How the Hen House Turns: Six Weeks on Dog Trails
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.
This is the story of DeeDee’s surgery. She was adopted with Scooter at age three months, spayed at three months before her bones capped off.
Without the hormones, bones don’t mature and harden properly, so they are subject to injury with normal activity. I recognize that there are too many unwanted pregnancies in the canine world, but we adoptive dog-lovers can be responsible and have the spaying done after they have grown up, so it doesn’t commit a dog to a lifetime of unfinished bones.
When DeeDee and Scooter were still young dogs, I took them for daily walks into the steep canyons that run between our piñon-juniper hill and the gold course. I didn’t know that professional search and rescue dogs are often carried down steep inclines to save wear and tear on their joints. My dogs loved to race up and down the accessible canyon walls full speed ahead–until the day DeeDee suddenly started limping. The x-rays showed that she had split the condyle on her left elbow. We had no choice. Arthroscopic surgery was available in Albuquerque, complete with color photography of the procedure. It cost $2000.
DeeDee was a good patient. She understood that she needed to heal, that she was not supposed to run around our half-acre full steam after the crows. She respected the leash, without me telling her to “take it easy” on the other end more than a few times. I was amazed at how many dog trails there were around and across the yard, how many favorite spots off the trail she could find to do her business, how many things there were to sniff on the way through the wild grass and clover, how many wild elm had found root in the drought.
Six weeks ended without a limp, and I missed our walks for a while. Of course, DeeDee was delighted to be free of her bandages and supports, but a few years later, at age nine, she began to find it difficult to get up, from the arthritis in her back hips. Though she has never complained, has never even whined, she is obviously in pain the mornings after husband Don takes the dogs on easy-going hikes to the park. Pills help, and for a while she could do without pain pills.
I enforced the dogs’ job as bird-sitters. It kept them outside most of the day, reacting to the occasional passing coyote or hiker and chasing the crows away. DeeDee was like a new dog. Now at last the arthritis has caught up to her, and she is not required to watch the birds for more than a few hours when the weather is nice.
Would all this pain have been avoided if she had not been spayed at 3 months, long before her bones had a chance to harden, “cap-off” as they say? I think so. Yes, dogs should be spayed to avoid unwanted breeding, but not until they have matured and had one heat. Adoption should be done with a payment and a credit for spaying, to be done when it doesn’t create cripples.