Around the Found Animals’ office, we’re used to talking about a myriad of animal-related topics, and spay/neuter is no exception. One thing we recognize about this subject — despite the anatomy it refers to — is that it’s not a “sexy” topic. It probably doesn’t come up in everyday conversation for most people.
So how do you talk about a topic most people don’t bring up or know much about? How do you talk to your less pet-savvy friends about spay/neuter?
Let me use my dog Rufus as an example. Before Rufus came to live with me, he was found wandering the streets of Pasadena, California. He was picked up by the Pasadena Humane Society, put in a cage and left to wait. Luckily, Rufus and I found each other and he was adopted. We’ve now been together for seven years.
This story could have ended up much more tragic, more so for Rufus than for me. The average length of stay for a shelter pet is only four days in California. After that, depending on a number of factors, many homeless pets are euthanized. Rufus could have been a goner.
Before Rufus came home with me, we had him microchipped and fixed. “Fixed” is also known as “neutering,” “altering,” or “sterilizing” your pet. More clinical terms are “gonadectomy” or “orchiectomy.” The scariest term — one in which most men cover themselves and wince when saying –- is “castration.” When I describe spay/neuter to my friends who are less pet-savvy, I avoid clinical terms and use easy to remember phrases like “fix” or “neuter.”
The Humane Society wasn’t sure how long Rufus had been wandering the streets, nor were they certain of his activities. If I had to guess, an unfixed male dog wandering the streets is looking for one thing: to mate.
I will never know if my Rufus is a father, but depending on how long he was out there and how many females crossed his path, he could be a father to more than you would think! Unfixed female dogs go into heat two times per year, having litters of puppies who grow up to have more puppies and their puppies have puppies and so on. You get the picture. This is why fixing your pet is so important, because one unfixed male or female and one dog-on-the-loose can eventually lead to hundreds of homeless pets.
Not only is it tragic that many pets will be euthanized, it’s unfortunate on your wallet. Your tax dollars are used to care for unwanted, abandoned, and neglected animals, costing some communities millions of dollars a year. A low-cost spay neuter surgery is a far better savings in the long run and healthier option for the community as a whole.
The reason for telling my story is to help people realize that if you have a conversation about spay/neuter, try to put a face and name on it, so that it’s easier for your friends to understand. Use simplified terms rather than clinical jargon. Once they comprehend what spay/neuter is and how it benefits the community, they will be more apt to practice spay/neuter on their own pets and encourage others to do so as well.
Lastly, make it fun. Remind them in June how much money they saved by not having to send Rufus a Father’s Day card. Or better yet, how much they saved by spaying and neutering their own pets, not only in dollars, but in lives, too.
About the Author: Aimee Gilbreath is the executive director of the Found Animals Foundation.