Thanks both to Mary and Reid for forwarding this NYT editorial by Verlyn Klinkenborg, Should Most Pet Owners Be Required to Neuter Their Animals? (subtitled: “When it comes to pets, Americans are lost in a seemingly endless act of transference.”)
“…the opponents of mandatory neutering make it sound as though the problem can be solved mainly by teaching owners to spay or neuter their pets voluntarily. That might be true, if we thought more rationally about our pets. But keeping pets isn’t about rationality. When it comes to them, Americans are lost in a seemingly endless act of transference.
“It’s apparent in the obesity of our dogs and cats, and in our increasing spending on veterinary care and gourmet pet food and dietary supplements and everything else that helps us treat them as our superconsumerist equals.
“This transference extends to how we think about the sexuality of our pets, which is, all too often, a projection of our own. “
This piece is basically a lament for the recent flushing of California’s late mandatory spay/neuter bill and a finger-wagging at its opponents. The transference angle is interesting but I think beside the point (and, well, obvious). Of course our pets are representations of ourselves; so are our cars! But that’s not the only reason we own them.
Nonetheless, there are some points in this piece in I fully support. I agree most pet owners are irresponsible, sentimental and short-sighted. And I think it’s a shame so many dogs and cats are killed by local governments at our expense (not to mention their own). A wider culture of pet adoption vs. pet purchase would be a wonderful thing to support. Ditto free workshops and literature teaching responsible pet ownership. We have these programs here in Baton Rouge on a (too) small scale, and I think they’re great. Being sentimental about pets doesn’t preclude the possibility of learning to be sensible about them.
But I don’t support mandatory spay/neuter, which doesn’t solve these problems. Moreover, I am not at all moved by knowing half a million dogs and cats were killed last year by California municipalities. Mind you, I LOVE dogs and cats, at least most of the ones I know personally. But a number by itself is not evidence of anything significant.
Where do these animals come from? They can’t all be secretly disposed, irresponsibly bred Dalmatians set loose in the city park six months after the last Disney movie release. Can they?
Some of them must be feral and presumably breeding on their own, especially the cats; in which case they are (let’s be frank) a pest control problem, and the fact that we choose to house them at great expense for two weeks before killing them is merely sentimental and a waste of money.
Those that are neighborhood pets jumping fences and trotting around may or may not be the product of irresponsible backyard breeders or puppy mills. Maybe they’re just the result of bad fencing. In either case, it’s the owner’s loss and no one else’s fault if the escaped animal is shot or poisoned by an ill tempered or frightened neighbor, or run over by a car, or stolen. On the flip side, these owners might benefit from neighbors who will catch them up and call the number on the tag. My wife and I do this half a dozen times a year, often for the same dogs. I haven’t killed one yet, even though I’ve caught several harassing my hawks (in this case, my own fault for occasionally leaving my yard gate open).
Government intervenes in these cases at a waste of taxpayer money and because neighbors no longer solve their own problems. This is not a problem of having too small and weak a system of animal control agencies, best solved by more government, laws, fines, seizures of private property and jail time for citizens. This is a problem of weak communities and irresponsible and careless people. No amount of government will cure those problems.
My dog doesn’t poop on my neighbors’ yards. She doesn’t run unsupervised in the neighborhood. She has all her shots. She is a danger to no one except the small animals I hunt with her, the killing of which is her job and the meat of which never goes to waste. In short, she is not a menace to society, and so my city should have little or nothing say about how manage her….especially about when and if I chose to cut out her ovaries.
Also, Klinkenborg shouldn’t trouble himself wondering if my dog and I are co-dependent. We are, and we like it that way.
This is not a problem of animal “overpopulation” but is a problem of too much government money (and concern, for that matter) and not enough personal responsibility and neighborly comportment. Of course I could be dead wrong about that. But it won’t change the fact that I would rather deal personally with all the stray animals who happen to find themselves on my property than have some nutty urban politician (who, in the California case, doesn’t even own an animal!) force me to sterilize mine.