I took Ross and Mira for a wonderful walk this morning. The sun was strong enough to make sitting by the edge of the river very pleasant while the dogs raced around in the shallows. But the breeze was cool enough for a vigorous hike. In short, it was an absolutely perfect morning. The grass was green and thickly carpeted with dandelions (I love dandelions – they are so pretty!), the birds were singing and everything was peaceful. I can’t believe I didn’t pass a single other person in the 1.5 hours that we were out, but hey, that’s everyone else’s loss and absolutely our gain! I really hope I can find a place where I can feel this relaxed about letting my dogs run when I move to my new home. Watching them run their hearts out is such infectious joy, and it is clear to me they need to do this every day to feel their best.
Unfortunately Kess and Hannah did not get to partake in the fun. Hannah is now in full standing heat and being a shameless flirt. She is housebound for the rest of the week, other than short leash walks around the property. Kess, I believe, is still a few days away from standing but I don’t know here well enough yet to know if I can trust her off-leash in public when she is this hormonal. So far she has not shown me to be any different in terms of her obedience, but she is definitely changing in terms of personality. She has suddenly become much more confident and full of herself, in a good way. She’s very soft and I like that she’s becoming more confident – I hope it sticks when her cycle is over.
I was extremely happy to discover that Kess is indeed intact. It is common practice in our society to spay and neuter animals before they reach sexual maturity, but the more I have researched this issue and the more animals I have watched left intact, the more I am against this practice. The long and short of it is that early spaying and neutering is done for our convenience, not for the good for our animals. They need their hormones to develop properly, just like we do.
Research I have read (for example, this report) suggests that there is no solidly proven health benefits to neutering a male dog, and it may even be detrimental. With females the situation is more complex. Their bodies are designed to reproduce, and constantly cycling without being bred can lead to problems down the road. The same is true for humans; for example, women who never have children have a higher risk of breast cancer.
What I have observed in dogs left intact at least until maturity is better confidence, more relaxed behaviour (spayed bitches get bitchier – estrogen is calming!), better musculature and squarer, more stocky builds. I can often look at a dog and know from its structure whether it was altered early. This is particularly true of animals neutered before 7 months of age (which I consider to be medical malpractice). They tend to be tall with disproportionately long legs, have narrow frames, small genitals and stay permanently out of proportion. The younger they are altered, the more pronounced this is.
Some people argue that spaying and neutering can fix behaviour problems. Certainly I have had many people suggest this for Mira, who’s mental issues come to the fore from hormones. Other dogs can develop aggression issues, particularly males, that neutering will reduce. However, these behaviours, while common, are not normal. They are not caused by the testosterone or estrogen in the dog’s body – they are caused by an imbalance in the life force. A healthy dog is aggressive, even if it has tersterone. I know many intact males who are not aggressive, and who are perfectly capable of behaving themselves around other intact males, and even bitches in heat.
Spaying and neutering therefore simply masks the problem. The life force imbalance will remain after surgery but you may no longer be able to see it until it manifests in some deeper, more serious problem.
Let me give you a different example to hopefully make this argument clearer. A friend of mine has gall stones that are causing her discomfort. The doctor wants to remove the gall bladder to eliminate this problem. However, the gall bladder is not what is causing the problem. The gall stones are forming because she has an excess of calcium circulating in her body. Why is this? Well, we’re not sure but for some reason her body is not properly absorbing calcium. This may be linked to an endocrine problem, i.e. a poorly functioning thyroid and or adrenal system. Why is this malfunctioning? There could be many reasons, and these must be explored. But the conventional approach is to remove the gall bladder and not look any further. Years later, this person may develop osteoperosis (in fact she is already showing signs), which is seen as completely unrelated to the gall bladder. But in fact the gall stones was the red flag pointing to deeper problems that really should be addressed.
We must learn to recognize – and properly address – these red flags. Not simply excise them and pretend the problem is solved. While surgery is definitely necessary in some cases, it really should be the very last resort. I expect most doctors will agree, but the demand for quick solutions is becoming so pervasive in our society that surgery is being bumped further and further up the list until it sits very near the top of our options, far too often.
When it comes to spaying and neutering animals, waiting for them to mature fully is in their best health interest, and we must simply learn how to manage this if we want to do what is best for our animals. This means living with heat cycles and marking, and treating root causes of aggression (hypothyroidism and vaccinosis are two of the most common factors) and getting our animals into the best balance possible as they mature into the adults they are meant to be.
This is my plan for each of my animals, whether or not they are to be bred. While I will likely eventually spay Mira as I really don’t think she should be reproducing, I will only do so once I feel her life force is in good balance. At present, her heat cycles are one of the clearest measures of this, and so for now, I need her to have them.
The purpose of this post is not to suggest that we eliminate spaying and neutering animals. Unfortunately the vast majority of people do not prioritize the management of their animals sufficiently to prevent unwanted litters, or to responsibly care for them should they happen. Spaying and neutering animals has become our society’s way of managing human behaviour, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
But I am not writing to the vast majority of people. I expect that people who take the time to read this blog are of a different mindset, and are fully capable of taking responsibility for having intact pets. And as such, my advice to you is that, if you are willing to do so, wait until at least 12 months before altering. Longer if you are comfortable and able to safely do so.