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.
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.
It’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.