I was struck by the comments that attended a recent post on speed-demon feline neutering (I’m going for the gold! Fifty-six cat neuters in ten hours? I can beat that!). While significant umbrage was understandably taken over the concept of surgery as sport, this is one area where the veterinary point of view varies vastly from that of the average animal lover.

Interestingly, all the vets I know who read it shared my POV: Cats in shelter settings (as was the case in this post’s discussion) must be neutered as quickly and efficiently as possible. Record or no record, that’s the reality of shelter medicine—every day, not just when attempting a Guinness Book of World Records admission).

While I do apologize for exposing a global audience to the back-room vet banter we revel in by means of dealing with our daily realities, the truth is much deeper than the superficial crassness you were exposed to in this post. Let me explain…

Shelter medicine is nothing like the pet medicine you’re exposed to at your vet hospital visits. As many of you who volunteer at your local shelters may know, treating a population of animals in a limited-resource setting is much like working in a war zone.

Pets under these conditions are treated much as the wounded in a war might be. Who’s worth saving? Whose injuries go beyond the limits our resources? How many can we realistically save in the time we have available with the money at our disposal?

In that context, speedy spays and neuters are considered the holy grail of shelter medicine. Speed = lower expenses, especially when vet time is a limiting factor, as it was at my local shelter the last time I checked (last week).

When two cats beget hundreds every year, alacrity is of the essence. When spays and neuters are the foundation of our no-kill goals, quickness is crucial.

Moreover, speed does not equal a lack of humane treatment. These animals may be exposed to third world human medical conditions, but it’s a far cry from inhumanity. While they may not get the extra attention and careful monitoring we’d want for our own loved ones, they are by no means handled cruelly. They still get pain meds. They still get quality anesthetics. They still get modern surgical attention and sterile conditions.

The fact that we vets occasionally beat our chests over our surgical speed under these conditions should in no way suggest that we don’t take our role seriously. Quite the opposite, I’d posit. We know exactly what’s at stake under these conditions: Nothing less than life and death.

As in a battle zone, speed is armor. Moving fast when there’s no money to meet everyone’s needs means that more are treated to our skills. Sure, there’s a point at which speed becomes a weapon, but professionals are trained to exercise their best judgment under many conditions. Why question our limits here?

I have an acquaintance who travels to Central and South America to practice his profession on impoverished children with cleft palates. His goal? Ten life-altering surgeries every day. He times every cut and stitch so he can manage this exhausting schedule. And he prides himself on his speed.

Need I say more?