Neutering And Spaying - Is It Morally Right?

There are many good, practical reasons why we should spay or neuter a pet. Indeed the RSPCA itself has guidelines, on this very subject, carefully laid down for anyone to see. What they endeavour to achieve is a workable relationship between human and animal and one in which the animal's welfare is uppermost. In this light it is difficult to argue against the practice. But yet people do. For some it is a matter of ethics... as they propose that by wilful domestication we subjugate and subsequently enforce unnatural behaviours upon another species for our own purposes. This is sometimes seen as a direct challenge to keeping pets and all that that entails. The idea has been around for a long time but it was given a kind of legality in 1973 when a British psychologist, Dick Ryder, first coined the phrase Speciesism - by this he meant to denote the prejudice that humans use towards non-human animals based upon, what he termed as, morally irrelevant physical differences. Animal rights activists soon took right of possession over this theory and began to argue that species membership has no moral significance and that furthermore it is irrational and wrong to regard so called lower species as objects or property. And so we begin to see the two opposing schools of thought. The interesting thing amongst it all though is that at the heart of both ideologies, animal welfare is firmly planted.

Does the speciesism argument hold water?

It is difficult to say. But in order to clarify further we should perhaps, at this point, venture to determine exactly what in this day and age, our own purposes, means and if this is any way detrimental to the animals well being - both physical and emotional. To do this then, we should ask ourselves the reasons why we keep pets in the general way. The answers to this are as follows:

  • Pets are seen as providers of company and affection.
  • We find them attractive through our innate desire to care.
  • Because of this we invite them into the human domain, there, to become dependent upon us.
  • In order to manage this inter-action we then take steps to train the animal into positive inter-actions.
  • It is at this point, for reasons of practical management that we also decide to have the animal neutered and therefore take away their moral right to reproduce.

So what exactly is neutering and what does it entail?

  • Neutering and spaying is the term given to the surgical alteration of an animal in order to prevent reproduction.
  • In females (spaying) the womb and ovaries are removed.
  • Males are castrated - in which the testicles are removed.
  • Operations are carried out under general anaesthetic and evidence shows that a full recovery is the usual outcome.

The practical arguments for these procedures apply only in relation to pets and are set out by the R.S.P.C.A. as:

  • Benefits apply to many animals - such as dogs, cats, rabbits and ferrets.
  • By neutering females they will avoid coming into season - apart from avoiding unwanted pregnancy this also lessens male attention and the upsetting phenomena of 'false pregnancies' that some animals have.
  • In males neutering is said to reduce the instance of testicular cancer.
  • In females the same is argued but with specific regard for uterine infections as well as cancer.
  • Neutering can reduce certain unpleasant behaviours such as urine marking. In many cases it also prevents roaming.
  • Un-spayed females often bleed when in season and this is also seen, within the home setting, as an undesirable attribute.
  • Animals that are not altered will mate with their own siblings and even parents. This can result in a disadvantaged gene pool - meaning a higher instance of deformity at birth.
  • Non breeding animals are less attractive to thieves who can demand a higher price for unaltered animals.
  • Pregnancy and birth may have complications which mean a vet needs to be called in - vets bills may be high and therefore add further pressures to the owner.
  • And apart from all this it is actually the law - The Animal Welfare Act 2006 states that - Owners have a legal responsibility to meet all of their animal's needs. The implication here being that pregnant and nursing animals need even more care and their offspring will be equally as demanding. When the young are ready to be re-homed, you will also need to ensure that they are vaccinated, wormed and flea treated before re-homing.

So who is right and who is wrong? And how do we decide?

In the end there can be no one coat fits all conclusion. It is very much down to individual conscience. Some will find it impossible to compromise their self imposed moralities whilst others may ask this: If an animal appears to be happy and content, lives without fear or hunger, has recourse to medical attention when ill and if given the choice would not leave its surrogate pack, then the contract between human and animal is surely honoured to the best of our abilities. Finally to place the modern idea of owning a pet in better context we should not forget that in the beginning it was a mutual agreement between the species, both needing something from the other. In the case of the wolf (predecessor to today's dog) it was the human ingenuity and higher success rate in achieving kills. For humans, the wolf's speed and ferocity was seen as being the equivalent to a new weapon. And so in many ways the partnership is natural and rather than being contrived, has merely extended and developed to take into account the world in which we live today.


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