To spay or not to spay: Making big decisions for dogs feels like playing god

One of the first things my wife and I did when we got Katniss was get her spayed. Actually, the very first thing we did, if I remember correctly, was give her a bath because she smelled like a truck stop restroom.

Katniss post-surgey and not thrilled with mom and dad (Photo courtesy of wife)

After she was spayed she had to wear one of those plastic cones around her head for a while (pink, of course) to make sure she didn’t mess with her stitches, and at times we were worried said stitches on her little puppy belly were coming apart. Ultimately, the surgery was successful. When I rub her now-adult tummy—she loves belly scratches more than Scrooge McDuck loves his money—I can still feel the scar.

Employees at the animal shelter from which we adopted Katniss said we needed to have her spayed—I’m pretty sure when we got Katniss that a condition of adopting her included getting her fixed. We were told that spaying would mean Katniss would be better behaved, less likely to try to run away, and, of course, not have puppies and contribute to animal overpopulation. We were doing our part to help control the pet population, and Bob Barker would have been proud.

But part of me felt odd making such a huge decision for another living thing—who am I to say if she should or should not have babies? What if, in her dog instincts or own wishes, she would someday want babies and feel some sort of emptiness/sadness for not having them? What gives me the right to play god?

I know that dogs and cats can’t possibly comprehend how full the animal shelters are, there are indeed many good reasons to get a pet fixed and domestic pets are completely dependent on humans to make the best decision for them. But fundamentally, one species operating on another one to prevent it from reproducing seems kind of creepy. And ultimately, what is the best decision?

We were doing our part to help control the pet population, and Bob Barker would have been proud.

I think Katniss, as sensitive and affectionate as she is, would make a great mom. Her having pups, of course, would also require a measure of human intervention, just as getting her spayed did—who should be the daddy dog, or should Katniss decide that? How many litters should she have? When should she stop having babies?

Then there’s the argument of what if, in her own consciousness, Katniss didn’t want babies*—if we wanted her to have them, we would also be making a decision for her. And what if we decided to give away some of the puppies—yet another form of human intervention—to good homes? I can’t imagine anything more traumatic than babies being taken from a mother, just as Katniss was taken from her biological mom, which was yet another human decision. But keeping all of Katniss’ children—and her children’s children and so on as the generations would hypothetically continue—would be too much for my wife and me to handle. It would also mean hearing constant whining from Katniss’ offspring at decibel levels louder than standing in a room full of jet engines being tested.

I would be wonderful, in theory, to have generations of Katniss’ descendants for my wife and me to grow old with. What traits would each generation retain?** How much would they look like Katniss? Ultimately the point is obviously moot. Katniss’ chances of having puppies are about as likely as my chances of having puppies. Should the latter happen, however, I have no idea how I would explain that to my wife.


*I’m assuming dogs can have such complex thoughts. I have no idea if they can.

**Hopefully not Katniss’ whining!


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