FAQs Index

Additional Comments on Neutering

I think your position on spaying/neutering (#76 in the FAQ) is a bit too glib. You simply assert that spaying and neutering prevents more suffering than it creates.

I wanted to point out three difficulties with this position:

1. You cite no factual evidence for the claim that spaying and neutering (normally companion) animals is actually reducing net suffering. And there are at least three complicating empirical issues:

a. Most animals will not be spayed/neutered, regardless of what our (human) social practices are.

b. Many (possibly most) people who are considering spaying/neutering have other, less cruel ways of controlling or avoiding puppies/kittens. (And there is no doubt in my mind that forced surgical sterilization is cruel, not only because of the potential complications from surgery but because the animals are behaviorally "crippled" and lose out on what most of us view as important experiences -- sex, childbirth -- in life.)

c. Even if we could perfectly control the dog/cat population being spayed/neutered, I don't think I have ever seen an empirical study of what the average life "on the street" is like for an animal. I have heard suggestive examples (that stray dogs/cats live terrible lives), but on the other hand, I have personally seen many exact opposite examples (stray animals living quite nice lives, even in the poor neighborhood that surrounds the University of Chicago). It is also worth noting that the people who most often make such claims (about the terrible life of strays) are the people who are trying to justify, not only spaying/neutering, but also their murder: "We kill because we love." As if.

2. Your baseline, in defending spaying/neutering, is a world where the (newborn) animals are being mistreated and neglected, but it's not clear to me (especially from a "rights" point of view) that this is the appropriate baseline.

Would you accept forced sterilization of a set of humans, simply because their offspring were likely to be mistreated? Two wrongs usually do not make a right.

3. Most importantly, forced sterilization, in my view, reinforces an exploitative relationship with animals: "When they inconvenience us, we can harm them." As I said above, killing and sterilization go hand-in-hand in most city "shelters," and are part of the same speciesist worldview. (I know this from personal experience volunteering at a local pound.)

As AR advocates, it seems to me that we should be taking a non-instrumentalist position on this issue. Not only as a matter of principle -- but because even if we are instrumentalists, the non-instrumentalist position is the only one that will be instrumentally effective in the long run. If our ultimate goal is a society that gives ALL creatures equal consideration, we should not be advocating practices that are cruel and blatantly discriminatory as short-run band-aids.

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