National Prevent a Litter Month: The Importance of Spaying and Neutering
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
Earlier this month I blogged about Responsible Pet Owner Month and how virtually all of the special dog days in this month all tie back into the idea of being a responsible pet owner. It makes sense that February is also National Prevent a Litter Month, a time for us to talk about the importance of spaying and neutering. Unless you are a professional/show/hobby breeder, it is my belief that to allow your female to become pregnant or your male dog to father puppies is among the most irresponsible things that a pet owner can do.
According to data from the ASPCA Shelter Intake and Surrender page, 90% of the dogs who enter a shelter, as strays and owner surrenders, are intact and able to create a litter of puppies. Also according to their data, “the average number of litters a fertile dog produces is one a year; the average number of puppies is four to six.”
If 3,900,000 dogs enter shelters each year, that means that 3,510,000 are not spayed or neutered. If we were to imagine that half are females, that means 1,755,000 dogs able to produce approximately 7,020,000 puppies a year. That is the equivalent of one puppy for every single resident of the state of Washington.
In my blog, Understanding the Different Types of Dog Breeders, I wrote about responsible breeders and that they require that their puppies be spayed/neutered and that the owner submit proof that the procedure has been performed by a certain date. Some responsible breeders include in their contract that they can take the dog back if the puppy buyer fails to have their dog neutered or spayed. Additionally, responsible breeders sell their puppies with Limited Registration instead of full AKC registration in order to keep puppy buyers from breeding AKC registered dogs on their own.
Shelters and dog rescue organizations also require that their adopted dogs be spayed or neutered and usually the procedure is done before the dog is available for adoption. So if responsible breeders are requiring that puppies be altered and so do rescue groups and shelters, how are so many dogs living their life intact and able to create more dogs?
According to additional data on the ASPCA site, 28% of owners acquire dogs from breeders, 29% from rescue groups and shelters, and 43% from family and other acquaintances. Unfortunately the site does not specify what type of breeder they include in the 28%, but unlike responsible breeders, backyard breeders and puppy mill operators are unlikely to require that the puppies be fixed or that the puppy buyers are educated about puppies and ready to assume responsibility for the dog for life.
In the family and other acquaintance category you will find those owners who either intentionally or accidentally created a litter of puppies and now have the difficult task of finding homes for the puppies. It’s a common scenario: someone’s intact male found his way to someone else’s fertile female and created a litter of puppies. They are free to a good home or inexpensive to cover the cost of their puppy shots, and the owner of the female is desperate to find homes for them all. They do not know how to screen a puppy buyer and they don’t have a way to demand that the puppy be spayed. Both scenarios present the same two problems: too many puppies and not enough of a screening process to ensure that those puppies do not end up in shelters or as strays.
When you look at the reasons for owner surrender of dogs to shelters, 29% of owners cannot have pets in their home or apartment. Behavioral issues, divorce/death, and not enough time are all equal at 10%, and other issues make up the final 41% of owner surrenders. All of those named issues, even death, are part of comprehensive screening of potential owners by both responsible breeders and shelter/rescues. That means at least 59% of those owners would have been asked:
- What is your training philosophy? Where will you take the dog for training issues? How will you handle behavioral issues? What books have you read about training dogs?
- When will you spend time with the dog? What activities will you do with the dog? Who will take care of the dog if you are called out-of-town or have to work late?
- What will happen to the dog in the event of divorce or death?
- What is your current living situation? What will you do if you have to move? How will you ensure that you will live somewhere pet friendly?
Spaying and neutering not only prevents overpopulation of dogs and cats, it also means that unprepared owners are not in a position to deal with litters of puppies. At the end of the day, just because you find a home for a dog does not mean the dog is safe from being abandoned as a stray or at a shelter. Responsible breeders and rescue groups typically work extremely hard to filter out the bad homes, the people who are getting a dog on a whim, all to make sure their dogs go to loving, capable forever owners. Spaying and neutering is the most effective way of preventing the pet overpopulation problem and the tragic and unnecessary death of 1.2 million dogs each year.