Animal Castration

We have a 9-month-old dog that the vet said should be castrated due to his hyperactive and obsessive behavior.

We know that according to Judaism, a dog should not be castrated. But in this instance the dog may have to be put down if he does not have the operation. He has been referred to a behavior center, but we think they will not see him if he is not castrated.

Is it really better to destroy a dog than to give him an operation that has been recommended by a vet?

I know for a fact that there is both halacha and inferences from the Torah which involves the importance of being kind to animals. How kind is it to allow a dog to remain crazy from hormones, when there is an expedient solution at hand? How kind is it to kill a living being, created by God, when it is easily avoidable?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are correct that the Torah prohibits castration of both people and animals (Leviticus 22:24; Talmud – Shabbat 110b, Chagigah 14b).

The Torah's opposition to causing pain to animals in unequivocal.

Besides the general Biblical prohibition against causing needless pain to animals ("Tzar Baalei Chaim"), there is a whole list of separate mitzvot designed for the protection of animals, including: to unload a donkey whose load is too heavy (Deut. 22:4); to give your animal a day off of work on Shabbat (Exodus 20:9); not to muzzle an animal when working in the field – i.e. don't prevent it from eating what it sees (Deut. 25:4); and many, many others.

So why would the Torah forbid castrating animals?

One reason is to teach us the sanctity of life. Sefer HaChinuch (291) says that God created the world in a way that animals are equipped to procreate, and we have no right to negate that. So please be assured that the Creator of the World has taken animal discomfort into account when He commanded us against castration.

Although castration is ordinarily forbidden, in a case like yours where your dog is suffering and liable to be put to rest, we may be lenient. The proper approach would be to sell or give the dog to a non-Jew, who can then give it to a non-Jewish veterinarian to perform the castration. This will save the animal from being destroyed. Of course, this should be a real transaction, not a joke.

Could you then take or buy the dog back? If the non-Jew wants to sell the dog back to you, it is permitted to take it from him. However, you cannot make it a precondition in the original sale that the dog will be returned to you.

One more point to mention: It appears from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein that in order to heal a person, a castration may be performed. However, it is unclear if the same applies to an animal. ("Igrot Moshe" C.M. 2:30)

For more details, see Shulchan Aruch (OC 448:3 with Mishnah Berurah) and Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha'ezer 5:14 with Rama and Beit Shmuel 19).

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