen to acquire pets from responsible breeders, and the breeders who have supplied our pets, are among the BIGGEST supporters of rescues. And YB, Houlahan and myself don't need to explain or defend ourselves to someone spewing a line of unsupported b.s. about our motives.

Anonymous said...

Actually, responsibly bred purebred dogs do offer more than just a fancy piece of paper. Many breed clubs are working hard to fund genetic research and provide breeders with DNA tests so that they can prevent inherited disease. Even without DNA tests there are health tests that can be done and with information about relatives risk of these disease can be reduced. They also offer life long support for the puppies they produce.

I know that it is the policy of my breed's primary rescue group not to test the dogs because if they test Affected they will be less desirable. It is their policy to inform them after adoption that a test is available so that they are more bonded to the dog when they get the result and hopefully will not return it if it comes back as Affected. Most shelters wouldn't even know there was a test to inform new owners about.

Ang said...

EmilyS is so right on here. The real responsible breeders support rescue, in fact, if you're looking for a good breeder often the best place to ask is a rescue for that breed. Sounds crazy, but it's true. The rescue will know because they know which breeders have "repeat offenders" as far as dogs getting surrendered to them because of heath or behavioral issues, and the breeders that care about their dogs and the betterment of the breed help and support rescues.

IMO there are two good places to get a dog, a rescue/shelter and a responsible breeder. Unfortunately the bulk of pets don't come from these sources, which still brings me back to public education.

I would say from my experience, even though most shelter supporters would probably not want me to, that for your first dog you're better off getting a puppy from a responsible breeder. I don't think I could have handled the issues that came along with my displaced rescue dog if I didn't have the experience raising and training my puppy from a breeder.

Pai said...
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Pai said...

There is no black and white enmity between people who breed dogs and people who adopt. I find most people who condemn people for buying a dog are generally incredibly ignorant about both the reality of shelters and homeless pet population causes in this country, and the fact that plenty of people foster/adopt AS WELL AS buy a dog. It's not mutually exclusive to do both, regardless of what some extremists may claim.

Breeders are not responsible for animals ending up in shelters or dying there anymore than good parents who have children are at fault for kids ending up in foster care or abused.

The issue is not so simplistic as 'If everyone adopted their pets, there would never be another animal left unwanted again!' The illogic of such a belief should be obvious to anyone who does more than just parrot PETA's anti-breeder propaganda.

Anyone who honestly cares about improving the lot of shelter animals should EDUCATE THEMSELVES and learn what the true causes for our shelter population are. Without being educated on what the actual common causes for animals being relinquished to shelters are, all you do is lash out against people who are not even at fault.

I suggest reading the studies and material at Maddie's Fund, the ASPCA, The National Council on Pet Population, Pet-Law.com, The No-Kill Advocacy Center, Alley Cat Allies and Spay-USA. THEN come back and attempt to have a proper discussion on what people and shelters can do to save more homeless dogs based on facts, not emotional misconceptions of reality.

Tracy said...

to "anonymous'" point....
Some of you may have seen some kids on the news this week. They were blind and now see. The research which made that possible was done on Briards. A very slight few of them have a rare eye anomoly, CSNB. If not for that anomoly, and the mapping of the canine genome, they'd still be looking for that gene.

The gene-replacement therapy which helped these blind children see was also tested on Briard dogs before it went to human clinical trials.

To Michael's point, I happen to own three Briards. Please, let me know if you find one in a shelter. Probably won't happen, but on the very rare occassion that it does, Briard rescue will most likely get there and pull the dog before you can even say "Briard". :)

Anonymous said...

if it was as easy to obtain a dog for a given purpose out of a shelter as Michael asserts, why aren't all military working dogs out of shelters? Why aren't all guide/ service dogs out of them? SOME service & military/police dogs are out of shelters, but the majority of them are "purpose-bred". That's because specific characteristics (like being able to retrieve, to herd, etc) are Genetic. Not all dogs get the same abilities equally. No Chihuahua and no 25 pound shelter dog is going to make a good military working dog. They aren't big enough. It's fine to rescue a dog or cat from a shelter. But it's ignorant to assert that a random-bred dog has the same odds of being able to do guide dog work as one from Fortunate Fields. As for pets? While the requirements may not be quite so exacting, there ARE requirements for a good pet. Like it or not, not all shelter dogs have them.

Anonymous said...

There are millions of families that need a 'hypoallergenic' dog because someone in the family is allergic. My familiy is one of them. Children and adults are becoming more allergic because of our environment. Even those of you who aren't allergic now and have a mixed breed dog may find yourself next year very allergic to your dog. Now, as a dog or cat lover...just what are you going to do? You might suffer through daily sneezing for this older dog you have but after the dog dies....??? What will your options be now? There are few hypoallergenic purebred dogs in shelters. I know because I spent looking for 6 months and finally had to purchase a dog from a responsible breeder with a return guarantee. If every pet store had to offer free MSN clinics for their sold dogs, I think that would be a huge help in cutting down abandoned dogs.

Anonymous said...

I am a, gasp, breeder. Have beeh breeding one breed since the 1970s. ALL are checked and cleared for hips,knees, eyes,thyroid, elbows BEFORE being bred. They have stable temperments. This is why people come to me and not a shelter for a pet whose parents have been screened. I breed at most once a year. I have a contract that the dog must be returned if owner can no longer keep it. I DO NOT CONTRIBUTE TO EXCESS DOGS. Irresposible people DO.

dog_mover said...

This is an interesting post. The vision of pet owners going Daniel Boone and stalking\netting their own pets made me laugh. But it makes me sad as well. MSN mostly results in an increase in the tears and pain of children/families/older people who can't afford to avoid watching their friend being taken away in fear and confusion in the back of the animal control truck, to die at the hands of strangers.

Respectfully, in my world overpopulation is not a myth. Nationwide 3 out of every 10 people get their pets from a neighbor or as a stray. Another 3 out of ten buy from breeders or pet stores\vendors\pickup trucks, not shelters (save yourself some pain and read page 15 in "Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me" by Tavris/Aronson b4 you try to change THAT behavior for very many people). Subtract the shelters that are not inviting and respectful. And most people are looking for dogs that are 40 lbs or less, but many shelters hold bull-terrier mixes, mastiff, labs, and others, most over 40 pounds. Most are nice and will be loving friends. A few will jump on you, pull your arm from the socket, argue with other pets, eat the dining room table, etc. They can (mostly) change but with such baggage it’s a hard sell. Peter Marsh termed adoption the "crack cocaine of animal sheltering" - makes you feel good but the problem remains when it’s over. You may spend $800 a month for a storefront to get those pets in front of people, but that will spay or neuter 20 or more dogs and cats, and prevent the resultant cruelty and work needed to adopt out 60, or 80, or 100 unwanted pets. Adoption works, and is important, but there are opportunity costs.

The answer is to reduce the supply. Thank Dog, most pet owners already alter their pets on a routine basis. Others face barriers including money, transportation, spousal abuse, education, etc. They avoid authority – with good reason, IMHO. 15-30% of pet owners never go through the doors of a clinic. NEVER. Cities try voucher programs, but with a co-pay of $25, $50 or more it becomes a discount program for people with money (read up on how New Hampshire decided to address this in 1994), missing those who supply most of the animals to the shelters. A targeted spay/neuter effort directed at and done by and with respect for pet owners can drop the intake by 30-50% within a year or two in most cities. See www.mtspayneutertaskforce.org. With their support, among others, our group contracted with vets and techs that spayed or neutered 138 dogs and cats over two days in a school gymnasium last summer. At no cost to the owners. Costs were less than $50 per surgery.

I like Winograd's work, and I share his vision. I find his writing both inspiring and disheartening. It’s like the 12 Step program at Alcoholics Anonymous – though a salvation for many, the implementation can be incredibly difficult and painful, and it is not the solution for everyone even if the goal is the same. In my readings of his book and blog I learned that if we can make the shelter administrators turn their back on what they have been taught to do for 20 years, insist they become a master of human resources, fundraising development and local politics, enlist not just help but enthusiastic support from the community and the local government, put the no kill equation in place and internalize the philosophy we could turn this around. But I think it would move faster if there was more focus on public education.

My time is better spent working side-by-side with pet owners making their lives better for their community and their pets. When the runs are mostly empty, the existing strategies will be exposed for everyone to question. I hope he keeps up the pressure on his end while I work on mine. And I will have copies of Nathan’s work ready when the city starts wondering what to do next, because those will be the next steps.

Thank you for your writing, and your work. They are much appreciated.