Advice from the Experts

Spay/Neuter mandates could be counterproductive

10/31/2009
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By Steve Dale
Tribune Media Services


Q: You've spoken out against mandatory spay/neuter and I've followed your comments. Now the issue has come up in our own community. Part of what precipitated this was an increase in the number of dogs and cats abandoned due to the bad economy. Can you comment? -- D.H., Las Vegas, NV

A: I'm all for spay/neuter and I believe all shelter animals should be spayed/neutered before adoption. However, even this edict is increasingly fuzzy for me, as there's mounting medical evidence that for some breeds or mixes, early spay/neuter may hasten specific serious medical problems.

Of course spay/neuter is important because for most animals, there are overall health benefits, and spay/neuter also aids population control. However, I oppose the proposed mandate to spay/neuter all pets in Las Vegas over the age of 4 months. Passage would have many unintended consequences.

Fearing a mandate, pet owners reluctant to spay/neuter would visit their veterinarians less. This would be counterproductive since vets (next to shelters) are the leading proponents of spay/neuter. Also, not seeing the vet is not in the best interest of pet health or public safety (rabies vaccinations would decline if pets were not taken to vets).

In general, people don't spay/neuter because they can't afford the procedure. In my view, the answer is to provide low-cost or free spay/neuter. In Los Angeles (where a mandate was passed), and in Chicago and the state of California (where proposed mandates failed to pass), proponents spent huge amounts of money on lobbyists to support their efforts. I suggest that instead of paying arm-twisters, a huge number of spay/neuters might have been financed.

Another reason some families don't spay/neuter is based in long-standing cultural beliefs. Sociologists tell me government is generally not successful at mandating cultural changes. Such changes occur over time through education, particularly when proponents reach out to youth. Besides, the decision to "fix" your pet is not the government's business.

In Las Vegas, the economy is contributing to the problem. Desperate owners don't know what to do with pets after they're evicted or must leave a foreclosed house. Surprising numbers of cats and dogs are simply being left to wander. Those not spayed or neutered can breed. That makes one section of the proposed ordinance particularly problematic. Under the mandate, owners of all puppies and kittens born to unsterilized animals would be required to forfeit the pets to shelters. There are too many animals in shelters now. I'm not certain how adding more will solve the problem.

The ASCPA and the American Veterinary Medical Association lead a long list of organizations opposed to government-mandated spay/neuter. I hope this column is sent to City Council members. For further information, check my home page: www.stevedalepetworld.com.

Q: We just rescued a spaniel-mix puppy. She's around 5 months old but not completely house trained. Our problem began a few weeks ago when it rained. It turns out she doesn't like to relieve herself on wet grass. She also hates puddles. Can you stop the rain or tell me how to deal with a dog who hates to get wet? -- C.J., Philadelphia, PA

A: I can't turn off the rain, but I can provide puppy intervention. Canine behavior consultant Liz Palika, of Ocreanside, CA, says, "Make the rain fun. Each time it rains, go outside with a favorite toy and play in the puddles. When your dog begins to have a good time, make it an even better party by giving her treats."

Palika, author of "Puppy Love" (Howell Book House, New York, NY, 2009; $24.99), says, "People who stand out in the rain with their dog may say angrily, 'Hurry up, for Pete's sake, I'm soaked,' and the poor dog may think you're angry at her. Therefore, the dog associates the rain with your unhappiness. Many dogs just don't enjoy the rain any more than you do, so make it fun. When we first moved from California to Virginia, our dogs weren't happy about the snow until we began to show them how much fun snow could be. We'd have the neighbor kids come by to play with the dogs in the snow. The dogs loved it and so did the kids."

Q: My 8-year-old cat, Sunshine, was just diagnosed with diabetes. I can't give her a daily shot; that would be unfair to her. How long might a cat live with diabetes (without treatment)? The only sign, so far, is that she's drinking a lot of water. Any advice? -- G.S., Orlando, FL

A: "No doubt, many cats can live a very long time without insulin injections," says feline specialist Dr. Drew Weigner, of Atlanta, GA. "The problem is, they will eventually get very sick. But even before that happens, their quality of life won't be great. Most people notice that after insulin injections begin, and the insulin is regulated appropriately -- their cat perks up. Oral medications don't work well." However, some pet foods might help Sunshine greatly.

The mere thought of giving a cat a shot may seem abhorrent, but in truth it's probably easier to give your cat an injection (the needle used is very fine and doesn't cause pain) than a pill. Weigner suggests asking your vet for a demonstration. Then, for the next two or three injections -- or for as long as you need a helping hand -- bring your cat to the vet's office for injections. Senior citizens or others with limited mobility might require special assistance, which many clinics also offer.

"You wouldn't think of not treating diabetes in people. The same should be true for cats," Weigner says.

You may also want to check out www.diabetesincats.org. Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207 or send an e-mail. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend

(c) 2009 DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
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