The Gospel of Sterilization
Often, when I’m cuddling on the couch with my sweet Genevieve (a red pit bull mix with the sweetest face in the entire universe), I look into her soulful eyes and suddenly feel overwhelmed with premature grief. Just like Old Yeller, just like Skip and Marley, Genevieve will someday die. The inevitable loss feels like it’s already happening even though she’s still got at least five good years in her (Goddess willing). I can’t help but think to myself, “why didn’t I at least let her have one litter of puppies so her soul could live on in her progeny?” But honestly, though it’s hard, it’s also wrong to make your pet become a mother just because you love your pet.
Yes, this an article about sterilization in honor of Mother’s Day. Deal with it. But for real y’all, if you want to be a good mother (or father) to your pet, you should make sure to remove your pet’s ability to reproduce.
But allow me to digress for my heart’s sake. During these depressing cuddle sessions with Genevieve, we gaze into each other’s eyes (for honestly far too long to be considered healthy) and I put an index finger on my favorite spot — the flat spot slightly above her eyes, a doggy chakra, you could say. At that time, I can’t help but bemoan the fact I never saw her as a tiny puppy, that I’ll never see her nurture her own tiny puppies, that the only way I’ll ever get another dog who makes me feel the exact way she does is if I save my sweet angel’s toenail or some other piece of DNA and clone her. And yet, making sure Genevieve was happy and healthy also meant making sure she had her girly bits taken out as soon as possible.
Image Courtesy of Jess Spasari
Don’t believe me? I talked with pet sterilization expert, Courtney Lizmi who has worked in the pet industry for ten years, most recently as a practice manager of Spicewood Springs Animal Hospital in Austin, Texas. Lizmi points out that “if you decide against spaying or neutering your pet, you can run into behavior and health problems. Behavior problems include; sexual mounting behavior, marking territory with urine and roaming. Medical issues include; cancer in both males and females and risk for infections like prostatitis in males or pyometra in females later in life.” Lizmi also described how some dogs, like French Bulldogs, need to have a caesarean section during birth.
And besides, dog and cat’s heat cycles or “estrus” are seriously not fun for a pet owner. Imagine, if you will, that an average of every six months your dog is going bleed vaginally as well as have all sorts of fun discharge for about 2 to 4 weeks — that’s what the American Kennel Club reports will happen. Now continue to imagine that your cat has gone into heat - which could happen from the month of January to late fall, or all year round depending on your cat’s lifestyle. I hope you’re ready for a constantly mewling, slightly overbearing and affectionate kitty who also may or may not have some vaginal bleeding according to the VCA Animal Hospital website. To top it all off, you won’t be allowed to let your bloody dog or your super affectionate cat outside just in case there's an uncut doggo or tom cat out there — nobody wants to find themselves responsible for an unplanned litter or a shotgun wedding.
But personal health of your pet aside, there’s also the fact that there’s so many animals without homes already. There is no need for more dogs or cats to be added to the mix. We’ve all heard Sarah McLachlan orating about being “in the arm of the angel” as sad-faced puppies and kittens point their big eyes at the camera. But do you know the nitty gritty details? For example, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, there are approximately 6.5 million dogs and cats that enter U.S animal shelters every year, with about half being dogs and half being cats. Additionally, about 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized each year. This statistic isn’t even taking into account all those strays that don’t make it to the shelter.
I love Genevieve, and a baby Genevieve would have been delightful. But at the same time, pet ownership is bigger than my wanton needs and desires, it’s about all the other animals out there who need homes. How could you possibly breed your pet when there are so many pets out there who could die if you don’t give them a shot? They might not be just like the pet with whom you originally fell in love, but that doesn’t mean allowing a new pet in won’t change your life in a big way. Furthermore, just because this hypothetical offspring came from your pet, doesn’t mean it will have the same vibe as the original.
All of that being said (strongly and from the rooftops), sometimes breeding is necessary. You might work on a cattle farm and need a herding animal. Or say you’re in the market for a hypoallergenic dog and need to grab a poodle. Or maybe you simply really, really enjoy a certain breed of cat. If one of these situations or something similar pertains to you, there’s still a way to find yourself a new pet that fits your requirements without compromising your ethical standards. Lizmi argues that you can still pick a breed you want as, “there are many rescue groups that focus on a specific breed or type of dog. For example, at my office, we work with different rescue groups, one adopts out small dogs, another only Cocker Spaniels and another Golden Retrievers.” But not only that, she also points out, “you can also take a trip to your local Humane Society or animal shelter, 25% of the dogs in shelters are purebred.”
Back in the day, when I used to walk my West Philadelphia born-and-raised Canine Queen in our South Philadelphia neighborhood there were typically two responses we would get. Option 1 was something along the lines of, “I’m not gonna lie, you need to move that dog over right now because I am scared of big dogs.” Option 2 was typically, “That’s a damn fine pit, you trynna breed her?” When Option 2 went down, sometimes I would meekly reply, “she can’t” and hustle away. But if I was feeling sassy I would screech, “there’s so many pits in the shelter you can totally find one that looks like her.”
Image Courtesy of Anthony Johns
I think it’s key that we, as responsible pet owners and lovers of pets, take the Option 2 response — spreading the gospel of sterilization. It’s not easy to do. Heck, when you look at your sweet new puppy or kitten, it might be hard at first to sterilize them — to take away their “masculinity” or “femininity.” Or not only that, but to take away their ability to carry on that bloodline you have fallen for. But guys, this is bigger than our desires for our pet. Sterilizing your pet is for all those puppies and kittens in the Sarah MacLachlin commercial, living the rest of their lives in cages. It’s for all those felines and canines who might end up being a great addition to your household and the amazing bond that comes from rescuing an animal.
When I asked Lizmi for some final personal thoughts on finding a pet soulmate without turning to breeding, she (not surprisingly) had a beautiful anecdotal story to share about her own rescue story. She told me, “Jeefa [a twelve-year-old rescue dog] is the dog love of my life. She is an adorable mutt, who I found by my trash can. You too can find your dog or cat soul mate. They may not materialize by your trash can, so go to your local shelter or Humane society, I'm sure you'll lock eyes with 'the one’."
Motherhood comes in all shapes and sizes. Why not consider mothering an adopted pet instead of putting your animal through motherhood as to create an heir who might not actually fill your heart-hole? Such a decision is, at the very least, good karma. Happy pet mothering, y’all!