Lost nuts, angry eunuchs, and "heat crimes"

While I'm on the subject of "activism," I thought I'd try to make sense out of modern trend which is loaded with communitarian emotion, and that is the castration of dogs. In the past twenty years, times have changed so dramatically that what were once normal and commonplace -- dogs who still have their nuts -- are a rarity. They're so rare that my luscious female Coco has just finished her entire cycle of being "in heat" without being bothered by a single male dog. Considering that the pheromonal odor of a bitch in heat can be detected up to three miles away, that's saying something.

In the days of Coco the First (Puff's grandmother, born in the mid 1970s), being in heat presented logistical problems. Dogs would surround the house and camp out all night, sometimes howling in the wee hours of the morning. Taking the dog out to pee was like taking a stroll in the occupied West Bank; I'd have to leash her, carry something to ward off potential suitors, and be ready at all times to physically pick her up and make a dash back inside. That was part of owning dogs in those days, and it was why most people who owned females would spay them sooner or later. Perhaps the old system was overly sexist, but for whatever reason, castration of male dogs (something once considered a cruel and unnecessary thing to do) wasn't much done. Over the years, it became more and more of a trend, though, until today it's not only the "in" thing to do, if you don't do it, some puritanical nut-checker will come up to you and give you a stern lecture about your "responsibilities" as a dog owner. (Why did I just type "god owner"?)

This may sound controversial, but I think that if I own a dog, my responsibility is to see that the dog is well cared for, has as good a life as I can provide for it, and does not bother other people or other animals. If I walk the dog, I should obey leash laws, and if the dog wants to roam, I should not allow it, because I am responsible for what the dog might do. This includes tying up with a bitch in heat! If my male dog did that, I should be held to answer in damages, and I think a reasonable case could be made that my uncontrolled dog should be neutered. But if I am minding my business and controlling my dog, from where derives this notion that my "responsibilities" include doing something to him that would be considered an atrocity if done to any human being?

The arguments are threefold, and I'll start with argument number one.

There are too many dogs.

There may very well be too many dogs. This argument is often advanced by professional animal control people, and we all accept without argument that it is true. Where these dogs are, I don't know. I'm assuming that most of them must be in the animal shelters, because I don't see them running around in the streets (and my recent experience shows that not even a bitch in heat drew a single dog from this vast overpopulation). While I don't know how many of the dogs in animal shelters are turned in by owners as opposed to being "arrested" for running around in an unwanted state, this web site makes a very damning if true claim:

The bread and butter of animal activism is fomenting a perception of crisis. To promote their current interest in breeding control ordinances, activists seek to create an impression that the pet population is exploding and the death toll at shelters is escalating out of control. But, in July 1992, the Animal Agenda, published by the Animal Rights Network, reported that there had been a drop from 20 million to less than 6 million shelter kills in the last 10 years. The American Humane Association presents similar statistics confirming this report. The Animal Agenda notes that many activists feel it is better not to mention this dramatic reduction to the public.
I have no idea where to obtain these statistics, but I think there's a conflict of interest in that the people who advocate castration are the ones charged with the statistics they cite to justify it.

What's more, dog and cat statistics are typically lumped together like this recital of a figure of 70 million "stray dogs and cats." This is highly misleading, and it's improper because of the well-documented problem of a large free-roaming cat population. Regardless of what should be done about these feral and semi-feral cats, there simply is no canine equivalent, and the arguments that might apply to cats are largely inapplicable for many reasons. (Google "stray dog population" and you'll see it's chiefly a problem in underdeveloped countries.)

In a book titled How We Can End Pet Overpopulation and Stop Killing Healthy Cats and Dogs, author Bob Christiansen suggests that canine overpopulation may be exaggerated:

For the past decade and more, national and local animal organizations have blamed puppy producers for euthanasias in shelters and promoted sterilization as the only way to decrease shelter deaths. Slowly, over the past five or six years, university studies have put forth a different picture: itís not the puppies, they say, itís the adult dogs that are picked up as strays or surrendered by owners that populate shelters and die for lack of a home. With few exceptions, however, the news has not translated into innovative strategies to educate potential dog owners before they buy or fail to train.
Among his conclusions,
ďThe overwhelming majority of the dogs killed are not puppies (as would be the case if there were true dog overpopulation) but young adults that were once owned.Ē
I have no idea of how to obtain the detailed statistics I'd need to decide whether there is a major canine overpopulation problem in this country (although there sure doesn't seem to be one in my neighborhood), but even assuming that all statistics cited by castration advocates are true, what does this have to do with me? I should "fix" a totally normal dog because other people are unwilling to control theirs? To put it in purely personal terms, isn't that the same as telling me that I should be castrated because there are too many people in the world?

And I'd like to know how this can logically be squared with the philosophy that animals have rights with which no man has the right to interfere. In that regard, many of the same organizations clamoring for castration also maintain that cropping of dog's ears (such as Boxers and Doberman pinschers)should be prohibited by law. Why? Because it's cruel. (Anyone bother to ask the dog whether he'd rather have floppy ears or hanging testicles?) The same organizations demanding the castration of dogs routinely seek to abolish declawing of cats, horse racing, and dog racing on the grounds of cruelty. But castration is seen as kindness.

Another reason frequently given for castrating dogs is behavioral control. Unneutered male dogs are said to be more aggressive than neutered male dogs, as well as more prone to territorial marking (the lifting of the leg). While this is undoubtedly true, it boils down to another hopelessly communitarian argument, based on the notion that society should make decisions about how individuals should run their lives. People who want less aggressive dogs might be better off getting a female, because females are less aggressive than males, but shouldn't it be up to them? If people want a male and they want it intact, of what business is it of others to decide that because of some statistic about canine aggression? A decision like that is personal, and again, unless the dog messes with other people, it should be up to the owner.

Fascinatingly, there's more and more evidence (not being given the attention it deserves, IMHO) that neutered dogs are more aggressive to unneutered dogs than are unneutered dogs to neutered dogs. In a Salon.com interview, castration authority Gary Taylor (author of "Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood") makes this observation about a more and more frequent phenomenon:

I feel like every day of my life I'm involved in castration culture because my dog still has his balls. There's a big dog myth that intact dogs are aggressive, but my dog is incredibly cooled out. It's castrated dogs that get enraged and attack him because of canine rage and jealousy.
Mr. Taylor is not alone. His view finds confirmation by a commenter at this discussion group, who hypothesizes a possible explanation:
Yes, males can be aggressive towards one another, but it is often neutered males that attack unneutered males because of lack of tolerance over mistaken identity, or 2 unneutered males attacking each other over dominance issues.

I found further confirmation among the many comments on this long (often-irrationally-communitarian) discussion, was another dog owner who noted the same thing:

we just neutered finley two weeks ago.

here's a point not yet discussed: finley LOVES socializing with other dogs. but he couldn't get near the neighborhood dog park without being attacked -- castrated males smelled his testosterone and immediately went after him.

it was ugly. i was there once with one other dog whose owner said, "oh, he's VERY gentle, there won't be a problem." so i put finley down and BOOM the other dog was attacking him, growling and biting and lunging. "that's weird, that's never happened before," the owner said.

Oddly, the commenter blames the dogs which haven't had their nuts cut off:
if you're in a city and will be encountering other dogs -- most of whom are neutered -- PLEASE neuter yours.
Does that mean the eunuchs are in charge?

(I mean the canine eunuchs, of course....)

This explains an incident in Berkeley last winter with Puff. Another dog came charging up to him, and the owner immediately expressed irritation that Puff wasn't "fixed," as she explained that her neutered male dog would only attack male dogs with testicles. (I didn't engage her in any discussion because I just wanted to get Puff out of there, as I never allowed him to defend himself. That's because I long ago learned that if you own a pit bull, you are in the wrong if anything happens. Period.)

But I wonder how many vets are warning their clients about this "angry eunuch" phenomenon.

Castration advocates also enjoy touting the "health" benefits of not having balls -- primarily the avoidance of testicular cancer. While that's certainly true enough, canine testicular cancer is usually slow growing, and any dog that develops it can be castrated at that point. (Puff developed it at fourteen, but it was not what killed him, and I was advised against the surgery.) Again, that is a decision for the owner. And for those who believe in animal rights, maybe the dog should have a say in it too.

While I've read they're only rarely performed, I'm fascinated by this web site, which advocates vasectomy instead of castration:

Why is neutering unethical?

Just as it would be considered unethical to cut off the testicles of a boy or man to sterilize him and control his masculinity and sexual behavior for convenience, we believe that it is unethical to perform this procedure on a pet. Vasectomy, on the other hand, is a procedure that millions of men undergo voluntarily to sterilize themselves. The same cannot be said of castration (the human equivalent of vasectomy).

I'd like to give the animal rights advocates their due for caring about animals, but as usual I'm having problems with the logic involved. I'd like to ask a simple question.

If it is true that man should not have dominion over animals, how does it follow that only certain people -- namely those who subscribe to this philosophy that man should not have dominion over animals -- should therefore be given dominion over animals? Further, how does it follow that they should be given dominion over other people? Even if we assume that my dog is my companion animal and not my property, the fact is that my dog lives with me. Assuming that we are living together in harmony with each other and not harming others, what gives a total stranger any right to dominion over my companion?

Why shouldn't I (or my dog) be the ones to decide?

posted by Eric on 08.17.05 at 03:43 PM


"Heat Crimes"

You, sir, are incorrigible. So, who incorriged you this time?

Anyway ...

Found your essay interesting. I agree re personal responsibility. As far as I can see, the nanny squad works off the assumption that people can't be trusted to do what's right, and so must be chided into it where they can't be forced.

Your experience re the lack of 'suitors' for Coco got me to thinking about the near term future. A time when, after many canine generations with artificially low breeding rates, we may have to encourage people to keep their males intact in order to keep canine numbers up. That is, we may wind up with too few dogs.

As to people blaming the intact dog for their neutered dog's behavior. Their sweet darling acts out of character, they get upset, and they blame the victim of the attack. A "he provoked it" rationale. Happens with victims of bullying. It's a very human tendency to go after the victim. And when the victim is that era's nigger, it becomes so much easier.

Maybe if we taught kids about dogs it would do some good. You know, hands on experience with canines, including care, handling, discipline, and play. The results couldn't be any worse than the situation that now prevails.

Alan Kellogg   ·  August 17, 2005 10:12 PM

Isn't there some mitzvot about not castrating animals? What do the Jewish groups do with their dogs? Is there some kind of religious exemption? Maybe you should put a yarmulka on Coco [post-circumcision, naturally].

urthshu   ·  August 17, 2005 11:59 PM

That's a great essay. I'm going to do some lumping here, which may be off, but it seems to me this has to do with the liberal death-cult and the liberal tendency to just assume the style of the day has a decent rational basis rather to question it. Also, I totally agree that people who make money off killing animals shouldn't be the ones who decide whether or not lots of animals need killing.

I have a wonderful, wonderful dog, and I don't want her spayed before she has a litter. I mean I want those genes to get passed on- if they aren't that's a minor but real net-loss to the world.


Harkonnendog   ·  August 18, 2005 1:24 AM

Hey thanks for the comments! I was running very late when I posted this essay as it took far longer than usual. Then, I woke up this morning and saw some dreadful errors which have been corrected. (Ugh! Thankless drudgery, and the comments are much appreciated.)

Alan, you reminded me that there may be a certain abrogation of common sense responsibilities brought on by adherence to social mores like castration. ("I've done what I was told, so I am a CERTIFIED responsible dog owner and you aren't!") If you have an intact male, you're more aware of reality, and will be more vigilant. In my view, nothing creates a sense of responsibility like having a dog considered suspect to begin with (like a pit bull). The neutering issue aside, I am constantly appalled by the way people fail to control their animals, then blame others. (One time when I had my dog on a leash, two aggressive dogs came running up, and when I told the owner to leash her dogs, she yelled at me and said I wasn't "fair.")

What frightens me more than dogs breeding is the idea of people like that raising children.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 18, 2005 8:47 AM

Somewhat related: in addition to owning a dog, I have two rabbits, a male and female. Of course, we had them fixed to prevent them from mating, but even if they were of the same gender, we would have fixed them anyway because unneutered males spray everywhere, and unspayed females die of cervical cancer within five years and tend to be very aggressive.

I always recommend fixing rabbits because they are such prolific breeders, and you have to do something with the kits. One rabbit owner that I knew refused to do so. Her solution to her routine overpopulation problem was to release the excess rabbits into the wild. Feral rabbits are terrified creatures that have no idea how to survive in the wild. They generally die within a couple of days of hunger, fear, or predators.

So neutering/spaying rabbits are dogs should not be mandatory, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it. It's the one way that an individual can contribute to the end of animal overpopulation problem. Perhaps most of the stray animal problem consists of adults, but many excess animals are puppies/kittens/kits. And that is an area that the individual pet owner can control. Why not make a positive difference?

John   ·  August 18, 2005 8:52 AM

Given a choice between keeping their nuts and their ears, I think dogs would choose their ears.


Mrs. du Toit   ·  August 18, 2005 10:24 AM

Thanks all!

Connie, I'm not sure how human males might feel about the same thing. I mean, there are men who are "all nuts and no ears," and they don't seem to get along with those who are "all ears and no nuts."

Hmmm..... (I get in trouble when I apply animal standards to men, and I ought to be careful lest people think I was talking about angry human eunuchs....)


Eric Scheie   ·  August 19, 2005 10:39 AM

I'll keep my nuts and my ears, as well as my eyes. I haven't commented in this thread yet because I have no dog in this fight except that I side 100% with the noble Eric and his beloved Coco.

"I'll keep my nuts and my ears, as well as my eyes."

I can do without my hair, though. I wish I was bald. It's getting to be time for another crew-cut.

I'd rather be all nuts. And all ears.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 19, 2005 5:59 PM

Keep repeating the message that pets should be neutered, I say, because those folk that need to hear it are the ones who will be the last to hear it.

But don't feel guilty about not neutering yours if you keep yours under control. Honestly, if you are able to find happy homes for every single puppy or kitten or kit that your pet has, and have the money for medical bills, and keep your pet properly leashed, then I don't know what business anyone else has telling you what to do with your pets.

It's the twits who let their pets off the leash, roaming about everywhere, who dump "unwanted" pets by the side of the road (one of our shelter kitties was found outside with a litter but was obviously raised with people) who are to blame. So we keep hammering home the "neuter your pets" message and hope that, one day, they will get the point.

B. Durbin   ·  August 20, 2005 3:36 PM

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