The Dark Side of Spay and Neuter: Veterinarian Botched Surgeries and Back Alley Castrations Claim the Lives of Numerous Cats
"They just don't want to accept that it's their fault because they didn't do the operation right. Mistakes do happen but they are trying to cover it up or something."
-- Nadia Pavlovic
Over the past few decades sterilization has become the Holy Grail of cat and dog advocates. Even celebrities such as Bob Barker have jumped on the spay and neuter bandwagon.
While sterilization is sans doute a huge improvement over en masse exterminations, it is not without its negative aspects. Most poignantly, it can sometimes be fatal as forty-seven-year-old Nadia Pavlovic of Oxford recently found out when she lost her cat, Darcy, to a botched spaying. (See photo above.)
Darcy's ovaries were removed by Andrew Bartholomew Veterinary Surgeons of Iffley Road in either late December or January and the cat was immediately sent home. By the next morning, however, Pavlovic noticed that she had cold paws and would not touch her food.
She then telephoned the surgery with her concerns only to be informed that she had no need to worry and that Darcy would be fine. Not believing Bartholomew's reassurances for one moment, she sought out and received a second opinion from another vet who advised her to rush Darcy back to the surgery.
Malheureusement, she was too late. Darcy died en route and a necropsy later revealed that she had bled to death.
Despite her requests for an explanation, Bartholomew has steadfastly refused to tell her either what went wrong with the operation or to even apologize for killing Darcy. Although it is not known if Pavlovic is planning a wrongful death lawsuit, she certainly has more than ample cause for such an undertaking.
"They just don't want to accept that it's their fault because they didn't do the operation right," Pavlovic told the Oxford Mail on February 3rd. (See "Woman's Pleas to Know How Cat Died.") "Mistakes do happen but they are trying to cover it up or something."
Although no statistics are kept as to the number of cats that are killed by botched sterilizations, the death toll must be exceedingly high based solely upon the sheer volume of such procedures. Nevertheless, the errors committed by trained practitioners pale in comparison with the horrific crimes of back alley butchers who crudely attempt to sterilize cats.
Par exemple, on January 26th an unknown assailant in Marion, North Carolina wound a rubber band around the genitals of a handsome black and white longhaired moggy named Little Bit. Discovered a day later covered in blood, veterinarian John Owens was able to save his penis but not his testicles.
"All of that tissue was diseased and coming off by the time the kitty was brought here," Owens told The McDowell News on January 30th. (See "Me-Ouch! Investigators Search for Person Who Castrated Cat.") "It (the rubber band) cuts off the blood supply to those tissues. They rot and fall off."
Little Bit has been placed on antibiotics but is unable to rest comfortably because of the extent of his very painful injuries. He is, thankfully, going to live and that is the important thing. "I think he's going to do just fine," Owens predicted.
He is considerably less sanguine when it comes to the perpetrator of this despicable crime. "If they do that to an animal, they can do that to a person," he added ominously.
Little Bit's caretaker, Karen Pressley, concurs. "It is beyond my understanding," she told The McDowell News in the article cited supra. "It's a wonder he didn't die." (See photo below of her and Little Bit.")
While the use of rubber bands in order to castrate cats, dogs, and bulls is fairly common on farms, on the Hawaiian island of Maui knives are the weapon of choice. In fact, the back alley sterilization of cats has reached unprecedented levels there despite the availability of an abundance of low-cost professional alternatives.
On November 30, 2006, then thirty-two-year-old Dina Santos of Pukalani hired fifty-year-old Victor Prones of nearby Kula to castrate her shorthaired white cat. Prones then proceeded to secure the defenseless animal to a board with duct tape in order to keep him for biting.
The savage then used a knife in order to remove his testicles. At no time was the cat provided with either anesthesia or pain medication. When the cat began to hemorrhage, Prones crudely attempted to stanch the flow by fraying the ends of his blood vessels.
Mercifully, one of Santos' neighbors later discovered the horribly mutilated cat and took him to a veterinarian. Bleeding from his scrotum, suffering from a severe infection, and stripped of large chunks of his fur by the duct tape, the cat was hospitalized overnight and required veterinary treatment costing in excess of $400.
On January 16, 2007, Santos pleaded guilty to one charge of animal cruelty in Wailuki District Court and was fined a minuscule $255. Incredibly, the court allowed her to retain possession of the cat!
Prones, who pleaded nolo contendere, was fined $500 but one-half of that amount was suspended for one year.
"In today's society, there is no justifiable reason to do home castrations of companion animals if you're not a veterinarian," Aimee Anderson of the Maui Humane Society told The Maui News on February 23, 2007. (See "Home Neutering Leads to Two Fines.") "It is important to spay and neuter, obviously. However, it has to be done properly."
Along about this same time an ailing eight-month-old orange Abyssinian and tabby mix subsequently dubbed Boo Boo Kitty was picked up on Alohi Street in Pukalani and taken to Upcountry Veterinary Services where he was diagnosed to be suffering from another botched castration. In addition to also missing huge chunks of his fur, a tendon had been removed from one of his rear legs and he had developed a severe E. coli infection that had spread down his legs.
"The doc said it was really sick," Laura Daily who works for veterinarian Ronald Moyer told The Maui News on July 2, 2007. (See "Animal Cruelty Felony Offense.") "We didn't think he was going to pull through."
Fortunately, both she and Moyer were wrong. It took eight surgeries, including three skin grafts, and cost in excess of $3,000 but Boo Boo somehow survived.
Daily, who began taking the kitten home overnight while he was recuperating, has since adopted him. "He's the most awesome cat," she told The Maui News. "He's so sweet. He has no fear. He was probably this trusting little soul."
It is precisely their lack of fear and blind trust in humans that makes domesticated cats such easy targets for back alley castraters. The authorities on Maui conducted an investigation into Boo Boo's mutilation but were unable to turn up any suspects and no one ever came forward to reclaim him.
The rash of back alley sterilizations has prompted officials on Maui to enact tougher animal cruelty legislation that criminalizes this type of flagrant abuse. In particular, it is now a felony for anyone who "intentionally or knowingly tortures, mutilates, or poisons or causes the torture, mutilation or poisoning of any pet animal, resulting in serious bodily injury or death to the pet animal."
"People just don't know," Daily said. "Maybe if they know (sic), this won't (sic) happen. People don't need to do this. There are so many free or very low-cost spaying and neutering that it's silly."
She is, of course, wrong on all counts. Individuals who perform back alley sterilizations know exactly what they are doing. They are simply too cheap to spend one penny on a proper procedure and accordingly do not care either how much pain that they inflict or even if they kill their patients.
The only solution is to make sterilizations free to pet owners who either cannot or will not pay. Moreover, just as there is a crisis in health care for humans, veterinarian fees are rising at an astounding nine per cent a year. (See Cat Defender post of September 25, 2007 entitled "Acid Attack Leaves Solskjaer with Severe Injuries and Horrific Pain as His Heartbroken and Cash-Strapped Family Struggles to Cope.")
The outrageous fees charged by veterinarians are prompting some cat and dog owners to entrust the health and lives of their companions to quacks who not only perform illegal sterilizations but far more serious procedures as well. (See Cat Defender posts of February 14, 2006 and August 17, 2006 entitled "Special Agent Fred the Cat Goes Undercover to Help Nab Quack Vet in Brooklyn Sting Operation" and "Brave Little Fred the Undercover Cat Has His Short, Tragic Life Snuffed Out by Hit-and-Run Driver in Queens.")
Maui's new law is a good start but the authorities must appropriate the funds and have the will to enforce it in order for it to be successful. More importantly, judges must begin to take castration cases seriously and punish perpetrators accordingly.
On a more general level, advocates claim that the case in favor of sterilization is a slam dunk. In the case of female cats, they argue that spaying reduces the incidence of both uterine and mammary cancer, helps to prevent the formation of ovarian cysts, and eliminates such common complications of pregnancy as birth defects and still births.
Neutering meanwhile is said not only to reduce the likelihood that tomcats will develop testicular cancer, but it also obviates the need for them to roam and fight. Overall, sterilization is said to make both male and female cats easier to handle and therefore more loving pets.
Nonetheless, sterilization is patently unnatural and that in and of itself makes it suspect. Secondly, it is an invasive procedure and all such operations carry health risks.
Sterilized cats also have a disturbing tendency to put on excessive amounts of weight which in turn quite often leads to the onset of diabetes. (See Cat Defender post of August 22, 2007 entitled "Indoor Cats Are Dying from Diabetes, Hyperthyroidism, and Various Toxins in the Home.") Neutered toms also have a tendency to develop bladder stones.
Although it is questionable as to why indoor cats need to be sterilized in the first place, the procedure is routine for them in most instances despite of what happened to Darcy. The spaying and neutering of feral cats is considerably more problematic, however.
To begin with, caretakers starve them in order to lure them into traps. This is not only traumatic for the cats but it destroys whatever minimal level of trust that had developed between them and those who feed them. This in turn makes socializing them for future adoption far more difficult.
The cats are next anesthetized, tied down to a gurney, their undersides shaved, and their reproductive organs removed. (See photo above.) Following the operation, their ears are then slit with a scalpel and they are immediately returned to the wild with little or no post-operative care.
Some of them die from too much anesthesia while others are left to bleed to death alone in the woods when their stitches break. Cats still groggy from the anesthesia also are easy prey for other animals and motorists.
Tagging sterilized cats by notching their ears can also lead to infections. Any feral colony caretaker who is on the ball should be able to tell by sight which cats have been altered and, if not, less invasive methods are available. Besides, any feral cat who has been previously trapped is unlikely to commit the same faux pas again.
Various individuals and organizations are currently working to develop a birth control method for cats that they claim will alleviate the need to trap and sterilize. It is too early to tell if this is going to be feasible but any medication that disrupts normal hormonal activity is problematic.
For instance, women who take oral contraceptives are prone to both a loss of libido and depression. Physicians then in turn place them on antidepressants which also have side effects.
Similar complications can no doubt be expected to occur in cats as they already have developed in elephants and other animals who have had either their estrus cycles disrupted or been brutalized by vasectomies. (See Washington Post, February 26, 2008, "South Africa to Resume Elephant Culling.")
It also is important to keep in mind that the practice of veterinary medicine is a racket. Just as veterinarians clean up financially by administering unnecessary vaccinations and euthanasias, they also make a packet off of removing ovaries and testicles.
Worst still, some of them cash in again by selling the ovaries that they remove from female cats to cloners and vivisectors. (See Cat Defender post of April 21, 2005 entitled "Sterilization Is Cruel, Barbaric, and Deadly.") If the goal of en masse sterilizations is to reduce the feline population this practice is not only immoral but dishonest as well.
Like it or not, sterilization and all its attendant cruelties is here to stay. Individuals who love cats have a right to insist, however, that these procedures be performed correctly and that post-operative care be provided.
One glaring example of the slipshod, fly-by-night nature of some en masse sterilizations occurred in February of 2005 when Alley Cat Allies left the cafeteria at a public school in Washington in such deplorable condition that classes scheduled for the following Monday had to be canceled. The cleanup alone reportedly cost between $5,000 and $10,000. (See Washington Post, February 22, 2005, "Cat Clinic Outrages D.C. Parents; Procedures Done in School Cafeteria.")
Finally, sterilization alone will not solve the problem of feline overpopulation. A ban on cloning and hybridization as well as strict controls on breeders and other cat purveyors are also needed.
Additional research into the field of feline sexuality would also be beneficial. Since climate, diet, and the number of available sexual partners all play such key roles in feline reproduction, there just possibly might be some natural way of manipulating these variables in order to stabilize the population. (See Cat Defender post of January 23, 2007 entitled "Global Warming Blamed for Unseasonable Increase in Feral Kitten Births on Long Island.")
Although new approaches to this age-old problem are desperately needed, in the end there is not any substitute for cat owners who take their responsibilities seriously.
Photos: Nadia Pavlovic (Darcy), The McDowell News (Little Bit and Karen Pressley), and Huro Kitty of Flickr and Best Friends Catnippers Feral Cat Spay-Neuter Clinic (cats being sterilized).