DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 14-year-old blue point Siamese cat named Simba. He will be 15 on Valentine's Day. On May 31, his half-sister passed away suddenly on my bedroom floor. Cali was 13 years old. Simba and Cali were inseparable, and when I tell you they did everything together, I mean it! After she died, I picked up Cali and put her into a basket and then put Simba into the basket to see she was gone. Simba just jumped out of the basket as if to say, "What are you doing to me?"
I took Cali to my local vet to be cremated privately. That night, when it was time for bed, it started. Simba walked the house screaming and yowling as if he was calling out to her. I was up all night. This went on for two weeks, and the nighttime screaming turned into daytime screaming. Then he started to rip out his hair. Over time, half of his body was bald. I took him to the vet, who put him on amitriptyline. It made him very loopy and unstable. Then Simba decided not to eat -- he was described as having failure to thrive.
After several trips to the vet, six months later Simba is thriving. This was the worst grieving experience I've ever lived through when it came to an animal. -- M.A., Nolan, New Jersey
DEAR M.A.: So many animals of various species develop close emotional bonds and suffer when their loved ones die. We humans need to be reminded of this and think of how surviving family members of wolves, whales, elephants and other highly sentient species must suffer when their mates and offspring are needlessly slaughtered. Thank you for this reminder from your cats.
DEAR DR. FOX: I was amazed that an influential veterinarian such as yourself would actually recommend that dog owners avoid neutering their pets.
The facts concerning animal overpopulation are well known. There are more than 70,000 puppies born each day in the United States, and if not neutered, each dog and its non-neutered offspring will result in more than 12,000 dogs born over the next five-year period. This results in the needless euthanization of over 3.7 million dogs each year. These dogs not only include mixed breeds but purebred dogs as well. It is also well established that neutering our pets keeps them healthier by reducing mammary gland, uterine, ovarian, prostate and testicular cancers, as well as perianal tumors and pyometria (uterine infection).
Neutering male dogs improves behavior by reducing aggression, dog bites and roaming, which often leads to death by car. Surveys indicate that approximately 85 percent of dogs hit by cars were not neutered. Most people will agree that our dear pets do not spend enough time with us on this earth, but by neutering them, their life span can be increased an average of 1 to 3 years.
Finally, please consider the financial implications in support of the capture, impoundment and euthanization of unwanted pets, which costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year. I find your trivialization of this problem through its characterization as an "inconvenience" offensive. -- F.B.K., St. Louis
DEAR F.B.K.: I appreciate your passion and documented concerns.
I have been a champion of animal birth control for more than 40 years and have set up programs in Africa and India to neuter pets. I try to spread awareness across the U.S. and Europe. I think spaying and neutering should be mandatory for all animals being adopted from shelters that are not no-kill because they have too many dogs and cats coming in.
One fact to get straight: I am not advocating a ban on spay/neuter, but rather applauding the fact that it is now being recognized that for some breeds, gonadectomy (removing the ovaries or testicles) may result in several endocrine diseases and contribute to other diseases, including some cancers, later in life.
So veterinarians are doing vasectomies and hysterectomies (leaving the testicles and ovaries intact) in some dogs so they cannot reproduce but retain the hormonal benefits of their endocrine sex organs. This is acceptable for those many dogs who are not allowed to roam free and have responsible caregivers.
I have limited optimism over the development of genetically engineered birth-control/neutering vaccines, not only because of past fights over patenting and intellectual property rights, but because of the possible triggering of autoimmune diseases.
From one animal rights perspective, neutering deprives animals of a normal, healthy and balanced endocrine system, which helps ensure their physical and psychological well-being. More prospective dog owners are beginning to request that their dogs not be totally neutered -- they should retain their endocrine sex glands. But where dogs are free-roaming and breeding at will -- as in countries like India, where I have worked with my wife, Deanna Krantz -- all sex organs should be removed, primarily to prevent temporary dog packs forming around dogs in heat, and then male dogs fighting. The net result in that situation, which also included vaccinations, was a healthier village dog community with no starving and unwanted puppies.
In a few years, when we have more clinical data, we may find that the mass neutering to help prevent pet overpopulation was a mixed blessing. It is a tragedy that dogs should suffer the consequences of human irresponsibility of being allowed to breed indiscriminately and are bred deliberately for the pet trade when there are thousands waiting to be adopted in shelters around the world.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.)