A fallacy is typically defined as, "A mistake in reasoning; a type of argument that may seem to be correct, but that proves upon examination not to be so."
Take for instance the very common popular premise that "Spaying and Neutering Saves Lives."
This slogan illustrates the fallacy of "Wishful Thinking". Wishful thinking is a belief that something is true because it or its consequence is desired to be true. In reality, there is not a shred of evidence that spaying or neutering has saved even one life (with the exceptions of pyometra or testicular cancer). This is a fact, no matter how much we might like to close our eyes and wish it to be so.
On the contrary, there are instances of dogs that have died during sterilization surgery. There are also studies coming to light that demonstrate that sterilization adversely affects health, and actually shortens the lifespan of dogs (and humans too).
Perhaps the people promoting this idea would like us to believe that sterilization saves lives by preventing "overpopulation"? Another fallacy closely related to Wishful Thinking is "Appeal to Consequences":
"If we don't spay and neuter all pets, then we will suffer from 'Pet Overpopulation'"
Again, there is no evidence to prove that any reduction of the unwanted pet population is linked to spay and neuter. Many nations do NOT have any crisis of pet overpopulation, even though few practice spay-neuter. And, shelters across the US are discovering that through implementation of No Kill techniques, they can save lives! This is done without extreme reliance on pet sterilization surgery.
To quote a former president of the CVMA, Dr. John Hamil, "Being intact does not equate to being bred."
Presenting spay-neuter as a lifesaving procedure also demonstrates the "Cause and Effect" fallacy. If event "B" occurs after event "A", then it is wrongly assumed that "A" caused "B". However:
- A and B may just happen to occur together (coincidence). Neither is the cause of the other.
- A and B may be caused by another event, so that A did not cause B or vice versa.
- Maybe A did cause B, but such a conclusion must be verified by scientists or historians.
Event "A" - an aggressive spay neuter campaign has been underway in the US for the past 40 years.
Event "B" - shelter intakes have declined dramatically over the last 40 years.
It is assumed that an aggressive spay-neuter campaign has resulted in declining shelter populations. However, during the same time frame, there has also been a very successful educational campaign about responsible pet ownership. Confinement and leash laws have been stressed, along with the knowledge that indiscriminate breeding is not desirable.
In other words, it is not at all proven that high rates of spay-neuter are the reason for the decline in shelter intakes. It is entirely possible; no, it is LIKELY, that the reduction in pet population is due in large part to public education about the issue.
The proposal that spay-neuter saves lives is also an "appeal to popularity" i.e. the "Bandwagon Fallacy". A popular fallacy is not true simply because it is widely presented as fact. Peer pressure and the acceptance of "common knowledge" does not foster logical reasoning.
If spay and neuter saves lives, then abortion, hysterectomy and vasectomy must also save lives.
Are all these premises (and the last statement itself) fallacies? You betcha!