Ginger Digest

Is there a moral dilemma to de-sexing your pet?

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Posted on 18th May, 2015: When my feisty male cat turned two, he also turned into a sex-crazed, angry monster. And the person who suffered his attacks the most was my other two-ish year old male cat, who never went looking for a fight, but would always be beaten up. Because he lived in the same house, he was an easily accessible punching bag for feisty Lallan. They would fight and scream and tear at each other, at all times of the day or night. One or the other or both would turn up severely injured and bleeding, every other day. This had to stop and sterilising them was the advice given to me by the vet.

But Lallan was not to be stopped. Post his surgery, he still prowled the nights looking for fights, he still came home or had to be picked up from somewhere, injured and battered and bleeding. Whatever I was told of full-blooded male cats being aggressive and ready to fight, was true of one and not the other! And whatever I was told about sterilising male cats making them calmer, less testosterone-ridden and more playful was true of one and not of the other too!

Years later, history repeated itself with my other two male cats following the exact same pattern. It seemed to me that the personality of the animal, seldom changes from sterilisation, though some animals do get lazier and more interested in nap time than play time. So, does sterilisation offer tangible health benefits, like it claims it does? Am I taking too big a decision for the pet animal in my care? Is it a convenient solution for us, but a painful life for them?

Is there a morality angle to the sterilising pet animals?

Spay versus stray

Animal welfare organisations, vets and animal shelters would have you believe that if there is a morality angle here, you are doing the right thing by spaying/neutering your animal.

There are approximately 30 million stray dogs across towns and cities in India, says India Today. The size of the stray dog population of an area, directly corresponds to the size and character of the human population of that area. Previously, culling dogs using poison, clubbing or electrocution was how stray dog populations were controlled by the municipal corporations. Somewhere around January 1994, the culling stopped and the sterilisation began. Following a the formulation of the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960; the Animal Birth Control Programme was formalised into law and practise. It has been implemented in over 60 cities such as Delhi, Jaipur, Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Jodhpur and Kalimpoong, across the country. The Animal Welfare Board of India says that the Programme – which involves trapping a stray dog, sterilising it at a government/non-government or NGO partner clinic and releasing it back to the same spot – has been immensely successful in not only controlling the stray dog population, but also the number of rabies cases in dogs and human beings.

‘Spaying one female dog can prevent 67,000 births in six years, and spaying one female cat can prevent 420,000 births in seven years – animals who will never suffer and never end up abandoned on the streets or dumped at animal shelters. Sterilised animals also live healthier, longer lives and are less likely to roam, fight or bite. Puppies and kittens can be safely sterilised at 8 weeks of age!’, says PETA India. The animal rights organisation places the blame for the “homeless dog population” in India on the “breeders, pet stores and people who don’t spay and neuter their animals”.

Basics and details

Spaying is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus of a female animal. It is a permanent surgery and touted as the only fool-proof birth-control method for female cats and dogs. Spayed cats do not succumb to various problems that arise during the heat cycle, such as spraying urine and an utrine infection known as pyometra. It, reportedly, also reduces the risk of mammarian cancer, premature or difficult pregnancies in all spayed animals.

Neutering is the surgical removal of the testes from the scrotum of a male animal. It is primary method of sterilising a male dog or cat. It reduces the testosterone count in the blood, hence curbing the mating instincts of the animal and assumedly, making it less aggressive.

As an alternative to surgical methods, a more humane chemical castration technique has also been mooted in US though it is yet to find any takers or acceptability with the veterinary fraternity in India. This is very cost effective technique which if it finds acceptance can help push the stray dog population control program by leaps and bounds.  

Attitude towards pets in India

In India, pet parenting has been gaining ground over the last ten years. In 2006, the pet population stood at close to 7 million, while it rose to 10 million by 2011. On the back of an average 600,000 pets being bought or adopted every year, petcare market is forecasted to touch INR 3000 Cr. in the country by 2018. Indian pet parents are increasingly having a more ‘humanised’ attitude towards their furry little ones these days, say market watchers and pet products industry analysts. And more and more of them want to spend on food, treats, toys, medicines and even air fare and vacations.

There are no available numbers on the number of pet animals sterilised in cities and towns of India. But most dog parents are of the belief that it is a cruel and unnecessary practise. Many feel that the psychological and physical benefits of sterilising an animal do not outweigh the health impacts such as weight gain, and lethargy. And while some men are uneasy with turning their macho male cat or dog into a sexless animal, still others truly believe that the animal should be given the opportunity to procreate at least once or give birth to at least one litter to ‘mature’.  Then there are some parents who while they agree with the idea of sterilisation cringe at the thought of putting their pets under the knives, such parents may be more open to the idea if alternatives like chemical sterilisation become available.

Laws regarding animal birth control

In India, various municipal laws impose different duties on the pet owner. In some states, neutering/spaying a male dog is mandatory, while most others are mum on the issue.

The Dog Rules, 2001 clearly place the mandate of neutering/spaying a pet dog on the owner.

Neutering naysayers

We caught up with some pet parents from New Delhi to see what they think…

“It is an unnecessary invasion into animal's life and personal space, unless for health reasons I don’t quiet agree that sterilisation is a good idea.”

-          Shefali Malhotra from Gurgaon, thinking about becoming a pet parent

“I think neutering of pets unless medically necessary should not be done. It's an abdication of responsibility to provide suitably for animals, by the state and by the people themselves, if they take to such inhumane measures or create a law for the same.”

-          Former pet parent, Artika Raj from Dwarka, Delhi.

“Whether pet or stray we don't own other animals, even if we provide them with food and shelter. It is each animal’s right to have sex and let their bloodline continue. There is a process of natural selection by which dogs most suited to the urban environment will survive and the rest will perish. By interfering in this natural process we will end up with stupid dogs who will become a liability, and maybe even lead to their extinction. No neutering!!”

-          Manu Singh from Sarvapriya Vihar, New Delhi, pet parent to Mojo, the boxer

“Yup, absolutely necessary, especially for their health.”

-          Papia Samajdar, cat parent from New Delhi.

“To an extent, neutering an animal is helpful for them as it saves them from infections and illness (my vet tells me that my female cocker spaniel is at particular risk for contracting uterine infections and cancer) and also from constant child bearing. But just stopping at sterilisation is not enough. That is a cop out - displace animals, don’t provide them alternate housing or means to survive in manmade, concrete world, then just curb their population because we human beings cannot handle it. We need to take more responsibility.”

-          Ananya Banerjee, pet parent to dogs Penny Lane and Lola.

Feel free to join the discussion – What do you think? 

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