After growing up in Canada where everyone I know -- except show dog owners -- spays or neuters their cats and dogs, I was surprised that the practice is not widely practiced in Israel where the general notion is that it's unkind to deny an animal the right to reproduce. According to Jewish tradition, and law, no animal of any kind should be neutered or spayed -- unless of course your rabbi deems it okay. The Jewish forefather Jacob, after all, perfected selective breeding of sheep in order to marry the love of his life, Rachel.
While going through a bout of religious enthusiasm myself, I took on the practice and decided to let my dog have puppies. The birth experience was fascinating, enlightening and very educational. I learned how to be a dog midwife from the Internet and figured out how to help her open the first couple of amniotic sacs born around the puppies when they emerge. I urged her to lick and feed her pups in the early days. I think I learned more about mammal reproduction in one morning of eight puppies than I did studying zoology for four years at the University of Toronto.
But living with the puppies was a nightmare. I felt like Jim Carrey from Ace Ventura Pet Detective. Whenever I'd come home and down to my studio it seemed like a thousand little creatures would jump out from behind every corner and box barking as a welcome. Trying to find homes for the little creatures was also a challenge.
Despite being some sort of environmentalist, I'd created eight times more dogs than I started with, and did the math on how many of these puppies would grow to have their own puppies, many of which are neglected and left on the streets of Israel.
I wrote a wildly popular story back during the 2005 Israel Disengagement from Gaza exploring how people in war and conflict easily abandon their pets. The same happened last year in Japan after the nuclear meltdown. But it's not just during trying times where people in advanced countries mistreat pets. In Israel, the cases of abandoned animals during normal times is disgraceful too. And it's not only for cats and dogs, but donkeys, camels and horses too.
Since I experienced the birth process of one pet, I don't really want to do it again. My dog's process also changed her hormones making her extremely territorial and viscous towards other dogs. If I could turn back time I would have got her neutered earlier -- just around the time when I found her abandoned and run-down in the Negev Desert.
Animal cruelty is not denying your pet a chance to breed, it's about preventing the needless birth of animals that will suffer and then go on to create a nuisance to society. In the summer, Tel Aviv and Jaffa is overrun with street cats where I live. They were brought in during the British Mandate period to crawl the streets to hunt and kill the rats. Today they don't bother chasing after rats but gorge themselves on the open garbage cans lining the city streets. With the street cats comes an onslaught of tics and fleas that get into your carpets. There is the danger of taxoplasmosis (I'm pregnant and my doctor tested me for it even though we don't have a cat at home), as well as cat misery when they suffer accidents and disease.
Know the facts about pet behaviour and biology wherever you live. This guide on cats in heat, written by an animal behaviour consultant, will shoot down some false notions about why you should let your cat breed -- even if the kids are begging.
For instance: "There are no medical benefits to having "one litter first" before spaying. In fact, fixing your cat early eliminates romantic yowling, roaming, and fighting," the guide writes.
I wish I'd read this before I let mine become pregnant.