I love it when I get tough but interesting and honest questions from people in far-flung places looking for nothing less than to do their best by their pets. Though some of their cultural differences might throw us off our standard axis, the truth is this: All of us reading this are animal lovers looking to make this world a better place for our pets.

So it’s with that unifying message in mind that I offer you this interesting exchange (at least I thought so) between myself and an ethnic Greek Oxford man:

Q: Hi, I am a history PhD student at Oxford. Your article on neutering/vasectomy is one of the very few good texts on the issue I have found. Congratulations on your blog.

I need some advice and help would be much appreciated.

I grew up in Greece, where feral cats are an everyday reality. You can find them by the dozens in the streets of Athens. I grew up in a house with a garden where my family had a few semi-feral cats. I learned to love and respect cats and their independent free character, completely unaware of the overpopulation/castration issues. These issues were unheard of in the Greece of the 1980s and '90s.

Anyway, that was many years ago.

I recently decided to relocate back to Greece after many years abroad. I found a two-month-old, male kitten, undernourished and with ear mites, all alone in the street. I decided to adopt him, took him to the vet, had him vaccinated, etc. I regard him as another person in my home.

Very quickly, ethical issues arose. Looking on the web I found out that for most pet lovers, not neutering the animal is an abomination; people who do not do it are seen as immoral and irresponsible, etc. (It might sound odd, but I was entirely unaware of this — as I said earlier this sort of debate was completely unheard of until recently in Greece).

Even so, if I were to stay in Greece forever this would not be an issue. There are plenty of feral cats in the neighborhood and it’s only a question of opening the door for him to meet his friends (there is an empty area right next to my block of flats and he can have easy access through my balcony, and I do not care about spraying furniture or destroying carpets — gone through it before and it is OK).

It would also be relatively safe for him, as he would not have to deal with cars where my home is. But the issue is that in a couple of years I will move to the U.K. or another European country.

I am against neutering (I see it as violating his freedom, diminishing him to a pet, to furniture, especially given that he was born a free cat, if I can get a bit melodramatic), but I want to do what is best for him.

What do you think would cause him more pain: neutering and taking him wherever I go, or leaving him to live with the feral cats? (Before you think I am crazy, I take for granted that living with Athenian feral cats is a risky, but a free and good life. If I were a cat I would probably choose it, and don’t forget that he is himself a feral cat, born from cats that most probably had been living in the streets for generations.)

So what I am really asking is, "Based on your experience of animals," do you think that him finding my door locked one day or losing his jewels would be the harsher thing to do? Will he learn to survive alone, or will he spend most of his time trying to get back in the house? For the time being I am thinking of trying the trial and error method once he gets old enough to have sex.

I would really appreciate your answer on the issue (sorry for the length of the message).

A: You ask a great question: How will he be happiest? Even if we ignore the public policy issues of whether he'll father a zillion miserable kittens destined to overburden your Grecian streets, it's a tough call.

I honestly don't know. I do think that it's personal — as in, what kind of cat is he? If he's a free-spirited, loner of a cat, then I'd think he'd be happier as an "entire" (unneutered male) with his "jewels" intact — especially if he's unlikely to be challenged for his territorial rights and likely to remain un-injured and healthy. But if he's an injury-prone scrapper or a natural born home-body, then I'd think him likelier to enjoy his existence as a feline couch potato with nary a testicle in sight.

So you see, it's not black or white when it comes to doing what's best for our animals. Unfortunately, however, we're often forced to make decisions based on population control. The luxury of dealing with an individual animal's wants and desires isn't typically feasible in scenarios like these.

Luckily, the neutering surgery is extremely quick and cats are almost uniformly comfortable within a couple of hours. Sure, it's not as if nothing happened, but it's often what's way best for them and their community in the long run.

Thanks for your thoughtful question.


OK, so that was my response. What would you have answered — that is, assuming you put on your best culturally neutral face forward in so doing?

Dr. Patty Khuly

Note to my readers:

It's with bittersweet emotion that I announce that Friday, September 30, will be my last posting here on petMD. As I pursue new opportunities, I take with me nothing but great memories of my past three years as a petMD blogger - I'll be sharing some of my favorites with you in the coming weeks!

I am also excited to announce that my colleague, Jennifer Coates, will be taking over as the Fully Vetted blogger starting October 1st! Dr. Coates hails from the Daily Vet side of petMD, and she is thrilled to be taking on this new role. Stay tuned for Friday’s post, in which I'll be interviewing Dr. C, so you can get to know her in advance of her imminent installation as Fully Vetted's lead blogger.

Pic of the day: Athens by Chris Ruggles

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