Dr. Karen Becker interviews Ted Kerasote regarding his book "Why Dogs Die Young". Some excerpts from the interview...
Ted had seen some data that indicated dogs in Europe tend to live about a year longer than dogs in this country....But European dogs do receive fewer vaccinations. Rabies has been essentially eradicated in Western Europe, so dogs that don't travel aren't required to get rabies vaccines.
Ted goes on to explain that probably the biggest difference between how dogs in Europe are raised versus dogs in the U.S. is, Europe doesn't spay or neuter at nearly the rate we do in North America....sterilization seems to have a significant impact on both the endocrine and immune systems of dogs.
Ted explains that when he talks about the spay/neuter difference in front of groups, he receives a lot of concerned feedback and even angry responses, particularly from folks in the shelter community. People in the shelter community make the point that sterilization is how we control the dog population in North America.
So Ted went on to research the effectiveness of U.S. shelter operations. He wanted to know why we're still euthanizing an estimated two millions dogs each year. What are the key factors?
Ted talked to a lot of people in shelter leadership positions, and it seems the problem is becoming more one of supply and demand rather than that no one wants those two million homeless dogs. It's more a problem these days of connecting people with the dogs they want – getting the right dogs to the right shelters for the people who want to adopt them.
Dr. Becker goes on to comment: I worked at a kill shelter as a younger person, and we firmly believed owners who didn't spay or neuter were simply uneducated. And I could do enough talking as an employee of the shelter to convince people they must spay or neuter. At that point in my life, I believed pet owners couldn't necessarily be trusted to know what to do, and I also believed dogs were healthier if they were spayed or neutered.
These days, I have to re-educate a lot of my clients … after I apologize. I've cried many tears in my exam room as I apologized for creating some endocrine-related disease or other by insisting a pet be spayed or neutered, many of them before puberty.
I just didn't know then what I know now. And it saddens me.
Ted reveals that another cultural dynamic he sees operating here is in regard to breeding dogs.
Ted might tell someone: 'Pukka's got good genes. I spent a lot of time looking for genes like his. He's clear for centronuclear myopathy. He's clear for PRA (a genetic eye disease). He's got good hips and good elbows. It might be nice to pass these genes on.'
The response is almost always 'You want to breed him?' in a tone that says clearly this is not a good thing. There is a small but vocal minority of the dog-owning population in this country that thinks breeding any dog is morally reprehensible.
Ted's response is, 'If you carry that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, there are no more dogs.'
To alter every dog sounds crazy to Ted. It also takes a lot of genetically healthy dogs out of the population.
Ted feels what spay/neuter has done in the shelter population is what narrowing the funnel of purebred dogs to those with exaggerated anatomical features has done in the purebred population.
Both strategies have decreased the genetic diversity of dogs. Choosing only certain popular sires in the purebred world, and spaying or neutering everything that moves in the shelter world, has created fewer and fewer good sets of dog genes out there. At the same time, it has increased the incidence of disease because we are providing ever greater opportunities for recessive genes to meet.
Ted doesn't believe people are thinking through the issue of long-term canine health when they take the approach to 'Spay and neuter everyone.'
Let the message spread throughout the land! Amen, hallelujah!