When Animal Caretakers are Abusers: What is the Most Impactful Intervention?

Catherine Besch
4 min readJul 5, 2023

After decades of sterilization programs in many different countries, the consensus is that this is the best solution for population management is to prevent births in both stray and homed cats and dogs. What is the solution then to human “caretakers” who refuse to sterilize their animals even when the service is free or low cost?

This is a problem in all parts of the world, but one which we deal with constantly in Vietnam when trying to perform community sterilizations. Many people, usually men, refuse to sterilize the animals in their care for a variety of reasons, but most often because they are using the animal for reproduction or they just find sterilization unnatural. In some places, this is due to religious beliefs while in other countries it is merely cultural in that females are not regarded as having any value without their reproductive abilities.

Pictured above is Whitney, a female in our neighborhood who is being forced to breed repeatedly for her babies to be sold. She is under the poor care of a man who thinks animals are property to be exploited and nothing more. Men like him often sell the babies for pets or because the babies will be raised to be eaten just as is true for animals imprisoned in animal agriculture. Whether a dog, cat, chicken, goat, or pig, to enslave a female for the purpose of exploiting her reproductive system is morally reprehensible.

In Vietnam, rampant infectious diseases are easily spread through breeding to animals that are rarely vaccinated. Many diseases cannot be vaccinated against such as Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumors and other pathogens from bacteria, funguses, and internal and external parasites we just can’t avoid here when animals are cohabitating or breeding. To not sterilize your animal and to insist they breed is asking for trouble. Then if an animal is sick, they are often sold to dog meat or killed/dumped somewhere rather than given veterinary care. Even if they make it to a vet, the chances are high that they will not receive adequate care due to the poor standard of veterinary medicine in Vietnam.

Animal caretakers are people we must deal with constantly here as Vietnam lacks a stray problem due to the population control of the dog meat trade, rampant infectious diseases, neglect, poisoning, and traffic accidents. Almost all animals here are roaming yet still “owned” by a family who generally feeds them and gives them varying levels of care until something goes wrong. This means no matter what, we cannot just take animals who we think need help off the street if someone claims them. We’d LOVE to steal a ton of the animals we see due to their lack of care, but the reality is that there is just nowhere for them to go. With a very low likelihood of safe and loving adopting homes in many countries, not just Vietnam, along with the lack of funding, space, and caretakers to ensure that each of these animals can have a good life at a shelter, just taking in animals rather than addressing the root problem is absolutely pointless and will ensure rescues are constantly drowning in cases they cannot manage. Moving misery from a life on the streets or a bad home to an overcrowded nightmare of a shelter is not rescue. It is just moved misery.

What is the highest impact target of animal rescue?

Human behavior and animal population must be the target of change rather than addressing each and every case in town that takes so many resources and still only saves one animal. We must change how humans interact with animals and we must drastically reduce the population of domesticated animal species in order to truly make any impact on the suffering all around us.

In practice, this looks like continuously providing free sterilizations to those who are willing to use the service as we can utilize peer pressure in the community to get the unwilling owners to agree eventually. Just because one man refuses to sterilize doesn’t mean the next 10 houses nwill do the same. Also, we must engage with the community by educating the WHY of sterilizations and vaccinations by disseminating brochures and through one-on-one support for their pet’s care. We must also ensure local vets know why and how to sterilize animals and we must continue to push for an improved veterinary training process and education in Vietnam. Many vets in Vietnam neither know how to sterilize an animal nor know why we should do so and if they are the only contact a caretaker has with authorities on animal care, nothing will improve.

More than anything, we must be the voice of ALL species who are exploited for their reproductive capabilities, both male and female, domestic pets or farmed animals. Most sterilization proponents globally are still supporting animal agriculture by not being vegan. The message we get from speciesist organizations is that ownership of animals and our human right to their reproductive abilities is still valid. This hypocrisy must end.

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Catherine Besch

Cat Besch is a ferocious animal activist and pig, chicken, dog, and cat mom who is the founder and director of Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue-US.