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Pet Tales

Kennel claims dog's cough kept them from spaying it

Wednesday, January 03, 2001

By Linda Wilson Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Ebony sat quietly in her kennel while dozens of canine shelter residents barked and yapped and jumped up and down. The black Chow Chow's calm demeanor endeared her to Diane Bandy.

Bandy didn't want or need another dog; she shares her McCandless residence with multiple dogs. She went to the Animal Rescue League's East Liberty shelter Oct. 7 for the "grand opening" party. She was one of hundreds of donors invited to see renovations and upgrades made to the facility.

"Ebony was so nice, I just had to get her out of there," Bandy said in a telephone interview. She took Ebony home that day, though she wasn't spayed.

"I am a big proponent of spay and neuter," Bandy said. "I think a shelter with a goal of achieving no-kill status by the year 2005 should spay and neuter all animals before they leave the shelter."

I agree with Bandy, and so do many animal lovers.

So imagine Bandy's dismay when Ebony gave birth to six puppies just seven weeks after settling happily into her new home. Ebony had been two weeks pregnant when she left the shelter.

Bandy was furious when she called the Rescue League.

"They told me to bring the puppies to the shelter. I said they were nursing and needed their mother. They said they would take care of the puppies, but I was afraid they would die, so I refused."

"All animals get spayed or neutered before they leave the shelter unless there is a medical problem," Executive Director Peter Casella said when I asked him for comment.

Casella said a shelter veterinarian said Ebony could not be spayed because she had kennel cough.

General anesthesia can kill animals with respiratory ailments.

Bandy said Ebony did not have kennel cough, but she's not a veterinarian.

I saw Ebony in the shelter Oct. 6, and I saw her in downtown Pittsburgh Sept. 29 when she was part of the Women's Auxiliary Wag Day donation-collecting brigade.

Ebony was not coughing on either occasion. Her eyes were clear, and her coat was shining. She looked healthy to me, but I'm not a veterinarian.

When I asked Casella what the shelter could do for Bandy, he said, "We would certainly spay the dog. We would offer to neuter the pups and adopt them out."

Bandy plans to raise the puppies and find homes for them. Then she'll have her own vet spay Ebony.

Bandy loves Ebony, who is an almost perfect pet. She is housebroken, gets along well with the family dogs and is affectionate and loving with people.

The Animal Rescue League operated in this case within the letter of Pennsylvania law, which says no dog or cat can leave a shelter "unless the animal has been sterilized ... or unless the new owner signs an agreement to have the animal sterilized."

Bandy has signed an adoption contract that requires her to spay Ebony within 12 months.

In one year, the average female dog can produce two litters. A male dog could sire hundreds of puppies in that time.

Every other local shelter or rescue group I've dealt with spays and neuters all of their animals before they go to new homes.

If they're too sick to undergo surgery, they're probably too sick to be placed in a permanent home, said one rescuer, adding that his agency would try to place the animal in a temporary foster home until it was healthy enough to be neutered.

Shortly after Ebony's adoption, Bandy took her to the Animal Rescue League clinic, which has five full-time veterinarians and one part-time vet on the payroll.

"I dropped her off, and soon after I got home, the phone was ringing. A shelter employee told me the vet refused to spay Ebony because she had kennel cough. Ebony did not have kennel cough, but I drove back to get her."

Several weeks later, Bandy took Ebony to her own veterinarian to be spayed. Her vet said the dog was healthy and could be spayed, except for the fact she was about eight weeks pregnant. Vets can and do spay pregnant dogs, thereby aborting the pups. Bandy didn't want to do that.

Oct. 7 was too early to determine if Ebony was pregnant. But if the staff had opened her up to remove her uterus, the pregnancy would have been immediately apparent.

When stray dogs are brought into a shelter, it's easy to tell whether the males have been neutered. With females, it's much harder. If a surgeon is skillful and the surgery is not recent, the scar can be virtually undetectable. It's not unusual for shelter vets to cut female dogs or cats open and then immediately stitch them back up because the uterus has already been removed.

But Animal Rescue League says Ebony was not spayed because she had kennel cough. That's their story, and they're sticking to it.

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