my impassioned spay/neuter speech

Information on dog training, spay/neuter possibilities, animal care, etc., is being acquired by dog people at an incredible rate now, with everyone having access to the most up-to-date information on the internet.

Keeping current on your field, a difficult proposition for dog trainers, must be a monstrous task for veterinarians and scientists who are bombarded with study results and new research constantly.

Whereas it might be inconvenient for my students if I’m not versed on the latest information on teaching fronts, it’s devastating for a veterinarian’s patients if they don’t keep up with the latest technology and information.

Yesterday a shelter trainer list I’m on had a link to an interesting article on the results of a 10-year study of pediatric spay/neuter, done at Cornell nearly 10 years ago. I checked out this article from HSUS information (link)
http://www.animalsheltering.org/resource_library/magazine_articles/mar_apr_2004/keeping_babies_from_having_babies.html

I intend to write a treatise to be presented at the next meeting of my shelter’s board of directors. I’ll not make it part of my “report from the volunteer coordinator” but, instead, will present it when they ask for questions from the community.

Here’s my primary question — “why is the shelter releasing intact animals back into the community via adoptions-without-neutering when our statistics show we euthanize 10 animals for every 1 we adopt out?”

As my hero, Sue Sternberg, puts it, “Spay/neuter before adoption is CRITICAL, or a shelter, especially one like Marietta, which still has pet overpopulation and litters of puppies coming to the shelter, should not even bother to adopt out dogs. Putting more fertile dogs and cats into the community is not helpful.”

My friend and mentor, Carrie Roe (from HSOP), adds, “using vets that are willing to do prepubicent spays/neuters is also critical.” Carrie notes, “You can’t hold the animals for 6 months for them to be old enough to meet the standards of some vets that don’t believe in the early surgeries.”

Early spay/neuter is controversial, I know. There are seminarists traveling the country preaching late or no neutering for performance dogs. My own brother has a little puppy-mill aussie and he’s been convinced that neutering him will bring on prostate cancer.

However, it is my opinion that local shelters, who absorb 90% of the unwanted pet population, and whose staffs must face the horrible task of “eliminating” the nation’s overage, must be the constant preachers of the spay/neuter sermon.

I believe it is not nearly enough to have adopters purchase a $20 certificate which is refunded upon neutering, especially considering that veterinarians are not on board with us and are unwilling to do the neutering on the pet’s first visit.

Here’s a specific account of this practice by our shelter. Yesterday a woman walks in wanting to look at very young kittens she heard were at the shelter. She’d been there 2 weeks ago but the kittens were too young to go home.

On Friday, 3/20, this lady visited the Parkersburg shelter and was shown their kittens. She didn’t take one, however, because “they wanted all my information, and there’s a waiting period!” So, instead of filling out an application in Parkersburg and being approved for a kitten that is already spayed, she drove to Marietta’s shelter.

Here she found 2 kittens, both female and intact, of course. They were “too small for shots” according to staff, and too small for spaying. “How much would it cost to get both of them?” our guest asked.

The first answer was, “$15 for the kitten, $5 for shots, and $20 for the spay certificate which you’ll get off the vet bill when you have her spayed.”  “Oh, I didn’t bring that much money with me!” she responded, and I’d really like both of them.”

Weeeelllll …. “we could probably just charge you for the 2 spay certificates and, since the kittens haven’t had their shots yet, not charge you anything for the kittens themselves.”

This nice lady took home 2 very young female kittens for $40, the cost of 2 spay certificates. If she ever takes them to a veterinary there will have to be a wellness check and shots prior to spaying. The wellness check will be about $75-100. The spaying will be $50-75 apiece, at the very least. Those two $20 certificates aren’t going to cover much and I don’t imagine they’ll ever be used.

And 2 fertile kitten-making machines are released into the community.

What would have been the scenario if, instead, both kittens had pediatric or prepubicent spay surgery before going up for adoption? The cost of the kittens would have been $50-60 each, the woman may have only gotten one, but we’d be certain her one kitten wasn’t going to produce dozens of kittens for the euthanasia needle.

The above is going to be the primary thrust of my treatise, but examples of “old timey” thinking abound at the shelter.

I’m attempting to train dogs and train dog-walkers, while the staff of the shelter remain stuck in 1960s thinking about dog training and behavior. Examples, just from yesterday (hey, Bud had to listen to my venting so you have to as well <g>), include:

FIRST, a 45-50-pound Shar Pei mix bitch is with me, on lead, in the hallway leading to the big dog room. She’s shown an inordinate amount of attention to the cats in the cat room and in the tower cages. Several members of the staff share with me that “when she was turned in her owners said she’d killed cats, but you can’t believe everything people say. They’ll tell you that as an excuse for bringing a dog in to the shelter.”

My response was, “well, I’d more likely say you can’t believe when people say their dog is happy, friendly, loves cats and kids and other dogs. There’s a reason they’re getting rid of the animal and killing another person’s pet should be something you could verify before putting the dog up for adoption.”

They explained to me, stupid as I am, “we’ve not had any problem with her since she’s been here.” All this conversation as the dog stares intently through the plexiglass at a cat sitting on a window sill. I put “kills cats” on her temperament sheet, noted that she required an experienced owner, and returned this dog to her kennel. I have no words for the previous owner who, instead of taking responsibility and euthanizing their cat-killing dog, brought her to a shelter so someone else could have the pleasure of that moment.

SECOND, I have a little black lab mix in the back yard. She’s trying to drag me, has no connection to people, doesn’t demonstrate any desire to engage me. “That dog’s completely trained!” the dog warden tells me. “She came to us from the cell dog program where she was playing with another dog, it turned into a fight, the inmate tried to break it up and got bitten, which led to her getting thrown out of the program.”  He went on to explain that it was certainly a missreading of what was going on, and an unfortunate accident, because, as he repeated again and again, “she’s completely trained!”

My response was, “how was she trained? With treats and reward, or with corrections?” He didn’t know. Didn’t really even understand the question, probably. I worked with this dog for 45 minutes and she glanced at me one time. She didn’t walk well on leash, wouldn’t sit or lie down, had no connection to anyone in the shelter, including staff.

While I’m sitting, waiting for her to lie down so I could praise her, staff walked by saying, “that dog’s completely trained!” as if she was a gold nugget they’d found in the parking lot. I wrote on her sheet that she’s a work in progress and, fortunately for her, seemed to have no interest in the other dogs or cats at the shelter. But she didn’t have any interest in anything, really, so she’s probably showing signs of being shut down by the environment. If she gets adopted her real stripes will develop.

THIRD, I work with Daisy, a chow mix turned in as the perfect pet. “Great with kids, cats and other dogs!” Yeah, right. Again with the staring at cats. And, when approached by the dog warden and his loud, deep voice and clapping hands, she assumed a stance clearly communicating “approach me with caution.” Which, of course, he ignored. She cowered while he woozled and grabbed her.

I spent 40 minutes with her and discovered that she did know how to lie down, but that she used down to earn freedom. She’d lie down, be petted and praised, and then rush toward the cats. I started asking her to lie down longer before getting her praise. When I’d wait to praise her, she’d look boldly at me and freeze. In my opinion, this is a dog destined to injure or kill something. I wrote nothing in her “skills” list and noted she needed an experienced owner.

FOURTH, I bring out Mya, a sweet little black lab who has drawn no attention from adopters and who will be accompanying me to We Luv Pets today. Mya walks beautifully on a leash, pees in the exercise yard willingly, returns to me when I welcome her, and is, in general, a sweet girl.

I spend 45 minutes with her in the hallway of the shelter. Two staff members have to stop and pet her, though we’re working on self-calming as described on the literature and signs all over the volunteer station for the past 4 months. They have not, of course, taken advantage of their long breaks to read any of the dog-training literature. Why would they? They’ve worked at the shelter a couple of years and that’s given them all the information they need. Besides, they love dogs so they know about dogs, you know?

So a nice young man crouches next to Mya and points at the floor. “Down! Down! Down!” — to which she responds, “huh?”  He goes and gets an old dry biscuit out of a 5-gallon drum and returns to crouch and say “down!”  I watch with some amusement, I must admit, as Mya looks at him like he’s from Pluto (which, by the way, is not a planet LOL).

“I guess she doesn’t know how to lie down,” he concluded. “Well, first, she doesn’t know how to work for a treat or follow a treat lure, even if you were luring correctly,” I state. “Second, you might want to look at some of the training literature here sometime, but third, I can pretty much guarantee she’s not going to do anything extraordinary for that dry biscuit.” In fact, Mya walked outside with me and, presented with the broken biscuit just for walking around in the grass, spit it out and walked away from it.

She’s a perfectly sweet girl who can certainly sit and lie down but does both on her own terms because she’s never been given the slightest reason to work for food or to see people and food as valuable resources.

I came home completely frustrated at the lack of information, the old-timey approach to spay/neuter and training, and the view of this monstrous mountain from my position at the bottom. Where to start?

So I’m going to write a treatise to be presented at the next board of directors meeting. This will probably be the deal-breaker for being nominated to the board. Better to know that now, however, than to get nominated and find I have no voice in policy.

In the meantime, I’m off to pick up Mya and head to the pet-food store. If we can’t educate shelter staff at least we can educate and entertain a few citizens.

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2 Responses to “my impassioned spay/neuter speech”

  1. Erica Says:

    When we (NBRAN) are faced with adopting out a pup too young for a spay or neutering we require a S/N deposit which is refunded in full once a veterinary certificate is sent to document that the deed is done. Our deposit is steep – $150 – but we haven’t had anyone not follow through on the S/N. Could HSOV implement such a plan when circumstances like the kittens arise? I know we have more luxury than HSOV and be “picky” about our adopters, but no dog is ever turned into the community without either having been S/N or if under 5 months, having a S/N deposit paid.

  2. sandra stealey Says:

    I totally agree about the problem of releasing dogs into the community unaltered and to unscreened homes. By sheltering and placing animals like that, as harsh as it sounds, these so called “humane societies” are actually adding tremendously to overpopulation and the misery dogs and cats must live in. I have done rescue for many years in SE OH in a county much more poor than Washington Co. I have been able to network with rescues and sponsors in other places and have always been able to have my dogs spayed/neutered. Pediatrics are a problem but I still don’t adopt them out without an extra deposit of $150 and a wonderful vet reference, long interviews and personal references as well, and some type of home visit. If I can do this as a volunteer I would hope that someone hired as a rescue coordinator or, indeed anyone working as a volunteer or employee of a “humane society” could as well.
    Finally, there is a spay/neuter vet in Zanesville, OH. Mason Co., WV adopted a wonderful model for awhile where adopters were allowed to pick out and pay for a dog ($75 to cover subsidized spay/neuter and vaccines, HW check, etc) then had to wait until the day of the trip to a spay/neuter clinic about an hour from them to pick them up. They had to be at the shelter at 4 PM to take charge of their new pets when they arrived back from surgery. I understand that pediatric spay/neuter does take special techniques and training but believe it will only be a matter of time until we get one in the area who will do it. Just imagine the amount of business they will get from all the responsible dog owners who will support them!

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