Cat : Neuter or Not?

The below email dialogue with a fellow reader is about the ethics of neutering cats to prevent the multiplication of strays, which might lead to their culling by animal control authorities. She is for the neutering of cats, but was posed some tricky questions by other Buddhists. (She keeps two vegan cats, one a stray and the other rescued from the pound.)

Q: Doesn’t sterilising (neutering) cats create negative karma?

A: No – if the intention is not to harm but to save them. Karma is created by our intentions – negative karma by negative intentions; positive karma by positive intentions. It is worth noting that even a household cat might become a stray if it runs away or gets lost. If a cat-owner has no intention or ability to care for potential offsprings of his or her cat, neutering should be considered.

Q: If the surgery causes pain, doesn’t this create negative karma?

A: The pain in neutering surgery is taken care of by anesthetics, while the pain during recovery is short-lived and incidental, for the cats’ own safety in future (from being caught and culled as troublesome strays.)

Q: If cats don’t wish to be castrated, doesn’t this create negative karma?

A: Indeed, no animal would want to be castrated. But more so do they not want to be culled due to not being castrated.

Q: Wouldn’t neutering cats create the karma of having no offsprings of our own?

A: No, since what created is the karma to save. One creates the karmic potential to be saved from being killed instead. If one neuters another with the gleefully evil intention to prevent the next generation from being born, so as to cause suffering somehow (which is different from the good intention of preventing culling), one would then create the karmic potential to not have offsprings.

Q: It disturbs me that cats are unwilling to be castrated.

A: Cats probably would not endorse being neutered if they could speak, but they would consent if they could comprehend the bleak reality that they are likely to be culled if not neutered. Neither would they want their many potential offsprings to be culled. Just as kids who don’t understand the purpose of taking bitter medicine are ‘forced’ to do so anyway, likewise, cats who don’t understand our good intentions are still better off neutered. Kids might not know any better due to lack of maturity, but the cats know even less.

Q: Does neutering interfere with nature’s evolution?

A: It would seem so, to some extent, but it’s for the greater good of the cats. To not support neutering; to passively allow continual proliferation and mass-culling is to endorse even more destructive interference with nature, with the rights of the cats to live out their lives naturally. To passively allow culling is to allow others to interfere with cats’ lives in the worst way possible. Neutering is pro-life, not pro-death; as neutering is not abortion, but to prevent deaths. The truth is, humans are already interfering with nature in many other worse ways – via domestication of animals, pollution, breeding and eating of animals… We are all factors in nature; we are part of nature. Everything we do or not do affects the interdependent web of life. If we function with greater compassion and wisdom, we benefit nature on the whole.

Q: Doesn’t letting a cat be culled cause more negative karma than neutering it?

A: Yes, the negative karma and hatred created when countless cats are killed is worse than neutering some cats, which if done with right intentions, creates no negative karma at all; and only good karma. Mass killing of animals is one of the potential collective karmic causes of conflict and wars in our world – when the animals are reborn as humans in future lives, when they encounter those who killed them.

Q: It seems that humans are the main culprits of the stray cat poliferation problem?

 A: Yes, humans are the major culprits in disrupting the environment. But karmically speaking for the cat issue, it’s two–way too. That is to say, the cats too created karma to face their current problems. However, we should not be passive about this – as karma is always dynamic, and we can create karma that changes the paths of our past karmic potential. The karma of the cats can change too, and each cat has different karma. Who is there to say all strays karmically deserve to be culled? No one – just like no humans would like to imagine they deserve to be killed when they over-populate.

Humans probably should had not domesticated any animals in the first place. From domestication arise problems like animal imprisonment, torture, exploitation by breeding for profit, proliferation of strays, culling… In the Bodhisattva precepts in the Brahma Net Sutra, keeping pets is generally considered not a Bodhisattva practice… unless it is the taking care of strays and the injured, who would otherwise suffer out there. But of course, if you already have domesticated pets, you should care for them for the natural span of their lives best you can.

Related Articles:

Puppy Love of Pets
Real Animal Welfare
Prison of Domestication
Neutering to Extinction?