When I was a kid growing up in rural Maine back in the nineteen-sev *cough, cough*, almost everybody I knew had a cat or a dog. But almost nobody had their pets spayed or neutered. This wasn’t because people were deliberately cruel, but because it simply didn’t occur to anyone that it might be a good idea.
I don’t think I’d ever even heard of spaying and neutering until I was watching The Price Is Right one day and Bob Barker said at the end of the show, “This is Bob Barker saying good night and remember to have your pet spayed or neutered.”
In my family, we didn’t spay and neuter the cats we adopted or acquired from friends. Again, I think a lot of that was due to the prevailing mindset about cats and the fact that the procedure was expensive and we simply couldn’t afford to do it.
We loved our cats and we took very good care of them otherwise. I even got to serve as a midwife to our sweet little calico girl as she gave birth to three litters. Iris was eventually spayed after her fourth litter. And all of her babies found good homes at my mother’s hands.
Ten years later, when it was my turn to adopt my first cats, Sinad and Siouxsie, I knew I wanted to take perfect care of them right from the outset. And I think it was Barker’s message that helped me to understand that one of the most important parts of being a good cat caretaker is spaying and neutering.
Since then, every cat in my care has been spayed or neutered. I’ve paid out of my own pocket to spay cats when their owners couldn’t afford to do it, and I’ve happily contributed to Maine’s Help Fix ME program with a check-off on my annual income taxes.
I’ve also seen the tragic results of failure to spay. A number of years ago, I was visiting a friend’s cat who was recovering from illness at a local vet clinic. In the cage next door was a very, very sick female, barely past kittenhood. She’d just had a litter, but she’d retained one of the babies and developed a terrible infection in her uterus. Although she’d had an emergency spay, the toxins were still raging through her system, and the smell of pus and dying flesh permeated the room. Her eyes were glassy with fever and pain, but even so, she welcomed a friendly pat on the head.
I don’t know what became of her. When I went to visit my friend’s cat the next day, she wasn’t there.
That brought home the potentially tragic consequences of failing to have your cat spayed or neutered.
I’ve always been an advocate of spay/neuter, but after seeing that poor cat, my passion became even stronger. And that was even before I knew about the much higher risk of mammary cancer and other illnesses in unspayed cats. Whenever I can, I help the readers of my cat blog find resources for low-cost (or even free) spay or neuter, and I urge them to have their cats fixed as soon as they can.
I’m grateful that the spay/neuter message is all over the place now. I’m grateful that every animal adopted from a shelter is spayed or neutered before they even leave the place. I’m grateful that there are so many resources to help low-income cat caretakers do the right thing by their feline companions.
What do you think? How has the message changed since you were a child? Have you seen a cat that suffered as a result of not being spayed or neutered? What else do you want to say about spaying and neutering? Speak up and make a comment below.