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« It's about the dogs, right? | Main | KCMO Shelter Looking to Privatize »

February 04, 2009



"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."

This paragraph should be tatooed onto every rescuer's forehead, and be required on the website of every rescue group.

Great great blog, Brent: one of your most important.

Jeni Mc

I agree with all your points, but in the same hand I can't fault the rescues that have turned to ped s/n in an effort to deal with non compliant adopters. They are doing the best they can with the tools they have.

I work hard every year to visit my child's school and teach bite education, spay/neuter education, and humane education. I come as a guest and do it on my own time. If I can educate even 1 child and they are a different, better pet owner then I feel better. That's my prevention tool, catch 'em young. It's a tool we all have and should utilize.

good work as usual Brent you always give such well rounded posts


Jeni MC makes a great distinction...ped s/n is about the only way rescues can deal with the burden of ensuring the dogs are altered to be in compliance with state law. But I think this is a seperate issue from what the post is really focusing on.

I see AW people making ALL KINDS of claims that are flat out made up. "s/n makes your dog more affectionate" - has anyone seen any basic kind of study on this? Also, from what I can tell all the assurance that ped s/n was just fine was from the LACK OF STUDIES proving it was harmful!? Not from any studies proving it safe! And if people weren't pushing MSN no one would probably have been as concerned with the effects. But now that we're having to fight it...

I've also heard of instances where s/n made the dog more aggressive - a woman with a Doberman has to give her dog HRT.

Grommit was neutered at 3 months and I'm terrified - he has a abnormally small penis also. He's not terribly large, 68lbs, but I know so many people whose dogs have died from cancer lately - all 8 and under. One was a 4 year old Doberman another a 7 year old Golden.

I'm very worried that people will rebel when they realize they've been misled and not get their dogs altered when appropriate.


Good post B.


Brent. Part of any rescue's responsibility is to advocate for their dogs' health, including and especially decisions of when to fix those that are compromised by poor health.

We convinced the courts to allow us to hold off on the Vick dogs' surgeries until they were home for that reason. And MABBR could certainly have advocated for any dog they didn't feel comfortable fixing in the field in OK. We decided against spaying Nellie, for example, and there were no arguments. I'm sorry if MABBR felt that they were unable to speak up for Boomer, but that's very different from being forced to fix him before they felt comfortable (and actually, I never got the impression that they had any concern)

On the same hand, *thank dog* we were able to fix our confident little male foster out in the field. Less testosterone coming in the door means less drama with our resident male, which means it was MUCH easier to save his life.

We've rescued/fixed/placed hundreds by now and have never had any problems related to s/n surgeries, but I do really REALLY worry about the push to (over)vaccinate.



I'm not sure if my opinion in Oklahoma would have been any different (especially given that I don't have a lot of experience in saving dogs from that type of situation). But without going into a lot of details here, in hindsight, the whole thing was pretty overwhelming for the little guy.

And yeah, don't get me started on vaccinations either. It pains me to have to get all the damn shots just to put me dogs in boarding...


Good post Brent. Agree on many points. Especially about 'the end goal'.

I have to wonder about extrapolating s/n as a cancer cause in certain dogs vs. their genetic make up (ie. your purebred friends dogs' untimely deaths may have more to do with dna than s/n - ???). I think both can be factors, but my bet is that breeding has more to do with it (I know folks w/ intact dogs that have had a shorter life span too - flipside of the coin), but I am curious about any/all factors that might 'tip the scale'. As my dogs have aged, their health and my efforts to research dogs' health have become a huge focus for me.

I think 'safe surgery' should be the number one consideration in s/n. Soooo many dogs are altered just for the sake of being altered when they are too sick, too vulnerable, too young etc. There is always such a rush to 'make a dog adoptable' (which means s/n to just about every rescue) that I often think health as the number one consideration is put aside.

I can attest to Donna's/BadRaps philosophy. My Athena was mange infested and was not healthy enough to be spayed. We waited until she was well into recovery to be spayed, I think she was just about a year and a half old (and of course well before that time I foster failed!). Health is top of mind in her efforts, as I believe it is with most rescues, but I wish more would fight harder in that regard.

Also...I think the rush to s/n has a lot to do with 'trust'. A lot of rescues don't put enough trust and faith in the fact that people looking to adopt would be responsible and s/n any dog they would adopt or would do whatever need be to not contribute to the shelter population...isn't that one of the key reasons people chose to adopt anyway??? But that's a WHOLE other topic! ;-)


>But without going into a lot of details here, in hindsight, the whole thing was pretty overwhelming for the little guy.


But then again, LIFE is pretty darn overwhelming for the poor little guy. My sense is that being anesthesized was all part of the shock of being taken off the chain. He wasn't noose-poled or tossed into an AC truck or sheltered for months like most bust dogs - but babied by caring hands. Simon tucked him into his warm truck immediately and he woke up crated inside blankets, on his way to a new life. Not to over-analyze or distract from your larger point, but I don't think the 10 minute procedure made much of a difference in his overall view of life or ability to handle (or not handle) stress and change.

He's sorta schpecial, that one. ;-)



The study compared the dogs to other dogs of the same breed. I doubt that they were able to isolate other genetics within the breed though. The study may be complete bunk -- but there is at least some evidence that danger exists...and no evidence that it is completely safe. I think we need to at least be honest about that.

I think rescues are in a bit of a different situation in that I can see why they need to adopt out altered's a tough situation for them -- I'm not sure I have a solution. I have a huge problem with them making it illegal (or misleadingly encouraging) owners of owned dogs to do something that might not be in the best interests of the long-term health of the animal.



I don't want to get too off-course on this posting. I don't want to, for a second, imply that Bad Rap or MABBR did anything but take very good care of the dogs and do what they thought was best in what was a really tough situation. I have nothing but respect (and thanks) for the work from both groups.

I do think that your comment about it being a "10-minute proceedure" is a bit concerning though -- and part of the larger point. Just because it is a routine proceedure does not make it a non-invasive surgery with a couple of days of tough recovery time.

I just think my schpecial little one could have dealt with the overall trauma a lot better had he not been dealing with the shock of the entirely different life while at the same time recovering from surgery...


Thank you, Brent, for such an excellent, important, educational article.

Regardless of hindsights, afterthoughts, and so much uncertainty in working to properly care for all these dogs, I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration of all of you who were involved in this rescue. All of these are very tough decisions and situations, and I deeply appreciate the detailed love and kindness that you all poured into them. Just knowing that the schpecial little one's well being is cared for, brings us a lot of comfort. You are making a huge difference!

Any updates on little Boomer would be greatly appreciated too!


Excellent post! In my experience, most pet owners (even in low income areas) really prefer to get their pets "fixed" - and I don't think that will change if they are warned of possible negative effects. They'll just be better informed.

My question is, when did having one's pet surgically sterilized become one of the requirements for being a "responsible pet owner"? That's the message more often than not.

Seems to me, that if you prevent accidental breeding then that should be enough whether you do it by surgery, or by good management.

Brian Cluxton

Excellent post, Brent. Absolutely right about S/N not being the end goal. My fear is the bad owners out there (and even owners that are "good owners" that make a mistake that leads to more dogs). For example, my sister's inlaws got a male labradoodle and decided to not get it neutered right away for many of the health reasons you note. Well, their daughter brought over one of their dogs (a shepherd of some kind) that was not spayed - I'm not sure why. Even though they knew about this and tried to keep the dogs separated, the got together and of course the end result was 6 mutt puppies - thankfully they found homes for all of them but it was not easy. Of course, this was their fault but it is so easy for that sort of thing to happen. So not having your dog s/n when young can add to pet overpopulation even with GOOD owners that have no intention of breeding their dog. I agree s/n should never be mandatory. Maybe the solution is something like the birth control pill for dogs. Is that even available?


My comment from this morning disappeared. Everybody's a critic!

I did something on this awhile ago:
A few abstracts there and the Overall paper is linked.

Here's one for your case files. I got a little dog from the SPCA after my big guy died. He was a release not an adoption, they thought he had liver problems.

They found him wandering, emaciated, covered in fleas with flea-induced anemia. Sent him for bloodwork, they neutered him instead (hate that clinic but that's another story).

Took him to my vet the day after I got him, she found a grade 5/6 murmur, no liver problems. Said the murmur was likely due to neutering with anemia and poor body condition.

He died a couple of weeks later of a massive heart attack. It was quick, anyway. I had planned to take him to Michigan for surgery (800 vs 3300 around here). Poor little guy, at least he had a few weeks of fun and comfort.

I think I'd either not bother neutering a male or go for a vasectomy next time. I'd certainly wait until maturity. I've never owned a bitch just by chance, but would probably get her neutered at maturity rather than go for a tubal ligation. Some vets are now leaving the ovaries intact, just doing a hysterectomy. New stuff is coming out all the time.

I say this as the owner of 3 neutered males. One came that way, the other two were done after maturity at the request of my friend the breeder, who gave them to me as adults.


"ust because it is a routine proceedure does not make it a non-invasive surgery with a couple of days of tough recovery time."

To be quite frank, neuters aren't all that invasive (comparably). I've helped castrate different species of animals, with some interesting experiences with wild boar, and it is one of the less dangerous (infection-wise) procedures out there. Those little sacs make for perfect drainage! Okay, eww I know. Not discounting the discomfort any cutting of the skin involves!

There is a lot of room for research in this field. There are pros and cons to any type of procedure that disrupts hormonal processes. There are also a lot of variables to consider with cancer(genetics, food, chemical exposure, pollutant exposure, auto-immune disorders, other environmental stimuli, etc. ad naseum).

I absolutely agree that spay/neuter is a tool, not the goal. And no matter how you cut it*, there will always be negative effects to spay/neutering and negative effects to NOT spay/neutering. Hormones can harm when they're there and when they're not.

*Seriously, no pun intended.


First, tell your friend we are thinking about her and her loss. There is probably no one that posts on this blog that has not had the experience of a losing one of our friends. I know it was too soon. They all are. Despite that, I am thankful every day for the time I got to spend with the ones I have had, and the ones I have now. I know it won't be as long as I want, so I have to enjoy what I am given.

Another paper on the suitable age for such surgery is at

In the conclusion Dr. Kustritz makes your point that "Pets should be considered individually, with the understanding that for these pets, population control is a less important concern than is health of each animal. She also states that, for the shelter population, "Societal benefit resulting from gonadectomy of unowned dogs and cats in the United States outweighs all other concerns." It is two different worlds.

I should also admit to having had some experience with the events like Boomer went to, and we are working on creating some now. My concerns about their health and the enviroment for the surgery were the same, but there are years of history behind this process now, and those events, when done well, have as good a safety record as any brick and mortar clinic (when done well).

I also agree that rescue (like me) and shelter folks (like I was) do need to watch what we say. Our communications with people are vital to the success of our effort.

Thanks Brent!


krislars, I'm sure you're spot-on about the issue of trust. We adopt out puppies and kittens with neutering vouchers for use when the animal is six months old and there really isn't a problem with owner compliance. The idea that shelters who let animals go out before neutering inevitably cause all those animals to come back pregnant is just another unhelpful myth.


Trust. Sure, and I don't mean to imply that shelters and rescues shouldn't trust - if they couldn't there would be no adoptions, eh? But the simple facts are that even if 3 or 5 or 10% of our adoptions are not altered, even if not all of them actually breed, we are still talking about thousands of new pups and kittens to deal with, in addition to other strays and unwanted litters, taking care of injured animals with no hope of medical care, etc.

Our local shelters say there is no problem with owners "compliance". (Gad, what a word). Yet there is no actual follow up and not all vouchers are redeemed, dozens every year. The previous city I was in had a shelter with perhaps twice or more the same volume, same issue. Most municipal shelters _must_ adopt to anyone that shows up, and it would be naive to think all those people will s/n. Without follow-up nobody really knows, yet litters do show up from some of those adoptions. I even heard the excuses. No myth. Fact.

Private rescues can and do more checking and follow up. My comments apply to muni shelters, and populations where there is no real vet care available, either because of distance, lack of funds, or lack of an understanding of the need to s/n. I am and remain 100% against mandating s/n of these pets - there are better options.

Most municipalities have more unwanted litters and strays than we are prepared to deal with. Whether it is because we don't have enough volunteers, enough foster homes, a lack of willingness to educate the community, too many animals coming in to have time to target and educate the owners - whatever the excuse; not having those dogs and cats altered b4 placing them is 100% fatal for far too many others every day of the week. Add to that the number of children and others that are bitten, as well as the medical issues that are avoided by making sure this is done. Weighed against a "potential" future problem, which may or may not occur, it is irresponsible for any shelter to not make sure this is done before they can breed. Especially if they are killing adoptable animals. More especially if they are not doing the other work that would preclude this. If they have the resources to monitor each one, that is great but so far outside the norm that it would be the exception. Many can't, so they have to do it b4 adoption.

I hope we can agree that preventing the death of millions of perfectly healthy adoptable animals should take precendence over some problem that may never occur, and if it does it is in a small percentage of cases. We may disagree on part of this, but the opinion of most research supports the idea that pediatric spay/neuter, performed at the proper weight/age/time, while not without it's problems (like any invasive procedure) saves literally millions of lives, with little to no observable aftereffect for the vast majority of shlter animals. I do understand and have experienced the same heartbreak - not only with my own 3 or 4 legged friends, but watching thousands of adoptable shelter animals thrown in landfills or in an incinerator.

As things stand, while there are other things that could happen, until they do this is the best solution for those populations, and we have to make sure it happens.


There's so much false information out there about spaying and neutering. I still hear people say that they think their female needs to have a litter before she is spayed in order to prevent breast cancer. Um...what?

In reality, a dog's chances of getting breast cancer are actually very high if she is spayed beyond a certain age.


Yeah, I've heard that one too Lindsay. I can't stress enough that I think it is beyond time to start having honest conversations about the topic -- both positive and negative.


Could not have said it better myself. I have been preaching pretty much the same thing for years. I get especially concerned when shelters/rescues forget about the animals safety just to get it altered. Don't even get me started on the s/n clinics that are more concerned with how many surgeries they do in a day rather than if their instruments are sterile. Can a hysterectomy(spay) be done in 4 minutes? Probably. Would I want one? NO WAY!


Good article.

I am neutral on the spay/neuter issue. Yes it does lead to the lessening of the "unwanted" dog population as a whole, but it also decreases the viable genetic diversity within breeds, and this leads to the plethora of genetic maladies that exist in our most popular breeds.

I own an intact male dog, who has never fathered an unwanted litter, never run off in search of an "in heat" female, and has no aggression issues. In fact he's probably more well behaved than 90% of the dogs out there. He's intact, not for my sake, but for the sake of the genetic diversity of his breed-which has less than 15,000 world-wide. Eventually he may sire a litter, or he may not-but for anyone to mandate to me that he should be neutered is unconscionable.


Dr Karen Becker DVM did an excellent video that is on youtube; "The truth about spaying and neutering"
and she cites the many neg health side effects and that she did a 180 turnabout on this after demanding clients s-n all their pets and then seeing these same animals come down with health issues and endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism and also prostate cancers.

Many studies have shown the spay incontinence, cancer link and all the other negatives, the whole s-n thing is an American obsession, in Sweden and the UK etc they don't do this.
If s-n actually worked to reduce aggression and dog bite attacks, we'd have seen a massive obvious reduction since 1960 when only 1% were altered.
Both the human and dog populations have substantially increased since 1960 ( for example-US pop in 1950 was 150 million, it's 325 now) and there's about 52 to 60 million dogs, and 800,000 bites per year


Completely agree on Dr. Becker's research. I'd caution about using the 800,000 bites data point -- it is, at best, a badly extrapolated number.

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