Last month, the ASPCA launched a new program called “Operation Pit,” offering free spay/neuter surgeries to all healthy pit bulls and pit mixes between the ages of three months and six years, along with free vaccinations and micro-chipping. Five surgeries will be performed every Thursday in New York City; to schedule an appointment for your dog, call the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital at 877-900-PITS (7487). But that’s not the big news here.
Free spaying and neutering isn’t all the ASPCA is offering with “Operation Pit.” For the first time in a pro bono pet-fix program, owners may also request vasectomy surgeries, which the ASPCA describes as “a more discreet sterilization option.” If you’ll pardon the pun, this is a very ballsy move on the part of America’s first humane organization, and it deserves praise. Attaboy, ASPCA!
Although the ASPCA is too politically astute to say it, the fact is that many dog owners are guy’s guys who wince at the mere thought of castration – for themselves, not just their dogs. The specter of castration anxiety – kastrationangst in German, a term immortalized by Sigmund Freud – can actually prevent male dog owners from doing the right thing to prevent pet population control, because they feel it’s “unfair” to “emasculate” their best friend.
Veterinarians all over the country can doubtless relate to the experiences of their British colleague Peter Neville, author of Pet Sex: The Rude Facts of Life for The Family Dog, Cat and Rabbit, who is spot-on in describing the reluctance of his male clients to have their dogs fixed:
“Often the wife is quite relaxed about having the dog castrated, whether for birth control, or problem prevention in a young dog as a standard procedure or as a later measure to help treat an unexpected behavioral problem. But the husband, fueled by feelings of sympathy and empathy and, perhaps, the feeling that he could be next, digs his heels in to fight to keep the dog’s testicles where they are: on the dog. Occasionally it’s the other way around with the lady of the house defending those two bits but, in my experience, men are at best unconcerned about castration, and at worst, blindingly and defensively obsessed! … When my clients have been faced with the prospect of having their male dog castrated, I’ve never yet had the husband take the suggestion without reacting. Usually it’s a straightforward ‘ouch,’ but the body language that accompanies it is more indicative of the threat felt. The man invariably crosses his legs tight and hunches up.”
Since anecdotal evidence of body language indicates this is such a universal sore point with male dog owners, even those who stay strong and silent about it, the ASPCA is brilliant to offer the surgical option of vasectomy, which prevents a male dog from reproducing but doesn’t alter his “manly” appearance.
With castration, the testicles are removed and the testicular cord, which connects the testicle to the prostate and conducts semen, is ligated (tied off); with a vasectomy, the surgeon locates the testicular cord, opens it to find the vas, removes a segment of it, and ligates both ends, leaving the testicles intact. The two procedures take the same amount of time and the recovery period is the same for both.
Alas, however, the behavioral problems to which Neville alludes in the passage cited above won’t be helped by a vasectomy; all it does is stop the dog’s flow of sperm. So dog owners who opt for pet vasectomy need to work diligently at correcting negative canine behaviors – i.e. humping and other forms of dominance – with positive training methods. Also, dogs with intact testicles are at risk for testicular cancer, so in the interest of early detection, owners will need to be vigilant about monitoring any lumps, bumps, or other physical changes in that area.
For those going the more conventional route of having their dog’s testicles surgically removed, the truth is that traditional neutering really doesn’t emasculate dogs. My male pit bulls have all retained a healthy, sexy sense of play with their favorite female packmate-partners for years after the sterilization surgery. (And it’s all good, clean, safe fun because the girls are spayed.) The top priority here is preventing unwanted pit bull pregnancy, because the majority of dogs in urban animal shelters across this country are pits. Literally millions of sweet, adoptable pits are killed because there aren’t enough homes or rescues for them all, so it should be every dog lover’s goal to help reduce pit overpopulation – with testicles or without.
Photo Credit: Mark Knight/ASPCA