Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Looking for meaning where there may be none.

A very pregnant cat came to our SPCA hospital from the shelter yesterday, and according to protocol she could be either euthanized or spayed. Nice and simple choice, kind of like choosing a plan for your wireless phone. The veterinarian doing surgeries was able to fit her in. Any vet I know, including myself, would find a way to get her spayed if the alternative was euthanasia. The logic behind this is seemingly clear-cut: the mother cat is already the subject of a life, but the kittens' lives have not yet begun. I know, many would argue that the kittens are in fact already alive, or at least viable, if the pregnancy is advanced enough. Never mind cats - the question of when a human life begins has still not been settled to everyone's satisfaction, and there's no need to repeat the debate here. In veterinary medicine in a shelter setting we of necessity simplify things: an animal that has already started its life and lived some of it, usually takes precedence over an animal whose life - growing, learning, playing, experiences - has not yet begun. I have no intention of pondering what's right and wrong here. There is no right and wrong, only consequences - and I can't even lay claim to this great saying. The consequences in question are the number of lives that require homes, and that are in danger if these homes aren't found. Fewer lives mean less potential for suffering in our cat-unfriendly world, and lives that have not yet started (in the simple, non-convoluted sense) should not be encouraged to start. Simple math, and no need for moral agonizing.

But consider the other official shelter choice - euthanizing both mother and unborn kittens. The mere fact that it exists is interesting. Even more interesting is the fact that some veterinarians avail themselves of this choice. Think about it: a cat who has not yet become pregnant is entitled to spay and subsequent life, but one who is pregnant has somehow lost these wonderful privileges conferred by humans. Why is that? I doubt it's because the non-pregnant cat is considered healthy whereas the expectant mother is somehow an anesthetic and surgical risk. Spaying a pregnant cat is more involved than spaying an immature one, but it's still a fairly simple surgery (compared to dog spays) with little or no health threat to the mother. So, why would a pregnancy even theoretically threaten a cat's right to be spayed and to continue living?

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