I know what I’m about to say won’t sit well with many American pet lovers, but I’m going to come clean anyway: I resisted spaying my first borzoi, Toffee until she was about three years old. The week of her operation, I cried every day and apologized to her repeatedly for what I had to put her through. Although it usually only takes a female dog a couple of weeks to recover after being spayed, it still seemed like a horribly invasive procedure to me—especially when I know that if we had stayed in Japan instead of coming home to the U.S., I could have avoided having her entire uterus removed along with her ovaries and just opted for a doggy birth control implant, instead.
The reason I know this to be true is that while I lived in Japan, I got a cat. When I took her to the veterinarian to have her spayed as any “responsible” American pet owner might, the doctor looked at me with puzzled expression. I was used to that. With my rudimentary Japanese language skills and my beaten up old English/Japanese dictionary to help me out with technical terms, I assumed that the way I had asked for the procedure probably came out in a ridiculously awkward sounding way.
I soon came to understand that it was the actual request he was puzzled by. Why did I feel it necessary to spay the cat rather than just get her a birth control implant? If I got her the implant, he explained, I’d have the option of letting her have a litter in the future if I ever changed my mind. My memory is hazy here, but the implant needed to be changed once a year, I think. If I wanted her to have kittens, I the vet told me to expect that she might not have a cycle for up to two years from the date we inserted her birth control device.
In terms of cost, spaying would work out much more cost effectively than a lifetime of kitty birth control implants. In terms of a non-surgical option for pet population control (and frankly, relief from the inconvenient behaviors associated with a female cat in heat), the implant felt a whole lot better to me—more respectful to my feline friend’s body, based on the information I had at the time.
Her veterinarian inserted it between her shoulder blades so that she couldn’t lick or bite at the site if it felt uncomfortable for a while. The procedure seemed no more invasive than implanting a microchip, as most responsible American pet owners choose to do today. I was always able to detect the little bump there if I felt around for it, but it never seemed to bother my cat. The implant prevented her from coming into heat entirely, and thus, prevented the howling, irritability and other unpleasant behaviors associated with a cat cycling through heat periods.
That year, I also got my first borzoi puppy. I named her “Toffee Pop,” after my favorite Australian cookie. Other tragic events of that year brought me and my menagerie of pets suddenly home that before Toffee was old enough to need either birth control implant or spaying.
We first spent time with family in the sticks of Nebraska where I asked our new veterinarian about implanting Toffee’s first birth control. Again, I got that puzzled look our Japanese vet had once given me—this time, thinking me nuts for assuming that a dog could get a type of implant that wasn’t even all that common a practice in humans, yet. She explained that there was no such thing. I assured her that there was, and that my cat was living proof. In fact, it was about time to get her implant swapped out, I told the vet.
In any event, it was clear that none of my pets would be getting birth control in Nebraska. I figured we’d just take our chances until moving back to the civilization of a big city. However, it turned out that we had no better luck in the Boston area. I finally gave up trying to find a vet who had ever even heard of such a thing being on the market for pets.
Still, I just couldn’t bring myself to get Toffee spayed, despite the associated health benefits including reducing the chance of ovarian, uterine, cervical and mammary tumors as well as preventing pyometra. I struggled for a very long while with the decision, feeling the heat of peer pressure from American pet owning society. If you don’t intend to breed a pet, you should spay. That’s supposed to be our party line here.
Still…though I’ve loved all my pets, Toffee was my “heart dog.” I was so strongly bonded to her that (as crazy as this sounds) I think I was always able to feel her pain as clearly as she did. I just couldn’t do this to her, as difficult as life with a female dog and without the fortress of a securely fenced yard was.
When she was in heat, I imagined what a nightmare it could be to find homes for “doberzoi” puppies if the unneutered male borzoi in our neighborhood ever managed to get to Toffee with unfortunate timing. (For the record, I love dobermans and borzois, but I doubt many people would put a mixed breed of this kind high on their wish list for adoption—if only for the doberman’s image in some people’s eyes and the borzoi’s size.) Certainly, I’d be shunned in the professional dog community if I were so irresponsible as to allow such a creature to come into existence.
I finally caved in and through many tears, got Toffee spayed when she was about three years old. Her recovery was painful. The first night, home, it was so difficult for her to climb stairs that we slept together on the floor of my dog training studio where she wouldn’t have as many stairs to navigate when she needed to go out. By that time, I kicked myself for waiting until she was an adult, since I believe it’s easier for younger dogs to recover from this type of surgery.
I have to say that once it was all over, our life was certainly more convenient. Toffee no longer had to wear her denim dog-in-heat diapers. I no longer had to constantly look over my shoulder on our walks during times when she was at risk of attracting a male dog at the wrong time. Toffee finally passed away from bone cancer at the age of nine.
And so I had tucked these memories into a far recess of my mind until recently when I stumbled across an ad from the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs about non-surgical sterilization options for these pets. I’ve only just begun to explore the topic on their website as well as on a blog called A Vet’s Guide to Life, where the pros and cons are listed in a somewhat more balanced manner. I’ve got a lot more digging to do before I settle on my own opinion of this practice, but I’m encouraged to see that at least the discussion is now taking place on our continent. Perhaps my next pet will benefit from what I learn.