How do you answer 'dog questions?'


Dr. Bill Wilson looked blankly at Jan, his office manager.

Dr. Bill Wilson looked blankly at Jan, his office manager.

Jan had run up front to help the staff answer the phone. She had received a somewhat common request. It seems that someone named Helen Frazier had a really important "dog question."

Now most vets, upon hearing this news, usually start to sweat down the back of their necks. They know that "dog questions" are not likely to be directly related to veterinary medicine and surgery. They also know that they do not customarily add to the bottom line of the hospital.

In addition, Bill was especially sensitive to dominant individuals with an agenda. He sensed this type of phone encounter.

"What did you tell her?" Bill asked in a dry and high voice that always indicated a state of mounting distress.

The wind up

"She was insistent upon talking to you and stated that the matter was urgent."

"Is she a client?" Bill inquired now in full tenor.

"She says that she has brought a dog here before but I cannot find her record."

Now the sweat was beading up on his forehead like water on the patina of a freshly waxed car. Bill sucked a bit of air and exclaimed in a stratospheric voice as if he was on helium, "Can someone else talk to her?" His vocal cords were now drawn up like piano wire.

Jan paused and frowned almost imperceptibly.

"Dr. Wilson, she says you know her and she will talk only to you."

This was the final nail in the coffin. When a client says they know the vet in question, ostensibly from some past veterinary life, they have played the trump card.

Bill, unfortunately, was not busy. He punched at the phone buttons, passing through clients at various stages of phone sequencing, until he finally punched in the lady with the "dog question."

"Hello. Bill, remember me?" Helen blurted. "I came in with Abigail Beecher when her dog had stomach troubles back in your younger days. You may have found out that I am now president of the Madison County Humane Society."

The pitch

Bill's sweat was now pouring down onto his desk.

Helen continued, "Bill, I have been calling all the vets in town wondering if any of you are willing to spay dogs for free. You know the horrible situation that our furry friends are in. Someone told me that you spayed a dog for free when Widow Jones moved into federal housing a few years ago."

"Drat," Bill thought to himself. "No good deed ever goes unpunished."

And there it was-Helen had finally asked her 'dog question' and played the "ace of hearts" at the same time. To Bill, it was more akin to the Spanish Inquisition than a real question.

"I am sorry, Ms. Frazier," Bill squeaked, "But we don't do any spays or neuters for free as a general rule."

"Jan, is that you? I wanted to talk to Dr. Wilson!"

" Oh no, Ms. Frazier, this is Dr. Wilson, I am just a bit out of voice today."

"Well anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Dr. Wilson the other vets didn't tell me 'no' and you want to be as caring and concerned as they are don't you?"

Ms. Frazier had now played her Ace of Spades.

He hesitated meekly then said, "Of course, Ms. Frazier. Why don't you make an appointment and we can talk about it."

He had timidly played a Joker from the empty box of cards.

This movement takes two basic forms:

The humane movement

  • Animal welfare issues

  • Animal rights issues

If you factor out the animal rights movement, I know of not one single veterinarian who is not for animal welfare. It is the reason they went into veterinary medicine in the first place. It is the reason that so many veterinarians embrace the human-animal bond. I also know of no veterinarian that is against humane societies or pet overpopulation.

Animal abuse is a horrific injustice that many private and semi-private and public agencies have lobbied against for decades. Veterinarians embrace all of this. The humane message is well known to everyone with ears.

Unfortunately, there are human beings with ears out there and nothing between them. These narrow-minded folks either knowingly or unknowingly have listened to the message and feel it doesn't apply to them or that the "animal do-gooders" should mind their own business. These people include:

  • Animal collectors

  • Owners that own pets as a trophy or as a "testosterone" crutch.

  • Backyard breeders and puppy mill owners.

  • The pet "reproductive rights" crowd

  • Owners who truly feel that their animals are chattel.

  • The legitimately uninformed (an IQ less than room temperature).

Since the above have never listened to the message, this leaves Doris Day and those in the humane movement with only one apparent conclusion: Find a way to spay and neuter every dog and cat on the planet. Since they couldn't do the surgeries themselves, they looked to the veterinary community to help them achieve the objective-which is zero population growth (ZPG) for pets. ZPG is the Holy Grail of the pet overpopulation movement. This aim was ostensibly to be achieved through low/no cost spay and neuter programs.

If a local veterinarian doesn't just fall all over themselves to help the humane societies in this endeavor, the veterinarian is immediately thrown into the "they're agin' us" category.

Since enough veterinarians were not courteous enough to spay animals "at cost," the movement implored the public sector to erect facilities to do the job for them. Some people in the humane movement found out first hand that veterinarians were subsidizing the spay/neuter program all along. In spite of this revelation there still exists an uneasy tension between veterinary medicine and the humane movement. Can we move forward?

First, we must answer the question: "Is it true that spaying and neutering most of the pets will stop pet overpopulation?" For the answer please see paragraph #3 verse #1 above. Additionally, one must ask a legitimate corollary: "If the above people did not exist could we stop pet overpopulation?" The answer lies in the semi-domesticated or feral population that we collectively call strays. So, in addition to trying to control human behavior, the humane societies have assumed that spaying and neutering strays is another linchpin in their strategy.

Some unanswered questions

Yet, we are spaying and neutering animals more than ever. It appears that based entirely on the assumptions made by those non-scientific types in the humane movement that their efforts can best be described as treading water. There seems to be just as many unwanted pets as ever.

Conclusion: maybe the assumptions are wrong.

I took a university course a few years ago in wildlife biology. It seems that when predators are plentiful and prey diminishes that predator numbers go down and vice-versa.

Wildlife biology and an epiphany

Not only that, but predator fecundity goes down even before prey numbers start to diminish. This hit me like a ton of bricks. What if we spayed and neutered a large percentage of strays (feral pets) in a given population and the remaining individuals that were still reproductively intact just increased their reproductive output? We would never get anywhere at all with the feral population.

That got me to thinking about screwworms. You must be asking the question: What on earth do screwworms have to do with anything? Well as a veterinary student I was totally amazed that the federal government had been in the business of raising millions of screwworm larvae in the 50's in order to sterilize the males and drop them from airplanes in Florida.

Screwworm connection

As you know, these critters were devastating the leather industry. Something had to be done. The sterile males dropped from the airplanes copulated with the wild females and screwworm reproduction stopped completely-the screwworm population disappeared along with its threat. It worked. That was the end of the story and no one since has even thought to put two and two together and see if the same thing might work for feral pets (or exotic species of snakes that are destroying the ecosystem of Hawaii).

Do I know if something like this could work? Of course not. But it is time to find out in the place where it really counts-the universities.

Universities seem to have precious little money these days for research and are currently biding their time waiting for the states to give them more money by renaming bacteria and immune mediated skin diseases. This takes little money-just the pain of a lot of committee meetings with people they don't much care for. But within the university lies the solution to the pet population question. Real life answers with evidence-based research.

Research: the missing tool

Someone needs to inform the students that the real frontier in veterinary medicine in not in wildlife rehabilitation and zoo medicine but is in wildlife and population medicine.

Along with their sister field of epidemiology, these emerging fields are likely to hold the real answers to the age-old question concerning pet populations, their reproductive behaviors and ultimate control.

So the humane movement needs to at least consider changing some assumptions. Then, while they are at it, put some celebrities to work drumming up money for population medicine research at the university level.

So Betty White-are you listening? I've got a "dog question" for you.

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