The Ethics of a Spay/Neuter Policy

While the societal benefits to the spay/neuter movement seem eminently clear, I remain vexed about the ethical issues it raises. For example, this law in Dallas requires those wishing to keep an animal unaltered or “intact” (n.b.: some in the human anti-circumcision movement refer to themselves as “intactivists”) to obtain a permit. Even acknowledging the serious problems that result from unchecked proliferation of domestic animals, is it not still patent human arrogance to require a permit to let an animal retain its bodily integrity? Can we effectively address one social ill by encouraging another?  And is the animal cause advanced by such compromises?  These queries seem part and parcel of the larger incrementalist vs. abolitionist debate.

David Cassuto

7 Responses

  1. I think one thing to keep in mind in contemplating the ethics of spay/neuter is that dogs (and cats?) do not reproduce in the way that their wild counterparts do. Domesticated animals (including humans) tend to have extremely overactive, non-seasonal, virtually constant, sex drives that, if unsatisfied, are no doubt the source of as much discomfort for non-humans as for humans. Compare wolves, who (if my limited understanding is correct) live in packs in which, once a year, only the alpha pair mate and produce young, who are cared for by the rest of the pack. Spaying and neutering is only one more way to interfere with sex drives that have already been altered by breeding beyond any resemblance to natural function. (Though I guess there is always the possibility of vasectomies if you just don’t buy this).

  2. You can’t have it both ways. Prof. Francione in a recent post on this “blawg” urges those who can to give non-human animals a loving home. Without spaying, that home won’t be loving, happy, friendly or even necessarily safe for the animals or their human friends.

    Those who wish to let companion animals live as natural a life as possible will allow cats to roam freely, often in developed areas. The result-most are dead by age two and they haven’t had a happy or great time before their premature demise.

    My two cats are both spayed and permanently indoors. Each is sixteen, in great health, computer literate and from all appearances experiencing a rather fine quality of life as I type this in bed with one on my left and one on my right.

  3. I agree with the above comments. The biggest benefit of sterilization is that it prevents millions of unwanted animals from being born who will likely live unhappy and short lives on the street. These animals will also be responsible for the decimation of many other small natural creatures. It is clear to me that sterilization prevents much more animal suffering than it may temporarily inflict on the sterilized animal.

  4. Cats are actually still pretty much seasonal breeders and in more or less total control of their own gene pools (except for the relatively small number of pedigrees). I don’t think Prof. Cassuto was arguing against all spaying and neutering of companion animals – just against mandatory spay/neuter legislation – which can have serious unintended consequences as Nathan Winograd has demonstrated.

  5. I’m attaching links from Nathan Winograd’s blog:

  6. […] have pondered before the ethical basis for sterilizing nonhumans even as I recognize the practical necessities involved.  I continue […]

  7. This is an issue I feel very ambivalent about, too. I can’t seem to figure out which is the right thing to do. I have one problem I have with the argument that spaying/neutering prevents more animals from being born and living unhappy lives. If that (prevention of unhappy lives) justifies sterilizing animals, then it also justifies sterilizing humans. That very argument could be used to try and justify sterilizing the impoverished, for example. I don’t think many people would accept this argument when it comes to humans, so why accept it when it comes to other animals?

    On the other hand, I do realize that there are reasons for spaying/neutering pets that seems more valid. All in all, I’m still very ethically confused about this issue.

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