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Joan Merriam: Spay and neuter myths

LOW- AND NO-COST SPAY AND NEUTER

AnimalSave Spay/Neuter Clinic

520 East Main, Grass Valley 530-477-1706

http://www.animalsave.org/spay-neuter-cost” target=”_blank”>class=”Hyperlink”>http://www.animalsave.org/spay-neuter-cost/

Low cost spay/neuter; free for pets of low income people.

Sammie’s Friends (at the Nevada County Animal Shelter)

14647 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley 530-273-2179

http://sammiesfriends.org/spay-and-neuter.html” target=”_blank”>class=”Hyperlink”>http://sammiesfriends.org/spay-and-neuter.html

Discount voucher for spay/neuter at participating veterinarians

Pound Puppy Rescue

Nevada City

Email: info@poundpuppyrescue.org

http://www.poundpuppyrescue.org” target=”_blank”>class=”Hyperlink”>http://www.poundpuppyrescue.org

Free spay/neuter for low income individuals at local veterinarians

Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control

950 Maidu Avenue (Rood Center), Nevada City 530-265-1471

Provides discount coupons a few times a year.

There are also a number of veterinary bill assistance programs that provide grants to individuals unable to afford veterinary care. For a complete list, go to Sammie’s Friends at http://www.sammiesfriends.org” target=”_blank”>class=”Hyperlink”>http://www.sammiesfriends.org , click on “Local Organizations,” and scroll to the bottom of the page.

We're well into spring now, and almost everyone is thrilled to put our sodden winter behind us and welcome some warm and drier days.

You notice I said "almost" everyone. The exceptions are likely those selfless people who manage our animal shelters and rescue organizations, because for them, spring means one thing: puppy season.

Actually, there's no "season" for puppies, since dogs can reproduce any time of the year — but late spring tends to herald a prime birthing period. Spring and early summer are also when you'll see ads for "free puppies" springing up in newspapers and on Craigslist, complete with photos of fuzzy, playful pups.

So, what's wrong with this picture? Plenty.

There's no doubt that puppies are adorable. What's not adorable, however, is the fact that tens of millions of them end up abandoned in the yards of deserted houses, left to starve to death after being discarded on the streets, or dumped in cardboard boxes at midnight in front of already-overcrowded shelters.

While our Nevada County shelter is considered "no-kill," many shelters across the country have no choice but to euthanize adult dogs who've remained unadopted, just to make room for the new crop of abandoned spring puppies.

There's an easy solution, however … but it takes commitment, courage, and genuine compassion.

The solution is to spay and neuter your dogs.

I can hear some of you raising concerns right away, so let's bust some myths:

MYTH: "Spaying and neutering will make my dog fat."

FACT: No, what makes your dog fat are the same things that make humans fat: too much food, and too little exercise.

MYTH: "I want my children to see the miracle of birth."

FACT: Show your child a nature documentary instead. And what about the "miracle" of death when all those cute puppies have to be euthanized because there's no more room at the shelter?

MYTH: It's healthier for my female to have one litter before she's spayed.

FACT: Most veterinary experts agree that female dogs should be spayed before their first heat, which tends to reduce the incidences of mammary cancer. Remember too that both pregnancy and birth can be traumatic and can cause serious and even deadly complications.

MYTH: "My dog's behavior will change after surgery."

FACT: If it does — with an emphasis on the word "if" — it will likely change for the better. Male dogs will often be less aggressive, will probably stop mounting every female in the neighborhood, and if they're spayed early enough, will be less inclined to "mark" everything in sight (including your best friend's favorite shoes). Female dogs won't go into heat, which, if you've never experienced it, can be challenging at best. Finally, studies show that the vast majority of dog bites involve dogs who are not altered.

MYTH: "I can't afford to have my dog altered."

FACT: There are many low- and no-cost spay and neuter options. (See the accompanying sidebar for more information.)

MYTH: "I'll be able to find good homes for the puppies."

FACT: You might … and you might not. Sadly, many people regard animals as "disposable," especially after they pass that cute and cuddly puppy stage. Can you guarantee that every puppy will be cared for in a loving home for the rest of its life, and that it won't end up in a shelter because the family's situation changed?

Now that we've cleared up some of the myths surrounding altering your pup, let's take a look at the health benefits of spaying and neutering.

As I mentioned previously, female dogs who are spayed before their first heat cycle have a significantly lower risk of developing mammary cancer. On the flip side, unspayed female dogs have much greater chance of developing uterine cancer, other reproductive cancers, and a fatal infection of the uterus known as pyrometra.

Neutering your male dog completely eliminates his chances of getting testicular cancer, and he may have a lowered risk of developing prostate cancer. A neutered male dog will usually stop roaming in search of females in heat … and a dog who stays closer to home is less likely to be hit by cars, become lost or stolen, or be attacked by other dogs or wild animals.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that by altering your dog, you're not contributing to the critical problem of pet overpopulation.

Your dog's puppies won't be part of the 4 million that end up in shelters annually.

Your dog's puppies won't be among the nearly 700,000 shelter dogs who are euthanized every year.

Your dog's puppies won't be having other puppies, adding to the already-swollen numbers of unwanted companion animals. (Fact: A fertile dog can average two litters of six to ten puppies in one year; over the course of seven years, one unspayed female dog and her offspring can produce over 500 puppies.)

So as you're out reveling in our beautiful springtime weather, do yourself, your dog, and your community the ultimate kindness by having your dog spayed or neutered.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com. And if you're looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue .