August 17, 2005
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.ĒI 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.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.
Why is neutering unethical?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
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