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To spay or not to spay?

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POSTED September 15, 2013 5:06 p.m.

DEAR DIDI: I have a sweet little terrier mix that is 3 years old.  She likes to take walks around the block and always comes back to her home. Sometimes I follow her with a leash so she doesn’t get into any troubles.  I also rescue dogs from the dog pound so she gets along with others pretty well.  I worry about Sasha being truly fulfilled as a woman. She needs to experience the joy of children and family! My veterinarian has been pushing me to get her spayed and that just seems cruel. What do you think? —  Dog Lover in Lathrop

DEAR DOG LOVER: To spay or not to spay. That has been a huge dilemma for many people. We love our dogs so very much that it is very easy to start thinking of them as our children. I certainly love and protect my dogs as vehemently as the safety of my human daughter, but I also realize that they are not human.  They don’t process information or value the same things in life that we do.  Applying human characteristics to a dog is known as anthropomorphizing.  As much as you, personally, might value the concept of having children, raising them and see your family as the ultimate purpose in life, dogs do not feel that way.  This does not make them irresponsible, uncaring, or callous. Humans remain in contact and interact with their young throughout their entire lives. Dogs push their offspring out of the ‘nest’ and expect them to go off and lead their lives within just a few months of birth. If they don’t, puppies can actually be a detriment to the mother’s health very quickly. 

Allowing a female dog to go into their first heat, which typically happens between 5 and 12 months old, has been scientifically shown to dramatically increase  their chances of ovarian and mammary cancers. One study I read suggests that they are 7 times more likely to suffer from cancer. Unlike humans, canine estrous cycles last much longer and are much more harsh on their bodies and minds despite only happening twice a year.  A dog in heat is at risk and should never be taken into public areas.  I have personally witnessed a male dog break through a plated glass window to get to a female dog in heat that was wandering loose in his front yard. Getting pregnant is a huge stress on a dog’s body, especially if you weren’t super careful about the male counterpart. 

The hormones also drive certain behaviors in a dog that can create issues for living amongst humans. One of those issues is the desire to roam the neighborhood in search of a mate.  Society has dictated that dogs should never be off their own property unless they are on a leash and under control.  So Sasha’s “walks around the block” are probably not leisurely strolls to enjoy some sun. She may be demonstrating territorial behaviors, searching for a mate to end her misery while in heat, or just demonstrating that she has control of her own actions instead of you.  Either way, she is at risk when out wandering. She could choose to cross the road at the wrong time or encounter another, less friendly, large dog that is off leash.  Kidnappings of dogs have risen sharply in the last year, so she could run across an unscrupulous person that wants to make a quick buck on Craigslist. In our area, it is not unheard of to have small breed dogs snatched by birds of prey!

Besides all the medical and scientific reasons, there are ethical and moral reasons to think about.  Chihuahuas are, unfortunately, one of the most over bred types of dogs.  If you rescue, then I am sure you understand how many dogs out there need homes and suffer from health issues. Why add to the epidemic?  Letting a dog breed isn’t always a simple and natural phenomenon.  Doing it safely and correctly is costly. Then you will have the issue of finding appropriate homes for all of the puppies.

Let me address a couple of other myths. Some people worry that their dogs will grow fat and lazy if they are neutered. This is simply not true. Metabolisms naturally slow with age.  If you exercise and feed Sasha appropriate to her life stage, she will not get obese simply because she was spayed. Dogs do not experience menopause and women owners often project their fears of those symptoms onto this decision making process.  I must agree with your veterinarian. If your dog is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia, then it is best for Sasha’s health and long term well-being to be spayed.

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