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An Urban Experience
not in the context of neutering. David Boonin5, however, does apply this right to neutering. Boonin argues that since neutering an animal imposes non-trivial harms on
it, the practice requires ethical justi cation. But most neutering is justi ed only by reference to bene ts to other individuals either for the owners or to prevent harms to possible offspring (though this may not apply to neutering bitches, who are likely to bene t as individuals from being neutered). Rights theorists, however, normally insist that an individual’s rights may not be violated to bene t other individuals. So it looks as though, on this view, neutering would not be permissible unless it would clearly bene t the individual concerned.
However, according to Boonin neutering is a relatively minor harm in comparison with avoiding the production of potentially miserable offspring, and a rights view could be reworked to recognize this. While this argument may be appropriate in cases where unwanted reproduction
is likely, it doesn’t apply to the cases we’re considering here, where companion dogs are not free-ranging,
and thus would not be producing miserable offspring anyway. So, given that this quali cation doesn’t seem to work here, Boonin’s rights argument raises very serious questions about the routine neutering of companion animals.
A third right that might be at stake is a right to bodily integrity. According to proponents of this right, individual animals were born in particular ways, with speci c bodily features: tails, ears, claws – and gonads. These features are all part of an animal’s bodily integrity. Surgically to remove or alter any of these parts is to infringe on this bodily integrity, and can be seen as a rights violation.
However, it seems reasonable to say that if a dog has testicular cancer, for instance, it would be permissible
to remove the testes, even though this would affect his bodily integrity, since presumably we could make a case that if the dog were able to give permission in this case, he would. However, the welfare bene ts from neutering are not so clear cut in all cases that we could say that if healthy animals were able, they would choose voluntarily to relinquish their right to bodily integrity in order to allow routine neutering, as some women choose prophylactic mastectomies to prevent serious disease. And given the evidence, the ‘prophylactic’ argument seems only to be applicable to bitches, since many dogs may actually be made worse off by neutering.
Overall, then, routine neutering appears problematic on rights arguments. Bene ts to others do not usually justify rights infringements; so it’s only in cases where neutering bene ts the animals being neutered that we can make
a more straightforward argument that rights could
be waived. So, arguments  owing from animal rights perspectives are very unlikely to support the practice of routinely neutering companion animals, at least.
The overall conclusion of our ethical analysis is that from two major perspectives in animal ethics – utilitarianism with a focus on animal welfare conceptualized in terms of subjective experience, and from the view of deontological animal rights – routine neutering of companion dogs
is ethically problematic. There may be an argument in favour of spaying bitches to prevent serious disease late in life, but when applying this argument it will
be important to include all relevant health concerns, including the risk of obesity. However, this argument does not apply to male dogs, many of whom will live healthier and happy lives in an intact state.
1. Spaying and neutering. American Veterinary Medical Association. [Online] Available from: aspx [Accessed 17 July 2014].
2. Norm angående kirurgisk kastration av friska hundar [Norm regarding the surgical neutering of healthy dogs] Sveriges Veterinärförbund. [Online] Available from: Normer-av-medicinsk-karaktar/Norm-angaende-kirurgisk-kastration-av-friska- hundar/ [Accessed 17 July 2014].
3. Companion Animal Ethics. Chichester: Universities Federation for Animal Welfare/Wiley-Blackwell
4. The case for animal rights. Berkeley CA, University of California Press.
5. Between the Species III, 1-8.

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