Sadly we have been unable to ‘save Humbug’s privates’ and he has been taken off somewhere and summarily castrated. We’ve heard he’s doing well and to be honest, if he is still with his foster-home ‘parents’ then he is in the best possible hands. As all the other dogs there are also castrated then he will feel ‘normal’ whereas if he came to us now he would know that he wasn’t quite the same as our boys. And anyway, GRWE have said we can’t have him, so that’s it then…
If you are reading this before you having read http://www.oldlongdog.com/blog/2013/01/saving-humbugs-privates--a-dogs-balls-are-for-life/ then either have a look at that first or here’s a brief recap.
We were recently offered to home a nine-month old Whippet Lurcher called Humbug for the Greyhound Rescue West of England. We weren’t looking for a dog but came across GRWE in the street by chance and they showed us a picture of him. He hadn’t been neutered yet so we asked if we could have him ‘done’ by vasectomy rather than castration as we felt it would be better for him and he’d be the ‘same’ as our two intact dogs (a terrier cross and another Whippet Lurcher). We were led to believe they would consider this but in reality they had no intention of doing anything but castrate. They approved us and our home straight away, and we started the process of getting to know Humbug. He even met our two dogs and they all got along very well. Humbug is a sweet natured, well balanced little dog and he was perfect for us and us for him.
Sterilising him by vasectomy was the perfect option but GRWE had a different agenda. They gave us all the usual reasons for castration, which we challenged on several grounds, not least because Humbug wasn’t showing any signs of the kind of behaviour that might warrant it. Also we are very experienced dog owners and have never had any problems with intact males and do not subscribe to the theory that this makes us ‘lucky’ (we know exactly why we don’t have problems). However, the more we tried to get GRWE to see the case for vasectomy as opposed to castration, the more they backed away from us and eventually broke off all contact. So we put up a Facebook page and went on the local radio to try and raise some awareness and persuade GRWE not to castrate. Eventually, they castrated him anyway and then told us we couldn’t have him, anyway. For the full details see our previous post.
We came into this completely cold, we were out shopping when we saw the GRWE volunteers with some of their dogs, and we just stopped for a chat. Their subsequent treatment of us, and Humbug in particular, has raised some very important concerns about issues we were completely unaware of prior to this. These are:
1. The case for castrating dogs is greatly overstated whereas the serious health risks and known side-effects are rarely mentioned.
2. The thinking behind most decisions to castrate is seriously flawed.
3. In the UK there is a legal exemption to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 that allows individuals or organisations to castrate dogs without any assessment of whether it is necessary or that there is a realistic chance of a positive outcome. Without this exemption, castrating a dog in such circumstances would constitute two offences under the Act (mutilation and “preventing an animal from exhibiting its natural behaviour”). We now realise that dog rescue charities are abusing this privilege, partly for their own convenience but mostly through ignorance and a feeling that they are ‘beyond reproach’ because they rescue dogs.
Our aim is to address all three issues, culminating in a petition to the government to amend the exemption to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 so that no-one can ever again castrate a young dog like Humbug without a proper independent assessment in accordance with the veterinary principle of ‘evidence based medicine’. We are under no illusions as to how hard this will be because we are challenging long-held ‘beliefs’ and practices, but we feel it is worth it. For centuries people thought slavery was perfectly acceptable and that beating children ‘made them better’. Things move on, though and it’s time the dogs got a fairer deal from us humans.
We’re not trying to have castration banned outright, just that it should only ever be done for properly diagnosed, existing medical reasons and not peremptorily for convenience or in pursuit of a corporate ‘policy’. Dogs still can and should be sterilised but wherever possible this should be by vasectomy and not by castration.
So, in the time-honoured fashion we thought we’d call it Humbug’s Law.
1. Pros and Cons of Castrating Dogs
Dogs are born with their testicles for a reason. They contain not just the source of its reproductive output but also the place where the important hormones testosterone produced. This is vital for the proper growth of muscles, bones and hair, and also affect the dog’s mental vitality and behaviour.
The principle benefit of castrating dogs is to sterilize them so that fewer unwanted dogs are born, which in turn would need good homes. This is indisputable and we have never challenged the charity’s right to insist Humbug was sterilised, it’s just that vasectomy is a much less harmful method of achieving it.
Many people (including GRWE) claim that vasectomy is unreliable, that somehow it will reverse itself. This is possible but incredibly rare; there are no data for the procedure in dogs but the success rate in humans is 99.98% to 99.998%. The physiology of dogs and humans is identical in this regard, so the chances of any dog with a vasectomy actually finding an unattended bitch in heat and still being fertile are statistically negligible.
Another reason given in favour of castrating dogs is that it stops them getting testicular cancer, which is true but there is only a 1% chance or less of it dying from this disease. The chances are about the same for humans and I can’t see anyone opting for castrating all teenage boys on these odds. Testicular cancer is easy to spot in dogs and they should only be castrated if the disease is actually diagnosed.
Yet another reason advanced for castration is that it stops dogs wandering, fighting and calms them down. Much of this is only partly true. A dog’s behaviour is controlled by three principle hormones, testosterone, AVP and serotonin. The testicles are the principle source of testosterone whereas the other two originate from inside the brain and gut of the dog. Removing testosterone disrupts the effects of the other two and in certain circumstances can create behavioural problems that weren’t there before. The role of serotonin is the real key to a dogs behaviour, having a major role in it’s appetite, willingness to compete and general happiness. There is a good explanation of the details at http://liziangel.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/castration-effects-on-male-dog-health.html
This is why it is possible to have happy well balanced dogs both with and without their testicles. Serotonin is the key to calmness not testosterone. Good diet, plenty of exercise and plenty of personal space all raise serotonin levels and make the dog ‘happy’ and calmer. Only dogs wandering specifically in search of females would respond positively to castration. But dogs also wander out of boredom, for food and to hunt and castration cannot possibly do anything to solve these.
Many dog owners castrate their one year old because they think it is too excitable and then claim later how well it worked, not realizing that all dogs calm down as they mature anyway. You wouldn’t expect a child to be grown up at seven years old (the equivalent of one dog year) and dogs have a similar path to adulthood; by two years old they are well on their way to complete maturity. Dogs that remain excitable are more than likely responding to their environment, frequently because they are bored, never let off the lead and don’t get enough exercise. Constantly stopping a dog from doing things it wants to do creates a downward spiral of bad behaviour as it tries more and more to do these things. Training (of the dog and owner) is the solution to this not castration, as many people who know ‘badly behaved’ but nevertheless castrated dogs will tell you.
But there is plenty of information and advice about this available to anyone who wants to research it. What nobody ever seems to be told is what else happens when you castrate a young dog. Essentially what you have done is;
Shorten it’s life;
Prevented his muscle, bones and brain from developing properly;
Increased by four-fold his chances of developing prostate cancer;
Doubled his chances of bone cancer;
Increased his risk of obesity, diabetes, hypothyroidism and adverse reactions to vaccinations;
Increased his susceptibility to geriatric cognitive impairment;
And, as already mentioned, by removing the source of his testosterone, created an imbalance of hormones which are just as likely to make his behaviour worse rather than better.
You can check out some of the scientific research on this at: http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/LongTermHealthEffectsOfSpayNeuterInDogs.pdf
So why do we do it? Why is castration so common?
This article isn't quite finished but please come back later today as I'll be finishing it as soon as I can.
And if you want to see some pics of our dogs (all intact males) and how 'badly behaved they are' (?!) then click on this link:
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The story so far…
A couple of weeks ago we were walking through our town and found a group of Greyhound Rescue West of England (GRWE) volunteers promoting the charity with their dogs. As we’re keen on dogs (particularly sight-hounds) we stopped to pat them and chat with these good people. One of the volunteers showed us a picture of a whippet Lurcher and told us he needed homing. We hadn’t even thought about it but it set us off thinking. We were not actively looking for a dog but thought it would be good for our own two-year old Lurcher and a bit of respite for our ten-year old terrier who’s been doing a sterling job of bringing him up. Also, we’d had to say goodbye to our first Lurcher in the summer after seventeen and a half years of mutual loving, happiness and fun. We were told someone else was interested in this young dog so we said the charity could contact us if it didn’t work out.
We confirmed all this by email to the GRWE website and left it at that. So we were pretty surprised to be called just days later to arrange a home inspection but we were thrilled, too. That all went well and we were led to believe all we had to do was put up a bit of extra fencing and wait for the dog (now called Humbug) to get rid of his kennel cough and have his last vaccination injections and be neutered.
GRWE is a dog rescue charity and in these economic times good homes for dogs are hard to find. They approved us straight away as a good home. They knew we already had two dogs and that we were experienced dog owners of 18 years.
We asked them a perfectly ordinary question about the neutering process; could Humbug be sterilised by vasectomy instead of castrated, as this was a much less traumatic process with none of the physical and behavioural side effects of neutering? We told them (they knew already) that we had always had intact males and that we’d never had any problems. Their reply was that we were ‘lucky’ and that we must be ‘especially good owners’. This seemed a bit odd as we didn’t feel either of those statements was particularly true. Whilst we don’t think we are bad owners we are certainly no different to most of the people we know with dogs and we don’t think our dogs are any better or worse than any others. We certainly treat them well but that’s more the reason why they are well behaved than any inherent quality on their part; pretty much all dogs will behave well if you treat them sensibly and give them the chance to.
Nevertheless, we felt we were on track to give Humbug a home. We were told GRWE had made exceptions with the neutering before and that they’d get back to us about it. We were told the vet currently treating Humbug was happy to do a vasectomy and we checked with our vet who also agreed they’d be happy to do it. The charity, quite rightly, doesn’t want to have to home too many dogs in the future so it insists all its homed dogs are sterilised. We agree with that and so far it was a dream contact for them; they have a dog that needs homing and we are experienced dog owners willing to provide a safe and loving home for him. What could possibly go wrong?
We went to see Humbug in his temporary foster home and were immediately impressed by how affectionate and well behaved he was. They’d told us he had abandonment issues on account of being found wandering alone somewhere in Cheshire, desperately looking for someone to take him in. He was taken to the local dog pound and as no-one came for him or reported him missing they were going to put him down before GRWE stepped in. He seemed ok now, though and so we decided to come back with our own dogs a few days later so we could see how they got on. They got on really well; there was the usual sniffing and sizing each other up when intact males meet for the first time but then our Lurcher and Humbug set off round the garden showing off their respective speed and agility. As they started to get a bit muddy we all retired inside for a cup of tea. The two dogs carried on playing for a couple of hours until the youngster got tired and lay on his bed. Our Lurcher was close by and that was it, they were mates already.
Next day we got a phone call saying that they wanted to castrate him not give him a vasectomy - we were stunned. When we asked why we were told that as he might come back to the charity one day and they didn’t want to pay for two operations. We immediately offered to pay for it and deposit the cost of a second op with them which they could keep as a gift if it was never needed. They said it was more than just that, that Humbug needed to be castrated to stop him wandering and being aggressive with other dogs. They said he might get testicular cancer and it was ‘in his best interests’ to be castrated. Again we were stunned but they rang off.
We sent them an email saying it wasn’t really fair on Humbug to prejudge what he might do and cut off his testicles before he’d had a chance to prove he could behave himself. We reiterated that in 18 years and with four different intact male dogs (with three of them in the same house for most of that period) we had never experienced any problems at all. We offered to indemnify GRWE against any future financial or other consequences of vasectomising Humbug and pointed out that castrating such a young dog was too drastic, that it would leave him permanently subdued and submissive and may affect his physical development. We got a reply saying that it was their policy and that they couldn’t enter into discussions with prospective owners because it would end in ‘endless debate about other people’s thoughts and ideas’. We got another call saying they would get their vet to call us so we could discuss it with them.
When the call came I was too upset to take it so my wife Tina spent two hours listening to their vet, a newly qualified young woman recently arrived from Switzerland, giving the standard corporate spiel in defence of the decision they had already made. She described Humbug as a sexual predator on the grounds that he’s been found wandering the streets. Tina explained that they couldn’t conclude that he was looking for sex just from that. We’d been told he had abandonment issues and that’s not the behaviour of a sexual wanderer. If he had been then he would have run off and there’d be someone looking for him. We said that as he had no id tag and because no-one ever reported him missing then it was far more likely he was abandoned. And anyway, nine-month old puppies don’t wander the streets looking for sex.
Their vet then said they had to castrate him because all dogs “have issues and roam”. Tina said that wasn’t true as ours didn’t and nor did any of our neighbour’s dogs. The vet said that he will fight with other dogs but Tina said ours didn’t do that either. Well he might get testicular cancer… What?! That’s ridiculous Tina said, if he does then we’ll deal with it then. That’s no reason to cut his balls off now! There was no arguing, they’d made their decision. Surely you have to do an assessment of the dog to see if this operation is necessary, Tina asked. No, we never do, came the reply, we just castrate them and never get into discussions with the future owner. It’s policy.
The following day we got an email saying we couldn’t have Humbug because we were ‘”looking for an intact dog.” We were heart broken and angry and disgusted. We had dared to challenge their policy and now we were being punished for it. There was absolutely no reason to castrate this little dog and now we were being portrayed as ‘unsuitable’. But we weren’t looking for a dog we just happened upon them and offered them a solution to their problem.
There’s a recession on and there are more dogs than ever that need homing. These charities can ill afford to turn down good homes. We can offer him a life most dogs couldn’t even dream of; he’d have space to play, very few restrictions on where he can go and what he can do within our own home, he’s have toys, country walks on the doorstep, trips to the beach and the pub, constant company, a wood-burning stove to lie in front of and unlimited love and affection.
And these people want to deprive him of all that, despite the fact it’s us that would be paying for all his food and vet’s bills, us that would be sitting up with him if he’s sick - and clearing it up - and us that will have to bury him and shed tears in (hopefully) many years time.
WE were offering to take all the risks and invest all the time, money and emotions it’s possible to give, to solve THEIR problem. They were not doing us a favour, we were doing them one. Absolutely gobsmacking!
They then cut off all communication with us, not answering the phone or emails so we decided to take action. We sent the Trustees an email saying we would try and get a Court Injunction to stop them castrating Humbug. We spoke again to our vets who said they would never castrate a dog without a full appraisal of it’s symptoms and behaviour and even then they would explore other less drastic therapies before doing it. They thought it was totally against their professional ethics and possibly even illegal. We told them we’d start a Facebook campaign and contact the media. We got a reply then but it was just to say they would get their solicitor to contact us. He never did and they haven’t responded to anything else. GRWE are sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting Lalalala, they’re hoping all this will go away…
What possible danger is there to Humbug in what we are suggesting? None whatsoever - they already know we have a safe and loving home and we have a track record of looking after intact male dogs. We live amongst lots of other people who do the same, we meet them and their dogs all the time - there is nothing unusual about that, it’s the case for the vast majority of dogs in Britain and the rest of the world. But GRWE don’t think so. They seem to think we are dangerous subversives for wanting to preserve a dog’s testicles, that we are somehow ‘irresponsible’ and that we ‘don’t understand’ the issues. They must surely understand that none of this is true?
If you feel incensed by what is happening to this dog then visit their website at http://www.grwe.com/ and email the Trustees at GRWE at email@example.com
As for Humbug… I’ll keep you posted.
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