Sterilization is a tool to save lives, not end them


Sleeping puppies in foster care. Pregnant mothers should be sent to foster care to give birth and wean their puppies. Their lives matter, too.

Pima County, AZ’s animal shelter will no longer allow pregnant dogs to go to rescue groups so that the puppies can be born and weaned before the mother is spayed. Instead, the mother will be spayed and the puppies will be killed. Whether it is ethical to spay a pregnant dog is not an “abstract” discussion (and for me, it is not a religious one either). It is simply about life and death consequences.

Not only is the surgery harder and more risky for the mother, but if the kittens or puppies are viable, they must be individually killed, usually through an injection of sodium pentobarbital. Even when they are not, when a mother is spayed, the kittens or puppies die from anoxia (oxygen deprivation) due to lack of blood supply from the uterus once the vessels are clamped. They suffocate. That is not consistent with the No Kill philosophy.

Shelter leadership is claiming that this is being done for two reasons: the numbers of dogs already born and allowing the puppies to be born “increases the likelihood of disease” for the mom and puppies. As to the former, such an argument condones killing and while I support high volume, low cost sterilization and it is a core program of the No Kill Equation model of sheltering I champion, sterilization is a tool to save lives, not end them. Moreover, it is not an either-or proposition: for it is untrue that either unborn puppies (and presumably kittens) must die or those already born must. We can save them both. (See  and

Second, killing puppies to reduce “the likelihood of disease” is an inherent contradiction and an obscene inversion of priorities. Not only can the stress and complications of doing a late term spay on the mother in the shelter increase the likelihood of her falling ill, but the argument that “having puppies in the shelter is really dangerous for them” is true because of the risk created by the people in the shelter itself. The argument amounts to this: it is dangerous for them because they might get sick and if they get sick, we might kill them. How much sense does it make to kill them to prevent that very thing—death—from happening? We kill them to prevent them from being killed. Moreover, advocates are asking that they be sent to rescue or foster care, not live in the shelter. Finally, killing puppies in utero actually causes suffering and it contradicts the very mission of a shelter.

The fundamental mission of a shelter is to save lives. Everything a shelter does should be a means to stop killing. But too many shelter directors and shelter veterinarians have forgotten this core principle; killing has simply become one more tool in the “medicine cabinet” of these managers. It sits beside the vaccinations, the parvocides, the cleaning solutions, and the antibiotics. But those other things are tools to keep animals alive, to reduce “the likelihood of disease.” One of the primary reasons shelters should vaccinate, clean, disinfect, socialize, foster, and implement all those other programs is so that animals do not get sick to the point where they are killed. Everything they are claiming to try to achieve is a means to the end of not killing. And so while vaccinations, parvocides, and antibiotics help us reach the goal of not killing, killing—by its very act—does not. It is an inherent contradiction to use “killing” as a means to “not killing.” If we could kill our way out of this problem, we would have been a No Kill nation many generations ago.

While Pima’s shelter has been making headway in saving lives, noting that their save rate has almost doubled (something I applaud), the puppies to be killed matter, too. And when statistics are reported, the puppies will be nowhere to be found. Because they are not yet born, even when they are viable and full term, even when they are removed from the mother and killed one by one through an overdose of barbiturates, their deaths will not be entered into the statistics. They simply will not count. Instead, their little bodies will be discarded in the trash as if they were nothing more than garbage, even when rescue groups are ready, willing, and able to save them.

(Thank you No Kill Revolution for forwarding me this.)


Have a comment? Join the discussion by  clicking here.