In defense of ovaries

One of my pet peeves (if you'll forgive the pun) is that there's a chorus of angry and emotional people out there hell-bent on invading my personal life by forcing me to cut out my dog's ovaries.

It's tyranny, plain and simple.

I know this will sound anthropomorphic, but I love my dog, and I would no more do that to her than I would cut out a daughter's ovaries. Well, I don't have a daughter, so it's only speculation, but I'm pretty sure if I did I'd feel the same way.

My dog's sex organs are not the government's business.

Proposed legislation which would make me spay Coco is based on highly questionable premises:

  • that there is a "dog overpopulation" problem;
  • that the breeding of purebred dogs has caused it;
  • that all unneutered dogs will in fact be bred.
  • As a result, mandatory spay and neuter ordinances have been passed in a number of cities, including Camden, New Jersey -- with operative text like this:

    It shall be unlawful to own, possess or keep in the City any dog or cat over the age of six months that has not been spayed or neutered, except as provided in §210-40 of this article.
    Ditto, Capitola, California which recently passed a similar ordinance.

    This prohibition on dog breeding (often acheived by emotional hype involving "puppy mills" in rural areas nowhere near the cities in question) targets all breeders.

    One animal rights website highlights the text of one such ordinance:

    "No puppies of any breeds shall be offered for sale, adoption or trade, or given away in a public place, except by animal care service mobile adoption or non-profit humane welfare organizations."
    Excuse me, but doesn't that sound a tad monopolistic? Is the "crisis" really so severe that breeding should be outlawed?

    As the above site demonstrates, there are unintended consequences of these ordinances. As is so often the case with laws like this, the irresponsible people being targeted simply do not comply. Additionally, the drop in license applications suggest that draconian legislation instills fear into even ordinary dog owners:

    Since the passage of this 2000 “spay or pay” Los Angeles ordinance, there has been a decline in dog licensing compliance. The animal control budget after passage of the law rose 269%., from $6.7 million to $18 million. The city hired additional animal control officers and bought new trucks and equipment just to enforce the new law.

    Capitola, California recently enacted a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance. With the passage of that ordinance, Capitola joined the rest of Santa Cruz County which in 1991 began requiring spay/neuter of dogs with limited exceptions for breeding. Secs. 6.10.030, .050 The city requires a $15 certificate and charges twice the amount for a license for unaltered dogs. Dogs without the certificate must be spayed/neutered. There is a warning for a first offense, and a mandatory spay/neuter order is issued for a second violation. Since the law’s 1991 inception, licensing compliance has dropped significantly.

    In Montgomery County, MD the mandatory spay/neuter law was repealed. When the law was enacted, it was estimated that 550 breeding permits would be issued per year. In reality only an average of 30 permits were issued per year. There was an estimated 50% decline in licensing compliance.

    I can certainly understand why. Ordinary people are smart enough to see that a government invasive enough to criminalize dog breeding and require mandatory castrations and ovariectomies might not be inclined to leave people alone.

    The site also asks some good utilitarian questions, and questions the logic of going after breeders:

    . . .[T]o suggest numbers of animals in shelters and euthanasia rates will decline if there is a ban on breeding, is a little like saying we could find homes for all the unwanted children if people stopped giving birth to their own children. As with children who end up on the streets, in foster care or in trouble, there are many reasons why animals are left in shelters. It does not appear to have much to do with the operations of most purebred breeders. Thus, banning most if not all breeding will not reduce shelter intake or euthanasia rates. A permitting program for breeding is difficult and expensive to administer. Even mandated spay/neuter that targets everyone with few exception can also be costly. The evidence also suggests these laws may simply cause people to avoid licensing pets. As a result, there is a loss of revenues for animal control including the expensive breed permitting and compliance programs. And there is then no way to track and control unaltered animals and their numbers. In the end it appears at least some of these programs do not reduce shelter intake and euthanasia.

    According to the Journal of Veterinary Medical Association, the characteristics of most dogs who are left in shelters include lack of veterinary care, obtained at little or no cost, lives mostly outside, needs more care and attention than expected, comes from a family who are divorcing, moving, or has changed financial circumstances; is noisy, destructive, or soils the house. Most of the dogs left in shelters are adult dogs of mixed breeds, strays, who may have been abandoned by owners who could not or would not care for them. The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy has identified the top ten reasons people abandon dogs and cats in shelters: (1) euthanasia due to illness; (2) moving; (3) found animal (of unknown origin); (4) landlords will not allow pets; (5) owner has too many animals; (6) euthanasia due to age; (7) cost of maintenance of pet; (8) animal is ill; (9) allergies within the family; and (10) house soiling.

    In other words, dog breeders (who breed pure bred dogs) are not the problem at all.

    Nor is "dog overpopulation."

    On this subject, unfortunately, there is a near-total dearth of information. I'd be hesitant to call it censorship (after all, I'm writing this, am I not?), as there's no way to censor information in a free country. But where are the statistics? Every official site I can find lumps dogs and cats together -- using the convenient phrase "pet overpopulation" despite the vast differences between dogs and cats and the huge, largely uncontrolled feral cat population (as opposed to virtually no feral dog population.)

    Is information being suppressed, or is it not being compiled? Only one book I know of takes an honest look at the actual evidence -- Save Our Strays:
    How We Can End Pet Overpopulation and Stop Killing Healthy Cats and Dogs
    , by Bob Christiansen. According to the author,

    “The 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.”

    “The problem is not responsible breeders. The nation needs more certified, responsible breeders. The problem stems mainly from accidental breeders and amateur, backyard charlatans out to make a quick buck on the sale of puppies.”

    To me the most telling evidence that the author is onto something is the fact that his book -- an out of print paperback! -- commands $44.95 and up at

    I cannot state with certainty that there is no dog overpopulation in the United States. However, if there are not enough puppies to supply demand, it strikes me as profoundly illogical to define the problem as purely "dog overpopulation." More likely, the problem is that people prefer puppies to grown dogs, and some irresponsible people don't look before they leap so they end up with an animal they cannot keep.

    Moreover, how is "overpopulation" to be defined? Does the existence of "homelessness" (a euphemism for the socially problematic) mean there is a human overpopulation problem? Does the fact that millions of children are surrendered for adoption or placed in foster homes indicate a human overpopulation problem? How?

    Does the fact that there are "unwanted" children mean there are too many? In the home of the people who had them, possibly. But I don't see what the fact that some people -- or some dogs -- are unwanted has to do with population. This is not to say that animals cannot and do not overpopulate. Feral cats are a good example. So are deer. But I can't remember the last time I saw (in the United States) packs of starving stray dogs running about.

    It is not surprising that not as many people want grown dogs as want puppies. After all, a dog is a bit like a child. The younger it is when you get it, the earlier the bond, the stronger and more intimate the relationship. This may be cruel, but it reflects reality.

    How many adoptive parents will take an unwanted teenager?

    Aside from the fact that puppies are only rarely found in shelters, adopting puppies from shelters can be a bad idea, as there's no way of knowing its health or disposition ancestry (or even what size it will be). This means that like it or not, responsible dog breeders are the best source for healthy, reliable puppies.

    So why target them?

    I don't know, but I suspect this has more to do with issues of power than dog overpopulation.

    Back to my personal issue. Coco has never been bred, which is my business. And Coco's. She might be bred, and then again she might never be bred. It's not very difficult dealing with ten days of discharge twice a year, and with Puff, allowing him to keep his testicles (and his integrity) posed no problems at all.

    I don't care what excuses they offer, the government has no right to mess with genitalia.

    (Mine or Coco's.)

    MORE: Anyone who thinks I am engaged in hysteria (or exaggerating about the goal being complete elimination of all dog breeding) should read the Institute for Animal Rights Law's MODEL MANDATORY SPAY/NEUTER STATUTE.

    (The goal, of course, is elimination of all pets.)

    UPDATE: Mandatory spay-neuter ordinances have recently been proposed in Riverside, California, and San Antonio, Texas.

    AND MORE: Here's another high priced used paperback -- The Hijacking of the Humane Movement: Animal Extremism
    by Patti and Rod Strand -- which seems well worth reading. (These dissenting tracts sure are pricey . . .)

    UPDATE (06/02/06): Out for fireworks last night, and this morning I see Glenn Reynolds has linked this post. Thanks Glenn, and a happy Fourth to all!

    (In all honesty, I never thought of this post as a defense of ovarian independence, but I'm all for it!)

    One more thing. Considering Glenn's link to Virginity or Death!, and Ana Marie Cox's review of it, I think this is a good time to remind readers that Coco is still a virgin.

    UPDATE: More thoughts on the economic and cultural ramifications of mandatory sterilization.

    UPDATE (07/04/06): You can have our guns and ovaries when you pry them from our cold dead paws! (Some Fourth of July thoughts.)

    posted by Eric on 07.01.06 at 10:29 AM


    There's an overpopulation problem because they round up every dog they can find and put them all in one place.

    If you rounded up chipmunks and put them in one place, there would be a chipmunk overpopulation problem. How would you care for them? Shelter workers would not be able to cope.

    It used to be that the dog catcher got called when a stray dog was a problem, not when there was a stray dog that wasn't a problem. Today a stray dog is an emergency.

    Cities are no bigger today than they were then.

    What we have today is busybodies, hand-wringers and hysterics, organized by TV specials on the pet emergency.

    Vicki Hearne's _Bandit_ hashes this all out beautifully. Read it and never contribute to a humane society again. ``They are not nice people.''


    Ron Hardin   ·  July 1, 2006 8:24 PM

    "The younger it is when you get it, the earlier the bond, the stronger and more intimate the relationship. This may be cruel, but it reflects reality."

    Over the years, I've gotten dogs that were puppies and dogs that were 4+ years old, and I don't think there was any difference whatsoever in my attachment to them. They've all been wonderful friends and companions.

    Of course, there is the rather practical difference that you'll probably have more time with the dog you got as a puppy than the dog you got when she was five...

    Sol   ·  July 1, 2006 11:11 PM

    You must not realize that dog ovaries are a major contributor to global warming. No one is quite sure why, but it's a scientific fact.

    Scott   ·  July 2, 2006 2:16 AM

    "using the convenient phrase "pet overpopulation" despite the vast differences between dogs and cats and the huge, largely uncontrolled feral cat population (as opposed to virtually no feral dog population.)"

    Down here in San Antonio we actually do have a feral dog problem. There are many parts of the city where it is very common to see small packs of wild mutts running around. Often they are aggressive, but local animal control does little to help. I doubt any breeding ban would be enforceable since the people who allow their dogs to breed like crazy and go wild are probably not registering them to begin with.

    On a related note, one vet I am friends with (who works in one of the high feral dog population areas) no longer does any spaying or neutering as he can not turn a profit doing it now that he has to compete with the organizations that do mobile spaying labs. Their assembly line surgery can fix far more animals per hour than he can to make it worth his time and money for equipment.

    Pete the Elder   ·  July 2, 2006 10:16 AM

    Sol, I have taken in grown dogs and raised puppies, and I do prefer to raise a pup.

    Scott, Coco might be responsible for the torrential Pennsylvania downpours last week.

    Pete, thanks for that piece of reporting. I thought such things were only a problem in Third World countries. In any case, I don't think responsible dog breeders are the problem. (And of course, irresponsible dog breeders will ignore these laws.)

    I'm curious about your statement that "local animal control does little to help."

    Why would that be? Are they hoping that the problem will get worse so more agenda-based laws can be passed?

    Eric Scheie   ·  July 2, 2006 11:49 AM

    Have you seen the T-shirts that say "I had the cat neutered. Now he's a liberal"?

    Your dog-human analogy: I do know some couples who think that the existance of children in the foster care system means there is an "overpopulation problem" in the U.S. and are citing that as a reason they are not making their own babies. Of course, they're not taking in any "unwanted" children themselves...typical liberals, feeling good about themselves and their "morality" while doing nothing to actually help anyone. But maybe folks who think children are pets (and that pets can be dumped when they become inconvenient) shouldn't breed.

    Radish   ·  July 2, 2006 12:18 PM

    First - most people who allow their pet to reproduce do not find responsible homes for those pets, hence the abandonment. People need to consider - whether adopting a pup or an adult dog - that this is a lifetime committment.

    Second - people do not complain about pets kept in their own homes/yard. They complain about pets running the streets. This is out of concern for the animal's and their safety. Most people have no wish to see large numbers of animals killed.

    Third - unaltered animals have a high chance of becoming "accidentally" pregnant. Spaying is the only way to ensure no babies are born.

    Fourth - all my animals are spayed/neutered and they are much calmer and happier for it. If there is not an overpopulation problem, why are thousands of animals being euthanized every day?

    NA   ·  July 9, 2006 2:20 PM

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