About Spaying & Neutering Your Dog (And Mine)
Not too long ago, I started and ran a malpractice insurance company for obstetricians and gynecologists. Obstetricians are sued frequently, usually because people want perfect babies. Additionally, the medical complexity of dealing with two patients, one of whom can’t tell you what’s right or wrong, is exceptionally challenging. There are additional pressures facing OBs. Quite often, women of childbearing age have their babies later in life these days. A 2017 study found that the average age of the father in 2015 was 30.9, as opposed to 27.4 in 1972. And in 2016, there was a higher birth rate for women aged 30–34 than for women aged 25–29. Not surprisingly, the dangers of conceiving and giving birth in one’s 30’s are greater than in one’s 20’s.
There are similar challenges for gynecologists. As women age (ask any woman), every ten years of so marks a significant hormonal change. The young woman who might’ve been your high-school sweetheart at 16 is totally incomparable to young lady of 26. The mother at 35 years old is an utterly different mother than she might become at 45. It’s not that this isn’t true in various ways for men as well, but men rarely go through (and if they do, go through at different moments in life) the complex genetic and evolutionarily driven issues that challenge women.
Ten years ago, there were 40 complete hysterectomies per 10,000 women, and today, 2021, these are down by 12% (to 35 per 10,000). Minimally invasive procedures increased from 26% of surgeries to 43% of use today.
A hysterectomy is a life-changing procedure. In the informed consent information I used to provide to our doctors’ patients, I would stress such things as “You may never enjoy sex again after a complete hysterectomy” or “The emotional and physiological pain never ends for some women.” It’s important to disclose this. Predicting the physical outcome is impossible; predicting the emotional outcome is even more difficult.
What about for dogs?
We (as dog owners) are encouraged by veterinarians and knowledgeable dog sociologists to neuter and spay our dogs. There are a host of practical reasons that impact dogs themselves, and their human caretakers. According to the “Best Friends Animal Society,” 5,500 dogs (and some cats) are killed – “culled” – every single day in America. There isn’t enough room for them to be housed. Do the math: about two million animals a year. Staggering, isn’t it?
That is the principal reason that dog neutering is encouraged, and largely practical. And, from a certain viewpoint, very humane.
But how does a young female dog feel about it?
If you were a young female dog, and someone said to you, “Hey, it’s better for society and for you not to produce a whole bunch of unwanted puppies that will wind up in shelters, and eventually get murdered. So – would it be OK with you if we made you sterile?”
And here’s what the dog might just, might just think.
“I’m here on earth, driven by a genetic imperative, to have puppies. It’s part of my biological imperative on planet Earth. If I don’t fulfill that mission, a core part of my life will be truncated, missing, and empty. I will be sad, knowing that I’m missing something – and perhaps I won’t even understand what I’m missing.”
“I’ll never know the joy of licking the babies in my litter, and the incredible happiness of nursing them and watching them grow to be fine, upstanding canine citizens. I’ll never have the pleasure of teaching them to pee and poop outside in the yard, or experience the pride of teaching a group of fine, kindly, delightfully unique girl and boy puppies to become fine friends to humans and to one another.” I’ll never experience the sadness and the joy of having them move to another person’s home, and missing them in a profound, bittersweet way.”
I had a conversation of this type with Daisy before I took her to her appointment a week ago, to be spayed. The practical side of my reasoning was, in part, that Chico became an insane sex-maniac when Daisy was in heat, and she was endlessly irritated by his sometimes unwanted and unwonted approaches. Additionally, she has far too small a frame to bear Chico’s puppies, and such a pregnancy and birthing could be, likely would be, life-threatening. Locating a proper and willing mate for her would not have been an easy find. The logistics would have been challenging.
She listened and considered it all very, very carefully. We spoke about it for hours, late at night, just before falling asleep, as she rested on my leg or foot in love, comfort, and utter trust. In time, I heard her sigh, very sadly and very deeply. “It’s really up to you,” she said. “I have no way to know what’s best for all of us.”
I took her to the appointment at the Miami Dog Shelter on Monday last, and left her there. She was puzzled, but willing: I trust her, she trusts me. She knew I would be back. And so I was, 8 hours later. She was confused, sedated, and very much not herself. But she was glad to be with us – as Chico, Henny and Lele had insisted on coming along to greet her. She slept in my arms as I drove home.
She slept like a rock Monday night, although I was up every thirty minutes, checking on her, and examining the exceptionally tidy scar the minimally invasive procedure had caused. Come Tuesday morning, she tootled around the yard, trying out her as-yet-unsteady little paddling legs. She went presently to Jose’s room, and slept there most of the day, and long into the evening. She had two bites of cooked kidney and a good bit of water for dinner, and slept long and hard. Wednesday morning we went for a walk with Chico and Lele, and she was far more alert, cheery and willing to encounter the world.
Then, on Thursday, we had another long talk. She was sad, I would say even depressed. She knew what had happened. She knew she would never have babies, never delight in the sweetness of puppy-breath, and never lick in true motherly fashion a set of adorable brown four-legged bundles, cute as the day is long, sweet, and innocent as the icicles that hang on a church of a New England winter. I held her, and she snuggled deep into my arms.
Just to be sure, I put our Iodine Hand Sanitizer (https://www.iodineproducts.com/product/iodized-hand-sanitizer/) on her wound. Miraculously, it totally closed up and was ancient-looking in 48 hours, despite its being the site of significant surgery, although likely laparoscopic.
She still now, a week later, looks up at me and wonders if it was the right thing to do. And, frankly, so do I. I’m not sure, and I ask her forgiveness for having taken away from her a core element of life’s joy: the bearing and rearing of youngsters, and the excitement of watching them grow into fine children.
I hope in time Daisy will forgive me. She loves me unutterably, as I love her. Forgiveness is in her divine nature, and it will come, in time.
Whether or not I can forgive myself is quite another issue.