Dogs Victoria recognises there may be benefits to spaying or neutering dogs that are not part of a responsible breeding program, or that are not being shown, and where an owner has been informed of and considered the benefits versus risks of the procedure.
Dogs Victoria believes that these important decisions should be made on an individual basis by the owner of the dog, in conjunction with his or her breeder and veterinarian, where the convenience and advantages of neutering dogs is weighed against the possible risks associated with neutering 1, 2, 3
The decision of when and whether to spay or neuter a dog is not one to be taken lightly. There are many important factors to consider, especially when it comes to the long-term health of the dog.
Therefore Dogs Victoria opposes mandatory spay / neuter legislation.
Dogs Victoria’s position is consistent with the ANKC’s opposition to mandatory spay/neuter approaches4, and takes into account published and peer reviewed scientific studies. These find that desexing a dog, particularly before it has fully matured, can lead to significant long-term health impacts, including cancer (such as osteosarcoma, mast cell cancer, hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, and lymphosarcoma), hip dysplasia, ligament damage, patellar luxation, incontinence, cognitive decline, fear and/or aggression and other behavioural issues, and even a shorter lifespan 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.
Mandatory spay / neuter legislation targets all dog owners, regardless of their level of responsibility or the behaviour of their dogs. By legislatively mandating surgical procedures without consideration of the individual dog and its circumstances, the approach obviates a veterinarian’s professional case-by-case judgement. This is in direct conflict with professional standards of care required of veterinarians. Routine neutering, especially in the case of non-free-ranging companion animals, raises significant ethical questions, and from some ethical perspectives, looks highly problematic2.
Mandatory spay / neuter legislation is usually promoted as a solution for animal control. Proponents advocate that mandatory spay / neuter legislation will reduce the number of animals at shelters.
Mandatory spay / neuter legislation has not proven effective in reducing the number of unwanted animals or shelter populations. Moreover, research indicates that the majority of unwanted dogs in the United States (where similar legislation has been considered) come as a consequence of owners who are unable or unwilling to train, socialise, and care for their dog21.
The Australian Veterinary Association’s position concurs that Mandatory desexing has not proven an effective strategy for reducing the number of unwanted companion animals22.
Imposing mandatory spay / neuter legislation will not resolve the issue of irresponsible ownership. Effective solutions instead require addressing the larger issue of irresponsible dog owners, and irresponsible breeders who place puppies indiscriminately. These types of comprehensive preventive strategies address the underlying cause of animals arriving in shelters in the first place.
Dogs Victoria advocates public education about the need for long-term commitment and responsibilities relating to dog ownership and welfare. Dogs Victoria also advocates education of breeders in how to screen and select owners who are in the best position to train, socialise and care for a dog.
In support of this proposal is an analysis of RSPCA’s Yagoona shelter in Sydney, which showed that 98% of dogs destroyed during 2004/05 were unfit to be rehomed due to poor health, old age or unsuitable temperament23. Of 79 Victorian councils zero euthanasia of adoptable and treatable dogs is widely quoted24. Research also shows that pure bred dogs are extremely low in numbers in shelters25.
Some advocates of spay / neuter legislation also propose that desexing dogs reduces aggression and therefore the risk of being surrendered, however research exists that concludes spaying and neutering does not reduce aggression in dogs26, 27, 28.
Consequences of a mandatory approach
Research has shown that mandatory spay / neuter is not an effective solution for reasons including21, 29:
The approach also has the risk of punishing responsible breeders and those who choose to keep their dogs entire for their health, or to participate in conformation and other similar activities.
The approach sends a clear message to Dogs Victoria members that any political party or council who adopts it is not dog friendly and does not support their activities and rights as responsible dog owners to make informed decisions for their dogs.
Dogs Victoria members and affiliates generate a significant amount of revenue for the local economy through their activities such as conformation shows and trials. Dogs Victoria members make a serious commitment to their dogs, and to ensuring the future health, welfare and breed type of their individual breeds.
Dogs Victoria can assist in advising on effective evidence based animal welfare policy, and public education programs that address the issue of irresponsible ownership while still protecting the rights of responsible owners and breeders.
Dogs Victoria acknowledges the work and detailed position of the American Kennel Council (AKC) on the topic of mandatory spay / neuter laws and their ineffectiveness, which has greatly assisted in the development of this paper.
Australian Veterinary Association Policy Framework (2008), What to do about unwanted dogs and cats, https://www.ava.com.au/sites/default/files/documents/Other/AVA_policy_framework_unwanted_dogs_cats.pdf 29