The Pro-Choice Beagle Boys

0711.connery.teeter.LJTell you what. I am so sick of other people being all up in my business. Trying to control my personal decisions about my dogs when it comes to spay/neuter, collars, car crating…

For one thing, no matter how much outside micromanagement occurs, the irresponsible people who inspire the micromanagement are still irresponsible, while the rest of us pay the price.

For another, to manage our dogs to their best benefit it takes thoughtful understanding of the individual circumstances–and the ability to make choices accordingly.

Something we’re allowed in increasingly short supply these days.

My Beagles are pro-choice boys when it comes to neutering. That doesn’t mean being fervently on one side or the other…it means understanding the pros and cons of the choices and factoring in our household, our resources, and the individual dogs. And then doing what’s best for them.

Most of my online friends know that I never had any intention of neutering 5yo Dart. I mean, why would I even consider it, when there are so many studies pointing to the health consequences?*

*(That’s the usual discussion for another time. Or go Google for studies rather than opinions. It’s not hard to find the information. Here’s a brief but far from complete start.)

Anyway, this choice thing goes both ways, so I respect that circumstances sometimes make neutering seem the most responsible decision in spite of the health consequences. But for us it very much isn’t.


Things do change.

In Dart’s life, too much changed, too persistently. He lost his older sister Belle Cardigan. He gained a new older sister in Rena Beagle who turned out to have escalating, chronic health issues. Then after a series of struggles, he lost that sister, too. He gained a younger brother in Mickey Cat, who was as much a part of his life as any of us. Then Mickey Cat was badly injured; the stress and recovery affected them all. Then–and all this as Dart was heading for his prime while older brother Connery aged into graceful Unclehood–he gained his younger brother Tristan Beagle. And then, finally, almost a year after losing Rena…

He lost his beloved Mickey Cat. Sad and sudden.

Dart was born a hyper-vigilant and over-stimulated dog. He was struggling even before we lost Mickey–too many changes, too much assumed responsibility on the shoulders of the pack’s only intact adult male.

Mickey’s loss pushed things over the edge. By early spring, Dart was constantly hackled, walking around on his toes with a growl in his throat. Suddenly we were actively managing to prevent an always-imminent explosion. And the worst part?

Dart knew it. Knew he was acting out, knew he was causing trouble, and was miserable with it. Herbal calming options didn’t work. GABA-based options didn’t work. Valerian put him to sleep, which I suppose worked in its way, but not in a quality-of-life way.

So we had a family discussion and then I talked to his breeder, who is wonderful for all the right reasons and knows exactly the oddity that is Dart, and within moments the decision was made.

dart.vulture.220Within a week, the deed was done.

Because while neutering most certainly won’t change ill-manners or learned behaviors, it can help an over-reactive dog. And while I did consider medication–in fact, the $$amitriptyline$$ still sits unused on my counter–I wasn’t quite ready to try it without exploring all other options.

It’ll take six months from surgery for Dart to settle into his new steady state, but the changes are already obvious. The pack runs together again, needing no special management at meal times, bed times, or transition times. Dart and Tristan play together with abandon, and Dart doesn’t flail into reactivity when they do.

For this dog, this time of his life, it was the right thing to do.

dart.heel.313It’s up to all of us to make the best possible decisions as we go along, factoring in not the shame culture that now imbues the spay/neuter discussion and not the fact that Family Smith down the road isn’t able or interested in responsibly handling an intact dog, but based on what we know and actively continue learning about dog health/behavior, and on our own individual dogs.

Along the way, people who aren’t us need to stop thinking that they are, and need to stop trying to force and shame us into decisions that aren’t in the best interests of our specific circumstances. They should make the best decisions for them.

As for me, I’ll go on supporting everyone’s ability to make their own choice. That includes spreading the word about the health consequences of neutering, talking up sterilization instead of neuter, and yes, supporting low-cost S/N. And then I’ll stay out of other people’s business while they make their choices, and thank them to stay out of mine.

Hidden Steel by Doranna DurginDoranna’s quirky spirit has led to an eclectic and extensive publishing journey across genres. Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and beagles who compete in agility, obedience, and tracking.

She doesn’t believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided…

Doranna’s ongoing releases include Nocturne paranormals and joyful new indie efforts–like the special BVC release of the Changespell Saga, and reader favorites like Wolverine’s Daughter and A Feral Darkness. Whee!

Not coincidentally, Doranna’s books tend to have DOGS in them!



The Pro-Choice Beagle Boys — 21 Comments

  1. Micromanagers are everywhere, not just in the dog world. I call them control freaks. They need to control everyone and everything around them even when it is NONE of their business.

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. I hope it makes at least one micromanager bite their tongue.

    • Ohh yes. Trust me, as I was writing this, I was very aware that it could easily have been written about sooo many other things. People are way the heck in everyone’s business on every level these days.

    • In this case I think there’s a double whammy, because the pet welfare issues double-down on reproductive issues. Beyond S/N, there’s a huge movement of people who have decided they know better than any given dog owner about what’s best for that dog–to the point that microchipped dogs, when lost, are being stolen by “rescue” organizations. Because, you know–if you lost the dog, then you aren’t a good enough owner to get it back, no matter the circumstances of the loss or how hard you search.

      (Never mind that over on the K9 amber alert list I used to frequent, the majority of listings came from rescue organizations & dogs in transport, due to chronically loose collaring practices…)

      Must walk away from keyboard now. Too early in the morning–!

    • It’s sex, Brenda. Even with dogs and cats, people worry about sex. In the case of dogs, I think it’s that animals are so out of control from sexual desire that nothing can be done but neutering. And then there are those who think it is “natural” for cats and dogs to have sex all the time, regardless of the consequences (like unwanted kittens and puppies).

      It’s even worse in humans, of course.

      • I would have to disagree on the fine points, there, because I think the matter diverges between humans and dogs. It’s not about the dogs being so out of control from sexual desire–it’s about the responsibilities of managing a dog who might have sexual desires.

        It’s also about people being so certain they’re right that they can’t understand what’s right for one person/situation isn’t right for another.

        As an aside–the USA has become a strange world where people no longer have a matter-of-fact understanding of how to manage an intact dog, and dogs are so isolated from their intact society that they don’t know how to deal with themselves, either. There are European countries where neutering a dog is actually not allowed as a matter of course, because of the understanding of the ramifications on the dogs. Darned if I can remember which country–one of the Nordic ones.

        • We don’t disagree. It was just bad wording on my part. I meant some people think it’s impossible to manage a dog with sexual urges, not that it’s not possible. My point was that the mythologies around sex get in the way of a sane discussion of the points you’re making.

          • Ah, I hear you.

            I still think, in the dog world, it’s more about the way some people turn the bigger conversation into a sort of sickening emotional porn around animal rights/welfare issues (they aren’t the same thing by far, but both are involved in this one). The conversation has a lot of layers that have resulted in a really unhealthy gestalt right now. (I was going to go into the layers, quickly realized it’s a whole ‘nother blog or ten, so…) If that makes sense?

            So I understand what you’re saying better and can agree that those factors were part of the earlier S/N conversations, but at this point there’s a sort of cultural monster that *includes* the current-day S/N issues, along with many other animal management conversations.

            • Yeah, it’s a tangent. I was just responding to Brenda. I think any time sex comes into the discussion, sanity goes out the window.

              There’s a larger issue in what you’re discussing: the way people latch onto a solution and want to hammer the whole world with it, even if it isn’t really universal. That, unfortunately, isn’t only a problem in dealing proper care of dogs. It appears to be universal.

  2. Good post. We haven’t had the choice as ours have been rescues, and the no kill place routinely neuters or spays before releasing the dogs to new homes, but your words about considering the individual dog resonate spot on.

  3. Doranna, would you elaborate — either here or in a future post — on the differences, including the actual procedural differences, between sterilization and neutering, along with more on when one might prefer one process over the other? I assume sterilization is similar to vasectomies in humans in male animals. Is it less invasive surgically for the animal? Is there a similar sterilization process for female dogs and cats?

    I’ve always had my cats spayed and neutered to do my part to avoid cat overpopulation. I didn’t realize I had any other options, but then, it’s been quite a few years since I had any kittens. I imagine the issues are somewhat different for cats than they are for dogs, but I’m also guessing there are similarities.

    • Cats are more different than you might think. I don’t understand the physiology behind why, but there isn’t at this point any evidence that s/n of cats has the same impact on them. One thing I have noticed in my research is that the impact of s/n–especially egregiously early s/n–seems to be significantly more of an issue with the larger dogs, especially when it comes to bone cancers. So I dunno, maybe size is part of it.

      For boy dogs, there are vasectomies. It’s about the same level of invasiveness. For girl dogs, there are ovary-sparing spays; only the uterus is removed. (The girl still comes into heat, but she’s not messy/drippy and won’t get pregnant. She’ll still excite the boys–her essential nature is intact.)

      It can be a challenge to find vets who know how to do these procedures. They’re not yet money-makers and they aren’t routinely taught. Only a vet with a keen interest in ongoing education and reproductive health is likely to know how (I’m pleased to say that my vet does!). Many, many vets are still swallowing the s/n kool-aid, just as many eschew raw feeding and vaccinate yearly with massive combo shots. The curriculum hasn’t kept up with the research.

      (When Dart went into doggy ER to get a spinose tick removed from his eardrum a few years ago, I basically had to wrestle him free from the vet who wanted to neuter him on the spot. That’s beyond inappropriate.)

      • Well, if I get another kitten (which won’t happen anytime soon if our cats have anything to say about it), I’ll check into it and see if there are any issues.

        I’m shocked that a vet would have wanted you to neuter Dart some years back. Not only is it inappropriate professional behavior, but didn’t it occur to the vet that you might have wanted to breed Dart at some point? It occurred to me.

        • It’s not stunning that the ER vet would bring it up because Dart was a cryptorchid, and an abdominally buried testicle increases the cancer risk considerably. In his case, though, the testicle was barely undescended and quite easy to monitor. Once I explained that I had consulted extensively (five different vets at that point) with the unanimous conclusion that the testicle placement created no additional risk, the vet should have respected that I had made a thoughtful, informed, responsible decision, no matter what party line he’d swallowed. Instead I had to use blunt force trauma on him: “LEAVE IT ALONE.”

          (Not quite as bad as one local practice that tried to blackmail a responsible breeder into spaying her bitch by refusing to do an emergency C-section without the (medically unnecessary) spay. Uproar ensued and the spay was avoided, but REALLY? Threaten someone with the very life of her dog and puppies?)

          As for breeding, there was initially some potential, but Dart’s emotional nature made him not the best choice in spite of his incredible athleticism and eagerness. However, there are always ways… Tristan is out of Dart’s sister (who has slightly better conformation), by a sire of rock-sold temperament. At this point it seems as though I got the best of both worlds. 🙂 Another year or so, when Tristan bodies out, and we’ll see what’s what!

  4. Shelters do routinely S/N before adopting out. Understandably, as these dogs are undergoing a period of transitions that put them at high risk for ending up on the street again–not due to intent, but because until things settle down into a routine, there’s a greater chance of escape. And other reasons, of course, as well. As you say–it’s all about the individual dog, and I would add “and circumstances.” 8)

  5. YES to all this, both the unwanted advice aspect and the possible risks of spaying and neutering. I give puppy buyers a handout on the benefits of at least delaying spaying and neutering. Among other issues, I’m not happy producing a puppy with beautiful structure and then risking its soundness with early neutering.

    Good luck with Dart! He’s lucky to have such a knowledgeable, thoughtful owner.

    • Oh, man–as far as I’m concerned, any vet who does early S/N on a dog with beautiful structure ought to then give the owners free stifle and hip care down the road. Among other issues, as you say.

      Dart is doing well! My main concerns were that I might lose his amazing edge of brilliance (inconsistent as it was) and that neutering would change his wonderful, natural muscle tone. He’s an amazingly wiry little athlete. So far, though, he’s training with his usual verve. The muscle tone…I dunno. Ask me in 6 mos. He’s raw-fed, so that should help…

      • Good luck! Muscle tone doesn’t always turn out to be an issue, at least. I had to spay my Pippa when she was three — she had pyometra and it was horrible — and I must say, she stays in hard condition without my doing a thing. She’s now nearly ten, and I wish I had her energy and muscle tone! Interestingly, she’s the one of my gang I would describe as erratically brilliant, too. She’s given me a lot of NQs, each in a different way, but she can learn something new fifteen minutes before she goes in the ring and do it right. Hand signals all the way, since she started losing her hearing years ago and is completely deaf now.