2007-12-05 / Columnists
Twenty-five years ago, most considered early (8-16 weeks of age) spay/neuter of dogs and cats "cutting edge". Pardon the pun. In an effort to stem the pet overpopulation problem, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) formally endorsed this surgical concept in 1993. A novel idea? What would you say if I told you there's evidence that a British knight advocated early spay/neuter even before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth? Don't believe me, read on:
As proof, I have a copy of a chapter from a rare book you won't find on the best-seller list. It has a catchy title- A Short Discourse of Hawking to the Field with high flying long-winged Hawkes, together with the sorting and ordering of Spaniels by Sir Thomas Sherley of Wiston in Sussex. Possibly the only surviving 1603 copy is in the Yale Library, and was donated by David Wagstaff (of interest to me, because he was the nephew of C.D. Wagstaff who chose the Babylon property for the Westminster Kennel Club in 1880). The American Kennel Club (AKC) Library on Madison Avenue just acquired a 2004 Sherley volume reprinted by the Archives of American Falconry. I'll explain later on why I carry my copy around.
In 1586, Sir Thomas the Elder was appointed Treasurer at War by Queen Elizabeth I and got himself in a mess of money trouble. A few years later he also wrote the above tutorial on training your Spaniels to hunt alongside your hawks. In Chapter 12 he offered some advice on raising your puppies (aka "the whelpes"). The following excerpts printed in proper 17th century English are not for the squeamish. Remember this book pre-dates anesthesia by centuries. Moreover, Sir Thomas' tips give insight into the etymology of present day vulgar slang:
1) On keeping the pups out of the chicken coop: "And if they be harmfull for poultrie, then to hang a clog (aka "shoe") about their necke will not hurt them."
2) On deciding how many hunting dogs to own: "Or if you keep but 5 or 6 couple, then to have but one dog and one bitch to breed on, and to geld (aka "neuter") and spay all the rest: and so doing they will do more service and continue longer then others that are not gelded or spayed."
3) On the optimum age to sterilize your pups: "The best time to geld or spay them is when they are a quarter (aka "3 months") old or more, for they being in reasonable state for flesh, neither too lean nor too fat."
4) On preserving a spayed pooch's girlish figure: "But you may better spay the bitches when they are lean, then the dogs; for if they be lean at the time of their gelding, they will scarcely be fat after."
5) On other benefits of spay/neuter (long before the stain remover "Nature's Miracle" was invented): "Also they will be cleanlier in the house: for ungelt dogs will pisse (aka "urinate") on many places in a house where other dogs have pissed before, which gelded dogs will not do; and they will be much quieter, for the open (aka "unspayed") bitches will often be proud, and then the dogs will snarl and fight."
6) On a beastly way to quell dog dissension: "Also it is good to crop out the long fangs of all your spaniels, both dogs and bitches, and then they will hurt each other but little when they do fight; which you may quickly do with a paire of smith's pincers made sharpe, one holding the dog between his legs, and having a thicke paire of gloves to open the dogs chaps (aka "jaws")."
7) On the "How" & "Why" of tail docking: "Lastly when you cut off the tailes of your whelpes (which is good to do while they suck) cut not above one or 2 joints off: for both it is an ill sight for them to have short sterns (aka "rears") or tailes, and also it is some hindrance to their turning in hunting."
So why would I wander around New York City with such an obscure document? My visit to the AKC library (to work on my perpetual Babylon Westminster search) preceded a Metropolitan Dog Club luncheon where Dr. Donald F. Smith, former Dean of Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, spoke about promoting healthy pets in the age of genetic medicine and managed care. I just had to show the 1603 pup primer to the Dean, but, selfishly, I wouldn't let him keep it.
For Adoption: The Record poster pets come from neighboring town shelters this week. First "Argyle", a welldressed male Lhasa Apso found as a stray wearing this sweater, is in Pen 15 at Islip Town Shelter, Denver Ave., Bay Shore (224-5660). He would do best in a home without kids. Meanwhile
Ms. Dingo" a young Shepherd/Cattle Dog mix has been in Cage 57 at Babylon Town Shelter, Lamar St. W. Babylon
643-9270) since July. She would love a family to call her own.
Wish List: Both shelters could use an old leather or "indestructible" couch for their "Meet n'Greet" rooms. Islip needs donations of blankets/ towels; Babylon needs cans of evaporated milk for formula.
More Babylon Shelter Dogs: a male black Lab Cage 7; "Buster"- 3 yr. neut. choc. Lab/Pit Cage 21; a red Chow Cage 67; "Matisse"- fluffy Rottie mix Cage 13; purebred Maltese in the Puppy Room.
Babylon's Wonderful Cats: (See photos online in last week's "Pets, Pets" CATalog) - Sweet Pea, Faith, Jewel, Cuddles, Minnie and the declaws- Soxie and Pump.