By Nancy Carlson • Columnist • 

Dog owners get the message

You may have already marked your calendars, but if not, February is National Spay/Neuter Awareness Month. I feel I should mention it at least once every few years, and this is one of those years.

In 2013, it is very tempting for responsible pet owners to literally yawn at this topic. Most of us — I’m betting 98 percent of you readers out there — would no more leave a dog intact than you would fail to feed him. However, historically, this is a rather recent development. My source is the February 2013 Whole Dog Journal’s article titled “Altered Consciousness” by Denise Flaim. Before World War II, spaying or neutering a dog was relatively rare.

But back then, so was inviting your dog to live in your house. The parents of us baby boomers were probably the first generation to do this en masse. As dogs were embraced more as pets than utilitarian tools, we started to notice: My goodness! Those little fellas can certainly reproduce! And the option of euthanizing perfectly happy, healthy dogs simply because there were too many of them thankfully became almost universally condemned.

The article from Whole Dog Journal points out, “The average person has never seen a dog in heat, never seen dogs mate, never watched a female give birth, never watched her raise her puppies.”

Now, I am a bit older than the average person, and I have seen all those things, but happily for the health of the pet population, I haven’t seen any of them in a long, long time, probably since the ’70s.

In fact, I often wonder where on earth all the dogs in shelters come from. I mean, sure, if you move or lose your job, you may have to surrender you pet, but that hardly accounts for all the puppies that end up in shelters. Maybe McMinnville is just an enclave of pet ownership responsibility, but apart from the chihuahua down the street that occasionally escapes from its yard, I seldom see even a stray dog, let alone an intact stray dog.

Of course, it is almost impossible to adopt an intact dog nowadays. Gone are the times when you would adopt a dog at a shelter and get a voucher to cover the cost of spaying or neutering. Truth be told, it was a flawed system at best. More than a few of us lost the voucher or procrastinated long enough for our dogs to either become pregnant or make someone else’s dog pregnant.

So, any dog you adopt from any shelter or rescue group in this county, or from the Oregon Humane Society or Willamette Valley Humane Society, is going to be spayed or neutered before it walks out the door. For puppies, this means an early procedure. The conventional thinking was that you wait until the pup is 6 months old, but there’s no way you want puppies wasting away their precious opportunities for early socialization while they’re waiting in a shelter.

There are a few health risks associated with early spay/neuter, but they are fairly rare and pretty insignificant compared to the risk an intact dog has to deal with. If you spay or neuter your dogs early on, there is almost no chance of them getting any cancers of the reproductive organs. For example, females who are spayed before their first heat pretty much have no chance of developing mammary cancer. If a dog goes through just one heat, the risk goes up to 8 percent; two heats puts it at a whopping 26 percent, according to the Journal of the National Institutes of Cancer.

If the moral compunction or health advantages aren’t enough to persuade you, you may want to read the nitty-gritty description of living with intact dogs included in the Whole Dog article. It isn’t pretty. A dog in heat, or an intact male dog who smells a dog in heat, is not the little Fluffy you love to cuddle at the end of the day. The call of nature can bring out the beast in even the best-trained dog, and you are pretty much stuck in hormone hell for three weeks, twice a year, more often with males.

As I mentioned at the beginning, prattling on about this issue is pretty much preaching to the choir in this community. A healthy puppy that shows up in Petfinder is rare enough that often two or three people want to adopt it. We haven’t reached the goal of no unwanted dogs yet, but we are definitely making progress.

The same cannot be said of cats. For reasons that are not clear to me, there are a whole lot of unwanted cats and kittens, never mind that the practice of spay/neuter is every bit as effective with cats as with dogs.

It seems that every shelter that houses cats is at capacity, every home that fosters cats has a full house, and there is still a huge population of homeless cats nationally that are euthanized or fall victim to disease or predators.

Kudos to organizations. like CAT (Cat Adoption Team) in Sherwood and our own Yamhill County Cat Coalition for soldiering on despite what must seem an enormous problem. I’m sure sometimes they must feel like the boy with his finger in the dike.

Most of us choose a vet for our companion animals and take them to the same doctor, no matter what the problem. However, if cost is an issue, there is some variation among practices that you might want to explore. It could save you a few $10 bills — not a fortune — but every little bit helps, right?

As with so many things in life, the right thing is not the cheap thing. Male dogs and cats are a bit less to neuter than their female counterparts. The range for male cats was $47.45 to $75 at the three veterinarian offices I called. Spaying a female ranged from $60 to $100.

The charge for dogs fluctuates by weight. The price for males ranged from $86 for small pooches to $192 for big dogs; females ranged from $120 to $226. If this sounds like a lot of cash, it is. But again, the health problems of intact dogs can set you back a lot more.

Every office I spoke to emphasized “it depends” when quoting those prices. It depends on the age of the dog, whether the animal is already in heat or pregnant, whether you want the pre-operative blood work, etc. They all included post-operative pain medication in the price of the surgery, but it’s something you may want to ask about.

OK. I am climbing down off my soapbox. February is also National Dog Dental Care month. Maybe next year, I’ll tackle that exciting topic.

Nancy Carlson can be reached at

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