When I first laid eyes on her, I felt a mixture of emotions.

Even though I had heard the whole story about how a female husky mix named Mya had been shot at close range with a shotgun and was making a pretty remarkable recovery with help from the folks at the Texas County Vet Clinic, it still didn’t set well in my gut to see the open wound on the left side of her head and the green goo oozing out of it. I felt sad, angry, shocked, amazed and surprised.

And like everyone who has witnessed Mya’s cheerful, happy-go-lucky demeanor in the face of such travesty, I wondered why. Why would someone try to blow a hole in this obviously cool dog’s cranium? What led to the decision of holding a rifle to her head and pulling the trigger?

While I can’t come up with clear-cut answers to those questions, I think there’s one thing that’s fairly apparent: Mya wasn’t wanted.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

And again, the question isn’t answerable of why such a neat animal wasn’t wanted and somehow became considered worthy of having the contents of a shotgun shell emptied into its noggin. As The Animal Shelter of Texas County’s manager Marsha Martin would point out (and has), the reasons she ended up in that predicament could involve finances, family problems, or a myriad of other factors. Her shooter wasn’t necessarily a crazed wacko on a diabolical mission to execute an innocent animal (although that’s certainly possible), but could have been a downright nice person (although my cynical side has a hard time accepting that).

Mya’s plight notwithstanding, the issue – as Martin would be quick to say – has many layers, but sometimes people with good intentions end up over their heads, so to speak, and the result can be unfortunate.

Here in Missouri’s largest county, pets being “dropped off” by owners no longer wishing to care for them is unfortunately relatively commonplace. Some people are unlucky enough to live in popular “drop-off zones” where animals are seemingly brought in by conveyor belt, and the numbers can and do become unmanageable.

The story is always the same. The effects of taking in stray after stray become increasingly difficult to bear with each one that shows up. Food bills mount, as does time spent tending to what started as a couple of cute companions but has grown to a burdensome crowd. Viable means of handling the situation narrow as time goes by, and eventually desperate measures might be taken.

Possibly even involving a firearm.

Now I’m not saying – and neither would Ms. Martin – that Mya was a victim of this scenario. But the equation does exist that would lead to such an end.

To be sure, dogs are sometimes shot in these parts for what could be considered legitimate reasons, like harassing or even killing livestock. But it’s also true that others take a bullet for simply being considered “expendable.”

While there may be no cut-and-dried, all-encompassing, 100-percent fail safe solution to the dilemma of what to do about unwanted dogs or cats, there is one thing – and one thing only – that addresses the problem in a can’t-miss fashion: spaying and neutering.

Yep, there it is again, the most frequently offered recommendation in the modern world of pets. It’s so familiar that it’s now like a cliché that goes in one ear and out the other. But the crucial importance of spaying and neutering can’t be overemphasized. The simple fact is, it’s the only way to insure a significant reduction in numbers of unwanted animals – period. There’s no denying that fact, and no debating it.

If a dog is fixed, it’s not going to “accidently” have a baby. If a cat is sterile, it’s not going to introduce offspring into an environment where they’re not entirely, unconditionally welcome.

Conversely, if a dog or cat is fertile, look out – here come the kids, guaranteed. And if the kids show up in the wrong place, they’re likely to end up in a box at the front door of an already overcrowded shelter. Or worse yet, in a ditch on the side of a dirt road.

I know there’s a cost involved to spay and neuter pets. So does your local shelter, and the people there are trying their best to accommodate as many people as possible with discounted procedures. But cost or not, the price of not spaying and neutering is far worse – on many levels.

I guess for some people it’s a shame that having a dog or cat comes with so much responsibility. But it does – they’re not decorations that just sit on a shelf and need to be dusted off now and then, and anyone who plans to have one needs to first realize that.

If she could, Mya would echo that sentiment. But she’s not talking at the moment.

I, however, am. And here’s what I have to say about the subject: the best way to prevent another unwanted litter from showing up in a shed or an outbuilding is to call the shelter and get an appointment. Unless a pet is deliberately being bred, it’s the right thing to do.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Veterinary assistant Hailey Dodson of the Texas County Veterinary Clinic looks at Mya, a female husky mix that sustained a shotgun wound in Shannon County.

Veterinary assistant Hailey Dodson of the Texas County Veterinary Clinic looks at Mya, a female husky mix that sustained a shotgun wound in Shannon County.

Mya's head wound.

Mya’s head wound.