Q: I understand that animal shelters spay or neuter kittens and puppies when they are as young as two or three months old. Why do they do that when they are so young? I was always under the impression that it was better to wait until they were fully mature.
A: The answer to this question is more involved than you might think, which is why you might be hearing many different answers depending on who you ask.
Unfortunately, pet overpopulation (more animals that need homes than the number of homes available) is real. There are simply not enough homes for all the animals that need one. Spaying (the females) and neutering (the males) at a young age is an absolute necessity to hold down the number of homeless animals.
The State of Arizona recognizes this problem. By law, a public shelter cannot release an animal for adoption that has not been spayed or neutered. The shelters cannot guarantee that the new owner will be responsible and spay or neuter their animal when it is older, so the animals must be spayed or neutered before an adoption is finalized.
According to the ASPCA (the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), nationally, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats) each year.
Much of this problem can be traced to the high number of owned dogs and cats that have not been spayed or neutered. Some owners think that "just one litter" won't hurt, but one litter is one too many when the animal population reproduces beyond the public's capacity to adopt. If the puppies and kittens that end up at the shelter are not spayed or neutered, they will perpetuate the cycle.
We as the public mustn't add to the homeless animal problem by allowing our pets to have unnecessary litters of puppies and kittens. We can do this by being responsible and spaying or neutering our pets and not letting them produce any extra animals that will need homes.
If you are a responsible pet owner and can prevent unwanted breeding so that your pet is not adding to the homeless animal situation then, medically speaking, waiting until an animal is about a year of age to get it spayed or neutered is preferred to help enhance its bone growth.
Q: I cannot have any more animals where I live, but I am devastated by the number of animals in the shelters that do not have homes. How can I help?
A: We need first to recognize the people who work in animal shelters for their hard work. Animal shelters are incredibly emotional and challenging places, and these incredible human beings provide a much-needed service.
The primary challenge for all shelters is that they never have enough money to treat the number of animals that need care. So, the easiest way to support your local animal shelter is to donate money on a regular basis so they can expand their ability to care for the animals.
Second, if you do not want to take on another pet, please consider fostering an animal (or a litter). Fostering helps reduce the number of animals at the shelter and allows the shelter to take in more animals.
In addition, fostering allows the animals to live in homes and adjust to living with families; when they find their forever home, they are better-adjusted pets.
Third, you might consider volunteering at an animal shelter to help with the workload of the employees. Volunteer duties might include walking dogs, cleaning cages, doing laundry, feeding animals, and giving the shelter animals some love and attention.
Fourth, donations of any kind are always welcomed by the animal shelters. Donations that are most needed are kitten and puppy food, food for animals with special dietary needs, pet beds, blankets, cleaning supplies, leashes, dog and cat toys, and medical supplies. I recommend that you contact your local animal shelter and find out specifically what they might need to help all the animals!
Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org