Impact of Mandatory Spay/Neuter on Working Dogs

Mandatory spay/neuter laws are devastating to working dogs. No exemptions can prevent the damage. There is no bright line between working dogs to be exempted and pet dogs that must be spayed or neutered. The traits that make a working dog are genetically fragile. It takes constant effort by experienced, thoughtful breeders to protect these traits. Mandatory spay/neuter laws remove so many dogs from the pool of potential breeding stock that it is impossible to preserve the traits that make a good working dog. In the end the dogs will loose the ability to do their jobs.

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Though we often think of dogs today only as pets, in California tens of thousands of dogs are employed to do useful work. No matter how crafted, mandatory spay/neuter laws affect working dogs as well as pets.

Working dog breeding requires selection for the specific traits required to do a job, in every generation. Otherwise, working abilities will gradually diminish over successive generations until they fall below the level required to do the work.

To produce useful working dogs, breeders must selectively breed from among the dogs with the best demonstrated working abilities. “You need to breed to the extreme [workers] to produce good workers” is a commonly understood maxim of working dog breeding.

Working abilities in dogs are generally not apparent until dogs are about 1 – 2 years of age, and sometimes even older. Dogs need to mentally and physically mature into adults before their working abilities are established. It’s also necessary to wait until a dog is an adult to do many important genetic health screening tests for breeding purposes, including orthopedic tests of hip soundness.

Because of the need to selectively breed from among the best working dogs, and because there’s no reliable way to select dogs for working dog breeding when they are puppies, it’s critical to keep many more working dogs sexually intact into adulthood than end up being bred. These intact dogs are for the most part owned by working dog handlers, not breeders. This way, there is an adequate pool of intact working dogs from which to select the best breeding candidates. This time-proven process cannot work if only a tiny percentage of dog owners are allowed to keep intact dogs on account of mandatory spay/neuter laws and limited access to “intact permits”.

Here’s some examples of how mandatory spay/neuter laws affect working dogs:

Police Service Dogs

Exemptions for working dogs are totally inadequate to protect law enforcement:

Most of the breeding dogs that create working police dogs are not themselves police dogs, but are bred and used in the protection dog sports where their working abilities are tested. Because they are not themselves police dogs, most would not be eligible under any exemption for police service dogs and so would have to be spayed or neutered.

finneganExemptions only protect the current generation of working police dogs from mandatory spay/neuter. FutureĀ  generations would have to qualify for an exemption prior to some very young age to avoid mandatory sterilization. But there is no such thing as a six month old puppy who is being trained for or used by law enforcement. A dog has to mature into early adulthood before meeting those criteria. Future generations of police dogs would be spay/neutered before they even became eligible for an exemption. Spay/neuter cannot be undone, so an exemption doesn’t help police dogs at all.

Many working police dogs were once somebody’s pet dog. They were bought by a pet owner as a young pup, but were rehomed as young adults. If they pass all the working and health tests, eventually they may end up with a police department. Few of these dogs come with registration papers. Because working police dogs spent their first year or two of life as somebody’s pet dog, there’s no way to create a bright line in the law between the future supply of police dogs and other pet dogs. Most of these future police dogs, perhaps nearly all, would be sterilized before even making it into police work, under any mandatory spay/neuter law.

A few breeding dogs or potential future police dogs might qualify for an exemption. The increased cost and bureaucratic hassle will cause many pet owners not to bother, further reducing the availability of these dogs. Remember, before a dog becomes a police dog, he’s a pet. For police service work, nearly all of the dogs are intact males. There may be no other K9 work where testosterone plays such an important role in the development of the dog’s working abilities. Because of the demonstrated benefit of testosterone in the working ability of Law Enforcement dogs, leaving even non-breeding males intact plays an important role in the success of these dogs. The lives of police officers and citizens may be put at risk by the reduced working ability resulting from early neuter. Neuter these dogs when they are six months old, and it will massively reduce their odds of growing up to be police service dogs. Few would make it.

It is already very difficult for law enforcement to find dogs who are suitable for police work. A very large majority of dogs who are evaluated fail to pass the screening tests. Dogs have to be imported from all over the world just to supply the need in California. Any mandatory spay/neuter law would make an already difficult task many times more difficult. Mandatory spay/neutrer would increase costs to the taxpayers to purchase dogs from a shrinking supply of suitable dogs. Crime could increase as there would not be enough dogs to fill all the law enforcement jobs. There’s really no way to create a mandatory spay/neuter law that would not do serious harm to law enforcement in the state of California.

Guide Dogs and Assistance Dogs

Yellow Labrador Retreiver assistance dog with handlerAmong the greatest services that working dogs perform is assisting people who need help in their everyday lives. The most well known of these are the Guide Dogs for the Blind, but there are many other kinds of assistance dogs. As with all other working dogs, mandatory spay/neuter laws would destroy the breeding programs for Guide Dogs and other assistance dogs.

Guide Dogs for the Blind of San Rafael, CA has their own breeding program. Those dogs could be made exempt, but this would not save the Guide Dogs. The Guide Dogs program regularly breeds to dogs outside of their program. This is vital for the genetic health and success of their program. These outside dogs belong to private individuals; they are pets and so would not be exempt. While an exemption would slow the decline, the end would be the same. Without a wide range of intact breeding stock from which to select, decline is inevitable.

Guide Dogs for the Blind is not the only assistance dog program in California, only the most well known. There are at least sixteen other accredited assistance dog programs in the State. Some of these programs train very carefully selected shelter dogs, but most get their candidates from the same working dog breeders that supply police dogs, search and rescue dogs, herding dogs, and other working dogs. Any mandatory spay/neuter law no matter what exemptions it included would in the end destroy these invaluable dogs.

Search and Rescue Dogs

Search and rescue (SAR) dogs use the dog’s greatest asset, her nose, to work saving human lives. It takes a special dog to work for hours in bad weather, nasty terrain searching the air for even the tiniest hint of scent. Each time the dog detects a fragment of scent she must track down the source. Only the very best dogs can do this just as well at the end of a grueling day as they did fresh out of the truck. SAR trailing dogs do what is possibly the most demanding job we ask of any dog, following days old scent trails across miles of varied terrain. It looks like a miracle every time you see it. Yet to well bred and trained SAR trailing dogs, it is just all in a days work.

The nose, the intelligence, the work ethic, the trainability required to make a SAR dog are genetically fragile traits. Breeders must select the best breeding stock in each generation to produce the next. The best SAR dogs don’t show their real quality until they are several years old. If these dogs are spayed or neutered at an early age they are lost to the breeding program. And as with all other working dogs, most of the breeding stock for SAR dogs are not themselves SAR dogs. They are family pets used for tracking, protection sports, agility, hunting. Any mandatory spay/neuter law that tries to carve out an exemption for SAR dogs will miss the majority of the breeding stock that should produce the next generation. Within a few years there will not be any SAR dogs in the woods looking for lost children.

Stock Dogs

Stock dogs are used to herd livestock or protect them from threats such as predators. California has thousands of working stock dogs. The dogs are bred from lines that have been used and proven in demanding stock work for decades, sometimes centuries.

honey2Typically none of the working stock dogs in California would qualify for a spay/neuter exemption under a mandatory spay/neuter law. Most of these dogs are unregistered, and many are mixed breeds. Of those that are registered few working stock dogs are trained for or compete in trials. As a result almost none would qualify an exemption. Mandatory spay/neuter would destroy working stock dog breeding in California.

A number of stock dog breeds would simply go extinct in California. They would not be eligible for an exemption. Ironically, this includes the McNab, a working stock dog developed in California over 100 years ago. This unique part of our state heritage, handed down from generation to generation for over a century, would disappear in just over a decade if mandatory spay/neuter becomes law.

As with police service dogs, there would be no future generations of California-bred stock dogs under mandatory spay/neuter, because very few of them are used for herding or guarding livestock when they are puppies. Almost all of the future generation of working stock dogs would be subject to mandatory sterilization before they would be eligible for an exemption. This destroys the breeding population. There is really no way to write an exemption to a mandatory spay/neuter law to adequately protect the livestock industry.

Other Working Dogs

It might be tempting to try to carve out more exemptions in any mandatory spay/neuter law for working dogs to try to address the obvious harm they do. This approach cannot protect working dog breeding. One reason is that there is no way to write a law that can distinguish working dog breeding programs from pet dog breeding. There is no bright line that can separate them, as we see most obviously in the example of police dogs (above).

Another reason is that there are so many types of working dogs, that it’s impossible to list them all in a law. New roles for working dogs are being developed all the time, as we learn more about the amazing talents of man’s best friend. For example, cancer detection is a brand new working role for dogs.

Some of the many roles that working dogs are used for include those listed below. Mandatory spay/neuter laws harm all working dog breeding programs in California, and harm the citizens in California who depend on their working dogs.

  • Tracking/trailing Search & Rescue dog
  • Airscent Search & Rescue dog
  • Urban Search & Rescue dog
  • Water search dog (drowning victims)
  • Water rescue dog (retrieve swimmers in distress)
  • Avalanche dog
  • Guide dog for the blind
  • Signal dog for the deaf
  • Mobility assistance dog
  • Service dog for the disabled
  • teal3Police service dog
  • Police trailing dog
  • Dual purpose police dog
  • Evidence dog
  • Narcotics detection dog
  • Explosives detection dog
  • Guard dog
  • Watch dog
  • Accelerant (Arson) detection dog
  • Military working dog
  • Cadaver dog / Human remains detection dog
  • Termite detection dog
  • Mine detection dog
  • Natural gas detection dog
  • Lost pet search dog
  • Sled dog
  • Sighthound
  • Wildlife detection dog
  • Cancer detection dog
  • Seizure alert dog
  • Livestock herding dog
  • Livestock guardian dog
  • Multipurpose farm dog
  • Agricultural produce detection dog
  • Terrier
  • Upland hunting dog – pointer
  • Upland hunting dog – spaniel
  • Hunting retriever

23 June, 2009 (08:13) | Working Dogs