Two years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, I subscribed to The Atlantic. I did so because I kept finding myself trying to read their articles, which I noticed were often controversial. There have been a few times, in the past two years, when I have regretted subscribing. It’s usually when I see that they’re rerunning, for the umpteenth time, an article that is a few years old. This morning, they happened to rerun an article they published about how the consensus regarding spaying and neutering dogs is “quietly changing”. In 2019, writer Sarah Zhang (or her editor) wrote:
A growing body of research has documented the health risks of getting certain breeds fixed early—so why aren’t shelters changing their policies?
You can almost bet on the comments that appeared, just from people who read the tagline. There was statement after statement from people who do dog rescues, hysterically crying foul about how “irresponsible” this article is. Many dramatic diatribes were about how full the shelters are, and how so many dogs are euthanized, because not everyone spays or neuters. And because of those “irresponsible” people, everyone should be forced, locked step, into “fixing” their animals before the first heat or at six months of age, potential health risks or concerns be damned.
Bill and I have gotten all of our dogs from rescue organizations or people who do dog rescue (in Noyzi’s case). Of course we agree with spaying and neutering. BUT… I think Sarah Zhang’s article makes a lot of sense. Nowhere did she write that spaying and neutering should be abolished. What she did write was that research “suggests that spaying and neutering—especially in some large breeds when very young—are linked to certain disorders later in life.” Veterinarians are starting to question whether or not spaying and neutering every pet when they are very young is the right thing to do for animals, from a health standpoint.
However, many rescue groups and shelters are stubbornly clinging to the idea that every animal must be sterilized as young as possible. Animal welfare groups usually don’t give adopters a choice as to when or whether they will spay or neuter. And yes, before anyone comes at me, I do understand why they have that rule. They are trying to control the pet population, which is not a bad goal at all. My issue is when anyone has an objection or takes a contrary position to that idea, things get uncivilized in a hurry. And if you read the Facebook comments on this story, many of which come from people who didn’t bother to read the article, you find that people can be downright nasty and rigid about this subject. There are very few topics in which total rigidity works. Early animal castration, in my view, is a topic that might benefit from further reflection.
I live in Germany, and vets in Germany don’t spay or neuter animals until they’re about a year old. I am in Italy right now, and I have seen many, many dogs who are still intact. Yes, there are animal shelters and rescue groups in Europe, but there isn’t the huge problem, at least in western Europe, of stray dogs that we have in the United States. And so, mindsets are different here. In Norway, spaying and neutering is not even allowed unless there is a medical reason to do it. Or, at least that was the rule until very recently. Norway is hardly a barbarian country. Of course, life is different there than it is in the U.S. People tend to be less selfish and more community minded, which I think is common across the continent. There are also fewer people and fewer pets as a whole. But anyway, my point is, the American viewpoint isn’t the only one worth considering. Sometimes, it does make sense to listen to other voices from different places.
But, just as face masks have become a political issue, so has the idea of getting an animal spayed or neutered… or not. And God forbid an American admit to wanting to purchase a purebred dog from a breeder, even if the breeder is “responsible” and knowledgable. Some Americans will judge people mercilessly for that, too. Again, in Europe, many people purchase dogs from breeders. There is nothing wrong with it. Of course, breeders in Europe tend to know what they are doing and have to show their competence. I know that’s not true in the United States. What I think is a shame, though, is that so many people feel that they have to force their views on other people, claiming that if someone’s opinion doesn’t follow the status quo, the opinion is “wrong”. Opinions are just that–opinions. Everybody has them, and it might do us some good to hear those other opinions sometimes.
I guess what really struck me about the comments on The Atlantic’s article is that so many of them were downright abusive. There was sarcasm aplenty, and just rude, uncalled for, uncivilized statements made that served no purpose whatsoever. It makes me think that most people are assholes. No wonder I’ve become such a recluse.
I do think it would be a good thing if people were allowed more flexibility as to when they get their animals neutered. I do think some animals shouldn’t be “fixed”, or they should have hormone sparing procedures, such as vasectomies or ovary sparing spays. But most of all, I think more people should take a deep breath before commenting to strangers online. The world is an ugly enough place right now. There’s no need to add to the nastiness, which usually won’t be responded to constructively, anyway. There are good reasons why some people would rather wait before they get their pets snipped. It’s time more people got out of the rigid thinking about this subject, and others, and considered other perspectives and viewpoints. Maybe they might learn something new.