Spaying and Neutering Around the World
While here, in much of the United States, it's common practice to neuter dogs not intended for breeding purposes before they reach puberty, this is certainly not the case in plenty of other places.
Did you know that in some Scandinavian countries, neutering a dog is illegal? Exceptions for spaying or castrating are granted only when deemed medically necessary, for example, as treatment for pyometra or prostate gland disease. And yet, there are no pet overpopulation issues in these countries. Clearly, this reflects a whole different level of responsibility for dogs than exists elsewhere.
In some places within the United States, neutering is far from the norm. I'm spending some of spring and summer this year in Durango where I've met an amazing assortment of unusual and adorable mutts. Many of them are referred to as "Rez dogs," because they came from Native American reservations in close proximity to Durango where I'm told strays are a dime or dozen. Few dogs on the reservation are neutered and thousands of homeless puppies are born there every year. Most of them die of exposure and/or starvation.
And, of course, similar situations occur round the world. A recent article within the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel described a spay/neuter campaign that will take place later this summer in El Salvador. The exact location will be El Espino which happens to be Grand Junction's sister city. The spay/neuter team, comprised of 11 Grand Junction residents and 4 Mexican veterinarians, has a goal of neutering 300 dogs and cats over the course of three days.
This will be the very first spay/neuter campaign to operate within El Salvador. Given the gang violence and endemic poverty plaguing this country, one might question how it's reasonable to focus on the animals when there is so much human need? As Anna Stout, the author of the article states,
Animal health is directly related to human health, especially when animals are free to roam, as they are in El Salvador. By spaying and neutering dogs and cats, and simultaneously administering basic vaccines, we will improve the health of the animals and decrease their propensity to stray far from home in search of a mate, therefore limiting the transmission of illness from animal to animal- and in turn, animal to human.
Further, animals in El Salvador have very short life spans compared to their counterparts in our country. They are extremely likely to be hit by cars or poisoned because of their instinct to roam, or simply die from a lack of veterinary care when they get sick. Trauma is cumulative, and in a place where gang violence claims lives every day, it takes a toll on the individual and community psyche, even if it's "just an animal" that dies. I've watched it firsthand in my adoptive household there; the death of an animal is emotionally brutal when you're still grieving the loss of murdered friends and loved ones. By reducing some of that preventable death through these spay and neuter efforts, it will also help to reduce the collective trauma the community experiences, even if on a small scale.
In a similar vein, endemic violence often breeds callousness to suffering. By promoting proper care for animals and improving their health, we are fostering compassion towards animals, which extends beyond animals and into daily life. This compassion is critical in the face of such profound uncertainty and danger.
I honor the work these volunteers will be doing in El Salvador and the reasoning behind their efforts. Thinking about this, I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi who said, "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated."