Joan Merriam: Why to spay and neuter |

Joan Merriam: Why to spay and neuter

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 - to spay and neuter your dogs.
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AnimalSave Spay/Neuter Clinic

520 East Main, Grass Valley, 530-477-1706

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

Discount voucher for spay/neuter at participating veterinarians

Pound Puppy Rescue

Nevada City


Free spay/neuter for low income individuals at local veterinarians

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, click on “Local Organizations,” and scroll to the bottom of the page.

For some people, spring means one thing: puppy season!

Actually, there’s no “season” for puppies, since dogs can reproduce any time of the year — but as those selfless folks who run shelters and rescue organizations know, late spring tends to herald a prime birthing period. This is the time when you’ll see ads for “free puppies” everywhere, complete with photos of adorable pups.

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

Yes, puppies are adorable. What’s not adorable, however, is the fact that tens of millions end up abandoned, left to starve to death 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 — but it takes commitment, courage and compassion.

The solution is to spay and neuter your dogs.

Myth vs. fact

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

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 to reduce the incidence of mammary cancer. Remember too that both pregnancy and birth can be traumatic and can cause serious and even deadly complications.

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

FACT: What about the “miracle” of death when all those cute puppies are euthanized because there’s no more room at the shelter? Show your child a nature documentary instead.

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: “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 are often 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). Females won’t go into heat, which can be challenging at best. Finally, studies show that the vast majority of 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 article.)

MYTH: “I’ll find good homes for the puppies.”

FACT: You might…or might not. Sadly, many people regard animals as “disposable,” especially after they pass that cuddly puppy stage. You can’t guarantee that your puppies will be cared for in a loving home, and that they won’t end up in a shelter because the family’s situation or feelings changed.

Health Benefits

Let’s look at the health benefits of spaying and neutering.

As I mentioned previously, female dogs spayed before their first heat cycle have a significantly lower risk of developing mammary cancer. Conversely, unspayed females have much greater chance of developing uterine and 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 reduces his risk of 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 problem of pet overpopulation.

Your dog’s puppies won’t be part of the 4 million that end up in shelters annually, or among the nearly 700,000 dogs euthanized every year.

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

So as you’re out reveling in our beautiful springtime weather, do yourself, your furry friend, 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 And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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