Several months ago, I got the opportunity to attend a presentation by author Ted Kerasote -- who is the author of New York Times Best Seller Merle's Door. During Kerasote's presentation, he talked quite a bit about his upcoming new book "Why dogs die young" that is due out in Fall of 2012.
Not only did I find what Kerasote had to say about the research he found for his book interesting, I also think it has the potential to have a dramatic effect on the animal sheltering community.
Last week, Kerasote did an interview with Dr. Karen Becker describing many of the topics that are in the book: Links will be below. While I obviously haven't read the book (since it's not available yet), there are several key topics that came out during the interview, and in the presentation that I attended that I think could dramatically impact animal welfare in the US for years to come.
Kerasote began writing the book after he toured around the country talking about his book Merle's Door. In his conversations with many pet owners, he heard a lot of stories about people who's pets died at a young age and everyone was saddened that they couldn't get just a little more time with their beloved pet.
So Kerasote began researching why dogs in other countries lived longer than ones in the United States, and some of his findings will challenge a lot of long-held notions we have in this country. Here are a few of the factors he discusses in the book (and the interview):
One of the primary findings in Kerasote's research is that terilization has a significant impact on both the endocrine and immune systems in dogs. There is also mounting evidence that sterilization leads to early death, increased incidence of ACL injuries, certain types of cancers and a wealth of other types of issues.
Certainly this passes the "sniff test" of logic, as it only makes sense that removing major hormone-producing organs, especially at an early age, can have a significant impact on overall health -- and Kerasote does a good job of laying out this information.
Obviously, any kick-back against spay/neuter could have a dramatic impact on dog population over time. Kerasote is not oblivious to this and the problems facing shelters right now. He does provide a viable alternative in the form of recommending tubal ligations and vasectomies instead of the more intrusive spay/neuter as a form of birth control. Unfortunately, in talking to all 26 veterinary teaching colleges in the US, not a single one of them teaches these surgeries. When he asked them if they were open to changing, he asked back "are you invested in having fewer unwanted puppies? Or are you invested in spaying and neutering?
There are still problems with the tubal ligations for some shelters and pet owners (not all are equipped to deal with a dog in heat), but I certainly think that as more research is done about the health impacts of spay/neuter (particularly juvenile spay/neuter), it is well worth exploring viable alternatives.
Karesote also discusses how American ideals on spay/neuter have led people down the road of linking unaltered dogs to poor education about dog ownership. The net result is that most people do alter their pets. However, he reasons that because most people alter their pets, dogs have to come from somewhere (ie, dogs somewhere have to breed), and that we've essentially narrowed the canine gene pool in this country to include a lot of health problems that decrease longevity in dogs. Karesote notes that if dogs have to breed to have more dogs, it is important to discuss how do we do this in the best way possible? The answer isn't necessarily insisting on altering every genetically healthy dog.
In Karesote's presention in Kansas City, he noted the HUGE number of vaccinations his dog Merle received during his lifetime. He notes that there is a health impact of over-vaccinating dogs and that we should make steps to only do those that are absolutely necessary. I'm still amazed at the number of cities that mandate by law that dogs get over-vaccinated (there are a few cities in our metro area that still require an annual rabies vaccine even though 3 year vaccines have been around for years and many veterinarians think that vaccine may last up to 5-7 years). Boarding facilities are also very bad about requiring over-vaccination.
Based on his research, Kerasote has strong recommendations about diet and isn't a fan of most processed foods (most of which are way too high in carbohydrates vs the high-protein diet dogs do better on). There has been a movement recently to higher-quality packaged foods, and also a movement that more people are cooking at home for their dogs, and I expect this trend to continue.
Interestingly, in a second part of the interview with Dr. Becker, Kerasote does seem to talk a bit about the No Kill Movement. He doesn't really call it by name in the interview (which I think is interesting), but notes that the notion that we should quit killing dogs in shelters is a growing zeitgeist -- and while some communities are doing better at this than others, the overall feeling that we should stop killing shelter animals is there. Dr. Becker also notes that the successful communities have been replicated in other areas....so it is not a flash in the pan.
Kerasote notes that the problem doesn't seem to be that there aren't enough adopters, but that shelters have not been successful in matching up the right dogs with the right owners. This isn't something he talked about when he was in Kansas City, so I am interested in reading more about this in the book.
I'm excited for this book to come out. I think Kerasote will provide an interesting perspective on many of the topics that are not terribly honestly discussed in the animal welfare community. While these topics are not new, particularly on the spay/neuter and breeding topics, the conversation has really only existed in small pockets in the breeding and veterinary communities and have oft been dismissed by the animal welfare community because they felt a) the sources were biased and b) they think talking about them hurts their mission in trying to prevent shelter killing.
I also think some of the findings wil have an impact on city governments, who too often have mandated things like vaccinations and spay/neuter that have a negative impact on canine health.
Kerasote seems to be an unbiased party in this -- and seems to only care about the well-being fo dogs. Whether you agree with his positions on these topics is somewhat irrelevant. He is a NY Times Bestselling author, and him bringing these ideas to the forefront will make them part of the conversation and change people's mindsets.
It will force us to have the conversation about what is truth, and what are alternatives.
This doesn't have to hurt the rescue mission (and I'm excited by the prospects of him discussing the no kill movement in some form in the book). It just may change the way we handle thinks like sterilization, and breeding, moving forward.
Kerasote's interview with Dr. Becker on spay/neuter and breeding (along with Dr. Becker's written overview) -- the radio interview itself is about 15 minutes long.
Part 4 of the interview with Dr. Becker -- where Kerasote talks about animal sheltering, No Kill and dog friendly communities (this interview portion is about 6 minutes long).
Kerasote's web page that discusses the book (with a lot of links to other information).
Hat tip to Time 4 Dogs who pointed me to the interview.