On Wednesday, Momma bundled me into the car at 6 am, and we headed north.
I should have known something was up, because she never usually gets up before 8 am, and here we were, on the road already.
She kept looking at me with that worried look, and I just couldn't help feeling that something was going to happen.
But you know us animals, we are in the hands of our owners for better or for worse (many times for worse), and so all you can do is cross your claws and paws and hope for the best.
As we traveled on the highway, I knew we were heading upstate to that idyllic setting, grandpa's house in the Catskills.
My thoughts were confirmed when we took the exit--but then, oh oh, we turned right, towards town, instead of left towards the house.
This was not looking good.
Soon enough we pulled into the driveway of the Saugerties Animal Hospital. Mommy took me for one of those bulls--t walks, the kind that you know isn't going to last because you're heading for the doctor's office in two seconds anyway.
Momma opened the door and took me in and then I knew, this was no good. I started shaking from head to toe. One of my greatest fears is that once I am in I will never come out. What will they do to me? Stick me with needles? Prod my groin? Dig in my ears?
Little did I know this time would be the toughest visit of all. Mommy had discovered three little bumps under my breast. You know I am only three, so a bump shouldn't mean anything. But Mommy thought it might. Perhaps cancer, she said with a serious face. And then there was this big bump on my head that she kept feeling. The doctor told her to take that off, when they were "fixing" me, though I did not know what that meant. I am fine, I thought, I don't need any fixing.
It seemed like I waited for a long time, while Dr. R. worked on a another doggie who seemed to have a lot of problems. Then finally they took me in. I struggled, but I am too small you know to do anything about it when big hands are on me.
The next thing I knew I was waking up, and a nice man with glasses and a smile was talking to me. My head and stomach hurt, and he took me for a walk.
When Mommy came to pick me up, she said I looked like a drunken sailor, bobbing and weaving. She got so scared she thought they had hurt my brain when they removed the bump. She started to cry because I had a 4-inch long red gash covered with big stitches on the top of my shaved head. My head isn't that big, so I guess it really scared her.
To me it felt like my forehead was a little too tight. But as soon as we got in the car, I laid down on the soft sheepskin bed that Mommy brought from the house. She kept on crying every time she looked at me. Like I needed that.
After we got home, I felt bad all night, and I was coughing and crying. The painkillers had worn off and everything was hurting: my head, my stomach. Each time I moved I cried, I just couldn't help it.
Later I heard Mommy talking on the phone. Apparently that day she had changed her mind 3 or 4 times on whether to fix me or not. In the end she decided not to, and mumbled something about how the doctor's office must think she's nuts now.
There are many reasons for humans to take out our reproductive organs. For one, there are many, many irresponsible owners who let their dogs and cats go when they are in heat. Those animals produce children, and then there is no home for them.
We have hundreds of thousands of unwanted pets in the United States. Many of them are put to death because there is no one to take care of them. I think this is really cruel. Why can't they let them free instead? It makes no sense to me. I would rather live in the woods than be dead.
But humans have their way of doing things. Cutting out my ovaries and other reproductive organs seems like a really drastic way to control the population: why not just keep me on a leash? That's what Mommy was thinking.
But those aren't the only reasons that health care professionals like Dr. R., and many others think it is best to fix animals: they worry that we will get breast cancer (there is a 25% chance that I could if I am not fixed,) and another horrible disease called pyometra. Spaying a female dog reduces the risk of this horrible disease by 99 percent. Not spaying them increases the risk by 25%.
But Mommy said none of the animals she had ever had were fixed, and it was a big idea for her to understand.
Part of the reason she hesitated she said, there was a huge snow storm coming that night that promised to dump 2 feet of snow on the ground in the Catskills and in New York City as well: how was she to carry me through the storm, or take me out in big snow banks when my stomach was full of stitches? The hospital did not want to change the date of the surgery (Mommy had changed it once before), so she felt there was nothing else she could do.
There are other reasons not to fix animals though. In a summary of research done on the topic by Dr. Laura Sanborn in 2007, she found that animals bear a greater risk of developing other illnesses and diseases when they are fixed. In her paper Sanborn says, the research "also suggests how much we really do not yet understand about this subject."
One greater risk is bone cancer, followed by splenic hemanglosarcoma, another type of cancer by a factor of 2.2.
A spayed female can also develop incontinence as between 3 and 20% do, and spaying a female dog triples the risk of developing hypothyroidism. A fixed female will develop more urinary tract infections by a factor of 3.3 to 4, urinary tumors, orthopedic disorders, and will have an increased risk of adverse effects from vaccinations. Many of these conditions and diseases are the result of the animal losing the protective effect of the hormones that are present when the female dog is intact.
Adverse effects for male dogs are greater, though male dogs are more likely to propagate an unwanted animal population than females because they are in heat all the time, whereas female dogs go through heat cycles only twice a year.
One thing is clear: in weighing the pros and cons of fixing me, Mommy understands that I am part Cocker Spaniel, and that breed is among several that have a greater incidence of breast tumors (both malignant and not.) But since I am a mix with a Shitzhu, that does not necessarily mean I will also have a greater chance of breast tumors.
It also has been recognized by other researchers that environmental toxins are the cause of breast cancer in animals, and because of the breast development, the glands become receptor sites for toxins and thus, cancer growth. This is true even after the animal is fixed though if they fixed after the age of one year old.
Mommy can prevent a lot of toxins from entering my body by changing my food, by feeding me only organic chicken and vegetables and rice. But when I walk on the ground, my paws absorb all kinds of terrible things like motor oil and antifreeze, not to mention all the other crap that is in the air which I breathe. Much of the dirt I lick from my paws is very dangerous to my body.
If I was not spayed before the age of three (I am now more than 3) my chances of being protected from breast cancer by being spayed go way down: but still some doctors have observed that even after the age of 3, and after the incidence of mammary cancer, there is a 45% increase in number of years lived when the dog is finally spayed.
I think Mommy has put off fixing me because she is averse to the process. But she also recognizes that there is a role that progesterone plays in the animal's body that protects them from developing other diseases.
If she lets me keep my ovaries until I am five, maybe I will get enough progesterone to help prevent some of the other illnesses --other types of cancer for example, while also balancing out the danger of developing breast cancer because I haven't been spayed.
But if she finds that the bumps in my chest were malignant, she has told me that the best thing to do will be to fix me. Mammary cancer is very scary, and could be hard to get rid of properly. If I don't have cancer, she can possibly wait until I am 5 years old to fix me, because then the chance of getting cancer is greater.
But fixing me could mean no more of that light hearted feeling I have, that good feeling in my bones and in my muscles.
Very sad. Maybe researchers will spend more time working on this: my feeling is not enough is known about the subject, and it is a very radical thing to cut out my ovaries and uterus.