Since adopting my dog I agonized over whether or not to spay her. After six years the decision was taken out of my hands when she nearly died.

When I adopted my dog from a local shelter, the staff there assured me she was fixed. Two months later small drops of blood appeared everywhere in my house and I realized my dog was intact — and in heat. I was faced with deciding whether or not to put her through major surgery. Although every dog care book I’d read urged pet owners to fix their animals, I couldn’t imagine putting mine through such an ordeal. Especially since she seemed to have a sensitive temperament. She’d already been through the pain of abandonment and, based on some fearful behaviors, possible mistreatment. Making the decision to remove all her healthy reproductive organs and cause her even temporary pain seemed barbaric. How could I do such a thing to a healthy animal? I also was concerned about consequences the operation could have on her health and her obedient, loving behavior.

As the years passed I decided much of what I read about the importance of spaying dogs was just hype, directed at irresponsible dog owners. I’d always read that male dogs from every corner of town would find their way onto my doorstep when my dog went into heat. No male dogs ever showed up on my property. I’d also read that dogs in heat make a terrible mess. My dog was pretty thorough about constantly licking herself clean. True, while she was in heat there were tiny droplets of blood on the floor, couch and bed. Even so, I preferred using a couch cover and old bedcovers for a few weeks rather than have her spayed. I started using doggie diapers during her heat cycle when she was six years old. They kept the house cleaner but at the end of that heat cycle my dog exhibited signs of an infection. She passed a whitish-yellow discharge after she urinated and I blamed it on the doggie diapers. I threw them away but I watched her closely during her next heat cycle. Sure enough, even without the doggie diapers, she developed the same kind of infection after her heat cycle ended. That’s when I started researching canine reproductive health. I learned about pyometra — a uterine infection that can, if left untreated, quickly kill an intact female dog. I worried my dog would develop pyometra but I still couldn’t bring myself to have her spayed.

When she went through another heat cycle without any problems I concluded I was worrying for nothing. Like many dog lovers, I lavish as much attention and care on my dog as devoted parents do on their children. How could a dog so well cared for develop a life threatening illness? It seemed to me pyometra was a disease for neglected dogs, not dogs who sleep on their owners’ beds, eat homemade meals and get weekly baths with scented, conditioning shampoo.

Nine months ago my dog went into heat again. One morning, at the end of her heat cycle, she suddenly passed a dark colored, putrid smelling discharge from her vulva. I watched her carefully during the next few weeks to make sure she didn’t develop pyometra. Once again I seriously considered spaying her, and once again I decided against it.

Two months ago, at the age of eight, my dog went into heat for the last time. One night, at the end of her heat cycle, she became violently ill, threw up several times and began bleeding from her vulva more than she’d ever bled during her heat cycles. A visit to the vet the next morning proved inconclusive. An x-ray of her uterus appeared normal. Her symptoms did not indicate pyometra. She had a good appetite, was not drinking or urinating excessively, and was eager to play outside. A two-week regimen of antibiotics was prescribed. A few days after the antibiotics were finished my dog’s bleeding stopped. Late that night she started exhibiting classic pyometra symptoms. She had refused three meals in a row, drank excessively and sought to go outside numerous times, urinating frequently each time. When she started to appear lethargic I rushed her to an emergency animal clinic where an x-ray clearly showed an enlarged, infected uterus. The decision to spay or not to spay my dog was out of my hands. She was taken into surgery immediately.

My dog is now fully recovered. Spaying her hasn’t seemed to affect her behavior at all. She appeared tired and uncomfortable for two days after the operation but she never lost her appetite. She was ready to run and play within three days and her incision healed beautifully.

I regret not having the courage to spay my dog sooner. I could have saved her much illness and discomfort. I also could have saved myself much worry. Plus, the cost of having my dog spayed at the emergency clinic was four times what my vet would have charged for the operation if I’d done it before she became ill.

If you are deciding whether or not to spay your dog, I encourage you to do it while your dog is young and healthy. You may think you can monitor your dog carefully and get her to your vet in time if she develops pyometra. Experience taught me pyometra can be difficult to detect until it becomes life threatening. If I didn’t live near an all-night emergency animal clinic I would have lost my dog and blamed myself for lacking the courage to spay her. It seems like a cruel operation but if your dog is healthy and you love her, you can help her through it. And you’ll never have to worry about losing her forever to this sudden, deadly illness.