Remembering Animal Advocate, Darlene Arden, and the Simple Facts for World Spay Day
Editors Note: I was driving to a dental appointment yesterday, planning in my head the new post I was going to write for World Spay Day. When I got to the office, naturally I had to wait, so I opened up my phone to check my emails. It was then I saw the devastating news that a dear cat loving friend of mine, Darlene Arden, had succumbed to her long fight against ovarian cancer. Darlene was a huge advocate for cat care and she and I initially struck up a friendship as fellow members of the Cat Writers’ Association back in 2012.
As time went on, our relationship took a unique turn. She turned me on to my most beloved, guilty pleasure – playing a game called Fairyland on Facebook. She warned me once I started the game that I’d become addicted and she was right! She and I had a ball growing our gardens and sharing conversations with one another that way.
She was also part of my most recent book, Makin’ Biscuits – Weird Cat Habits and the Even Weirder Habits of the Humans Who Love Them. When I reached out to her to let her know I included her book The Complete Cat’s Meow – Everything You Need to Know About Caring for Your Cats as a resource in Makin’ Biscuits, I know that pleased her to no end. She didn’t always love social media but she did love Twitter and I was so honored that she tweeted to her followers that they needed to add Makin’ Biscuits to their library!
That was Darlene. She had a sharp wit and a sharp tongue. She was brutally honest and pulled no punches. She didn’t believe much in competition – her thought was simple – she wanted to help cats, so why not cross-promote the work of others? In her memory, I am sharing a post from last year that I wrote for World Spay Day. I’m just not capable of new words at the moment – I’m going to take a break and go play Fairyland while thinking of the times we shared together.
While every day is a good day to promote the virtues of spay/neuter – not only as a safe and humane means of reducing cat overpopulation – but as a procedure to help ensure your cat live a longer, happier, and healthy life, with today being World Spay Day, it makes it all the more relevant. It’s a concept I like to call “Spay it Forward,” meaning we need to put as much factual and useful information as we can into tiny, digestible sound-bites so it can easily be shared to educate and impact change. To aid in the effort, to follow are some basic 101’s of kittens, cats, conception, cat overpopulation, and how spay/neuter relates to it all.
The Numbers Game – Based on outdoor colony cat research by Dr. Michael Stoskopf, professor of wildlife medicine at North Carolina State, it’s been determined an unspayed female cat could have between 98 – 200 kittens in her lifetime. When you factor in possible offspring from offspring during that 7 year time frame, that could total to a collective astounding 5000 kittens.
Kittens, Cats, and Conception – A female kitten can become pregnant as early as 4 1/2 months of age; a male kitten can impregnate a fertile female at the same young age. Because cats are such prolific creatures, a pre-pubertal spay/neuter is now recommended and is safe with healthy kittens who weight at least 2 pounds or are 8 weeks of age or older. You do not have to wait until a female has had her first heat to spay her and contrary to popular belief, a female cat can become pregnant while she is nursing if she is not spayed.
Health Benefits – Spaying your female prior to her first heat reduces her risk of uterine infections, uterine cancer, and mammary cancer. Neutering your male before he is 6 months of age prevents testicular and prostate cancer.
Behavioral Benefits – Spaying stops a female’s heat cycle and the annoying vocalization and inappropriate urination that comes with it – until she is spayed, this cycle will repeat and continue for weeks at a time until she finds a mate. Neutering your male reduces aggressive behavior and his need to mark the house or outdoors with strong smelling urine. Spay/neuter will virtually eliminate these behavioral issues whether for an indoor pet cat, or outdoor colonies.
Safety – Spay/neuter reduces the urge for a cat to wander and roam looking for a mate which could result in a traffic injury or fatality.
Indoor Cats – Notwithstanding the health benefits, even with the best intentions, escapes can happen and if your female cat is not spayed, she might accidentally find herself getting pregnant, or your male might find a fertile female to impregnate.
Personality Changes – Your female cat does not need to experience a litter of kittens to feel fulfilled. She will be much happier without the undue emotional and physical stress of a heat and your male will not become emasculated if you neuter him – he will only be friendlier and less aggressive.
Weight Gain – With proper diet and exercise, your cat does not have to gain weight after spay/neuter.
Cost – Many people think they can’t afford the procedure, but there are many low-cost, even free clinics that offer assistance now. Ask your veterinarian or local shelter for options. The ASPCA also has a low-cost spay/neuter database provider available on their website.
The procedure is dangerous – Spay-neuter operations are the most routine surgeries performed in the veterinary world and are very safe. They are typically quick and most cats are walking and eating within a few hours after the surgery and back to normal behavior in a couple of days. They are prescribed pain medication after the surgery as needed and complications are not common, especially when the owner or caretaker follows all post-surgical care guidelines.
Trap/Neuter/Return – All of us are affected by cat overpopulation, whether we have a cat or not. Millions of tax dollars are spent every year to shelter and care for outdoor and shelter cats – much of it to euthanize cats who are either feral or can’t be homed. By adopting responsible TNR programs, community cat populations would decrease and as a result we could use tax payer dollars for something productive, like nationwide programs in schools and communities to help educate about the benefits of spay/neuter in a collective, overall sense.
The Ethics of Cat Overpopulation – The truth of the matter is there are more cats in shelters than there are people willing to adopt them. The other truth is people cause cat overpopulation, not cats, and that’s why our shelters are overcrowded in the first place and why outdoor cat colonies exist. It’s also why cats are needlessly euthanized. The bottom line – it’s instinctual for a cat to mate and if we don’t stop dumping them on the street (which is illegal), especially if they have not been fixed, they will find a way to procreate. The only way a cat can be spayed or neutered is if we take them to the vet. Surely as a highly evolved, civilized, and intelligent race, if we can be responsible for causing cat overpopulation, we can be responsible for decreasing it as well.
Thankfully more and more people are learning about the virtues of spay/neuter. Social media has the ability to reach massive audiences and we have celebrities, sports figures, and more who are chiming in to help the cause. I firmly believe between that and somehow adopting a nationwide, mandatory program in schools that teaches about pet responsibly and spay/neuter to our youth, one day we will see a more caring world where World Spay Day is more of an overall celebration, toasting all the pets who have had the procedure for their health and happiness, rather than a plea to a world that is still rife with misunderstandings and misconceptions about the overall impact of the procedure to society at large.
For further information on spay/neuter, cat overpopulation, and additional cat facts, please reference these detailed articles: