Paw it Forward

In June 2021, I wrote a column titled “Babies in Pandora’s Box,” describing the cascade of suffering that results when litters of kittens and puppies too young to survive are surrendered to shelters or just dumped somewhere to die.

Colleen Dougherty

Sadly again this year, in Valencia County and other places around the country, Pandora’s Box seems to be wide open. Litter after litter of kittens (especially) and puppies, too, have been flooding into shelters; babies who aren’t done nursing on their moms and must be bottle fed by the few and far between neonate fosters who work their butts off and hope against hope that an immune system deprived of mom’s milk might survive.

Many don’t, like the litter of kittens a friend raised only to watch them die one by one at 6 weeks of age. Another rescue colleague of mine recently pulled five litters of kittens in one day from our shelter — not five kittens, five litters.

It used to be seasonal — springtime mostly, but now it happens all year round. Animal welfare workers have come to sort of expect it, but underneath is the question, “Why does this keep happening.” The most obvious answer is simply that not enough people are keeping their pets from reproducing.

The question under that is “why not?” and the answers are many: lack of information and education, monetary issues, availability of services, personal or cultural beliefs, fear or, sadly, just plain heartless disregard for life.

It does seem we have a lack of information out there for the general public. I mean, unless you’re in the loop you don’t see the fact sheets about the health and behavior benefits of spay/neuter. You don’t hear about the millions of animals euthanized every year due to overpopulation. You don’t hear about the high rates of suicide among veterinarians and shelter workers (“That Which is to Give Light,” September 2019) who seek to alleviate suffering “but the suffering never ends.”

You don’t understand the importance of mother’s milk in a developing puppy or kitten that helps keep them from dying of parvo, calicivirus, distemper or pneumonia. You don’t know what the heck to do when you find a baby bird on the ground or a litter of kittens and you’re not sure where the mom is … (“When  a Rescue is Not a Rescue” April 2016)

If it’s fear of the surgery — I get that. I remember being terrified the first time I took a pet to be spayed. I sat by the phone all day waiting for the call to come get her. Some people say they don’t believe in “altering nature,” but look at the ways we alter our bodies and our environment every day: tattoos, piercings, implants, plastic surgery, fake nails, fake hair … chopping down trees, drilling into the earth to get what we need.

People also get their own egos mixed up with their animals. “Oh I want to let her have at least one litter so she can experience being a mom.” Well, believe it or not, animals reproduce by instinct, not ego. Some do it to propagate their species when they need to, but not if the environment won’t support their young (“A Slaughter in Wisconsin,” March, 2021.)

They won’t miss their “man parts” or the experience of lactation. In fact, spaying and neutering frees them up to enjoy life, no longer held hostage by hormones driving dangerous behaviors like fighting and roaming. They’re healthier (less cancer and other diseases) live longer and, of course, don’t add to the overpopulation and heartbreak I’m once again writing about here.

So, what do we need? Billboard campaigns? More news stories? (I listen to NPR all the time, but rarely hear these topics discussed.) Do we have enough humane education classes and literature in schools? Is there enough financial help out there to mitigate cost? (We do have a thriving low-cost spay/neuter clinic here now and it’s always full on surgery days … even as the shelter next door fills up with animals whose surrender papers say “too many animals …”)

If it’s just plain heartlessness driving this issue, well that’s an epidemic of its own these days.  Some choose to hold onto anger, resistance, ego and indignation, but one thing I do know is that compassion has just as much power as those destructive emotions but with the opposite effect — it makes things better.

It’s the only thing I know that will free us from our pain and heartaches, and it’s why I write this column — it’s why I have to write this column.

What’s your Reaction?
portrait of Colleen Dougherty animal welfare guest columnist
Colleen Dougherty, guest columnist