A coworker friend of mine had to euthanize her dog this weekend.
A couple of weeks ago, her dog was diagnosed with cancer and even though they tried to treat it, there came a time to do the humane thing and put the dog to sleep. Her dog was an 8 year old Rottweiler, that had been neutered at 5 months of age.
Over at Lassie Get Help, she's mentioned on numerous occasions about a study that links juvenile spay/neuter of large breed dogs and the increased risk of bone cancer.The studies have largely been done on Rottweilers, who appear to be most at risk, but apparently there is increased risk in all large-breed dogs. Here's an exert from the abstract:
"Male and female dogs that underwent gonadectomy before 1 year of age had an approximate one in four lifetime risk for bone sarcoma and were significantly more likely to develop bone sarcoma than dogs that were sexually intact."
None of this should be a huge surprise to humans. As a society, we KNOW that hormones affect our development. We inject hormones into cattle so they grow larger faster. We inject dairy cattle with hormones so they produce more milk. Athletes even inject hormones in order to improve their overall performance in sports. And yet, many want to deny that the likelihood exists that removing a dog's gonads, which produce hormones used by the body for development, at a very young age may cause developmental problems that lead to major health problems later in life.
It really only makes sense.
Many organizations have followed HSUS's lead in promoting the benefits of spaying/neutering their pets (and there are many), but seem perfectly content to just never mention the potential drawbacks. And those exist as well.
In the conversations about "overpopulation" and "overcrowded" shelters, and the desperate attempt to end the killing in our shelters, we have (rightfully so) put a LOT of emphasis on spay/neuter.
However, spay/neuter is NOT the end goal. Spay/neuter is a tool that will help us not kill animals in shelters. Ending the killing is the end goal, not spay/neuter.
Somehow that has been forgotten.
Instead, many organizations that work so hard to get dogs and cats altered will risk animal's lives to ensure they are altered. I've heard too many stories about dogs with health issues being altered and having their lives put at risk. I had one dog that I brought to Kansas City from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina that died having a spay surgery that was insisted upon by the head of the rescue even though she had a severe case of heartworms and a prolapsed uterus.
Even with Boomer, I feel like he was altered too soon. Because of the insistence of some of the folks in Oklahoma, he was altered in a mobile clinic, in adverse weather conditions with no comfortable area for recovery, while still very skinny. He was going to a completely new environment, already scared -- but now also in pain. The kicker here is that Boomer was going to a reputable rescue group (MABBR) that it would have been ILLEGAL for them to adopt him out without being altered. I would have much preferred him get healthy and back up to a good weight, before he underwent surgery.
One thing people in animal welfare I think sometimes forget, because they do hundreds and thousands of spay/neuter surgeries, is that it is an invasive surgery that is hard on the dogs. Just because it is "routine", does not make it non-invasive.
Now I don't want to give off the impression that I don't support spay/neuter. I do.
I HATE mandatory laws. Mandatory spay/neuter laws usually force all dogs (regardless of breed) to be altered by four or sometimes 2 months of age, regardless of the long-term health problems that this may cause in larger breeds. The laws also encourage animal control officials to confiscate dogs from owners if the dogs have not been altered -- causing the dogs to go into the shelter and often killed in the shelter. Again, spay/neuter is a tool, not the end goal.
I do still strongly support voluntary spay/neuter programs. Programs that target high-risk areas with low-cost/no-cost spay and neuter programs like those promoted byPeter Marsh and Nathan Winograd definitely work to reduce shelter populations and help create no-kill communities. However, it is our responsibility to be HONEST with people about spay/neuter. We should not only include the information about the positive attributes of spay/neuter -- but we should also discuss the potential drawbacks.
If we don't, the animal welfare community risks shooting itself in the foot in the quest for reaching the end-goal of a no-kill country. If people were to ever get the sense that animal welfare advocates (who, by definition, care about the welfare of animals) are not only performing surgeries on dogs that may not be good candidates for the surgery, but also MANDATING that a surgery be performed that would could lead to long-term health problems in dogs, would be devastating to the long-term goals of spay/neuter. If you think that getting people to comply with spay/neuter is difficult now, wait until people rebel AGAINST the idea because they find out the people they trusted because they cared about the welfare of animals were not honest with them.
The results of a backlash would be pretty devastating.
I'm not saying we should quit what we're doing (outside of the pushing of MSN), but we MUST be honest with people about not only the health benefits of spay/neuter, but also the potential drawbacks of the procedure...ESPECIALLY for juvenile large-breed dogs.
If we don't, the rebellion AGAINST spay/neuter will completely kill our hopes of reaching the end-goal -- saving animal lives.
For more on the positives and negative impacts of spay/neuter, read more here.
Update: Oy ve. Here's an article from a rescue person in Tacoma that is exactly what I'm talking about here.