As you can probably guess, from the moment I put him in my car that first night, all life immediately revolved around Goliath. Morning, after-work and evening walks became a ritual. It was good for my health, which was otherwise pretty crappy. It was good for my psyche, which was also not tops. It wasn’t so good for some of the other dogs at the park, though.
Mostly outside Goliath was quite friendly, he liked to play with other dogs. He made many doggy friends, and their owners liked him too. But more often than I liked to admit, Goliath listened to his darker angel:
“Gotta bite a dog. Gotta bite a dog. Gotta bite a dog NOW!”
He would then race across the park towards his would be victim, dragging me behind him shouting:
“God Damn it — STOP!”
Goliath was about 18 months old when I finally admitted that something had to be done. When I knew I had to “fix” the problem. When he pissed me off so much that there was only one solution:
I had to cut off his balls.
Yup. Castration. Dr. Jane, Goliath’s vet, had been telling me to neuter him for months. Carlos, Goliath’s dog trainer told me to do it, too. The owners of Goliath’s ‘frenemies’ suggested it less politely.
But I’d never had a neutered dog before. It seemed harsh. Cruel. Unfair. Plus, I’d always hoped for grandchildren.
Of course I read about what happens to a dog after-balls. I learned that neutering lowers a dog’s testosterone level – makes him less likely to act like Rocky Balboa at the park. Less likely to fight with other dogs. And way less likely to drag me in front of a bus while rushing to attack another dog. All good things for me. But for him? Not so much.
I learned that it’s best to neuter your dog at about six months of age. But six months was right after I brought home my traumatized, abused dog! It just didn’t seem nice to turn around and say:
“You’re home now. Nobody will ever hurt you again.
Oh, except when I cut off your balls.”
And really, I empathized. I was young, unmarried, childless. I didn’t want anyone to neuter me. So how could I do it to my best friend? I just couldn’t.
At least not until he ticked me off once too often. (I’m telling you, do not mess with me.)
We were at Lincoln Park one night for our after-work walk, when Goliath got that urge to fight. I struggled to hold him, to keep him away from the other dog, to make my maniac behave. He didn’t. He wouldn’t. It took all my strength to keep him from hurting that other dog.
That was it, the last straw. I’d had enough. It was time. And feeling very much like Alice’s mad Queen of Hearts, I made the decision –
“Off with his balls!”
Goliath and I arrived at the animal clinic that Tuesday. Unfortunately it was our regular vet Dr. Jane’s day off. A young vet I hadn’t seen before called my name and led Goliath and me into an examining room.
I have to admit, I was embarrassed. Dr. Jane was a woman, and, well, I’d hoped to be discussing my dog’s testicles with her — with a woman. Instead, here was this handsome young guy who I had fallen for immediately. And rather than flirting with him, there I was talking to him about castrating another man – hardly the best way to get a date. My heart sank knowing that my chances with the handsome vet were being nipped in the bud.
Dr. David quickly sensed my discomfort. He knew I was wavering on getting Goliath fixed. He could tell that I was about to chicken out and change my mind.
“He’ll be fine,” said the vet, looking Goliath over. “It’s very routine. He won’t even notice the difference. But you’ll be much happier with the results.”
Of course I couldn’t look Dr. David in the eye. Because naturally I was wondering if he would notice if someone cut off his balls. I was pretty sure he’d notice. He didn’t seem like the type of guy who wouldn’t.
“Now, I don’t know how much you know about this procedure, but there are actually two different ways of doing this. We can either castrate him completely –basically cut off his testes — or we can drain the fluids inside. That has the same effect.”
“Drain them?” I said hopefully.
“Yes, we essentially drain him, lowering the testosterone to a more manageable level. It’s less radical, less risky. Dog owners are often more comfortable with this procedure. Now which of those options do you think makes the most sense for this big guy?” he said, looking Goliath right in the eye.
“Draining them sounds much better,” I said, feeling relieved. I was feeling so good, in fact, that I could actually look Dr. David in the eye again. They were deep blue …
And so I left Goliath with Dr. David and what I envisioned to be some sort of sterile syphon. I no longer felt even a smidge of guilt.
You know what? Even doing the procedure late helped. After the surgery, Goliath was less interested in killing other male dogs. From time to time one of them really ticked him off and led me to believe that those sacks hadn’t been completely drained, after all. But the newly drained Goliath was a huge improvement over the old testosterone-filled maniac. For the rest of his life he was considerably less aggressive.
The draining also left him with his pride. A smidge of flesh in between his legs to chew on. It eased my guilt — after all, they’d only drained some fluid from him, and doctors and vets do that sort of things all the time. Goliath was still a man. He kept the semblance of his balls. He still had something to chew on. He was still alpha dog. I had not turned him into a pansy.
In the intervening years, I married John, a man who quickly became devoted to Goliath. A few years later, when we had all moved out of state, I took Goliath to a new vet. Goliath was then about nine years old –getting up there in doggy years. The poor old guy was having problems urinating and needed some attention.
But when I gave the new vet, Dr. Joe, the rundown of Goliath’s health history, I got an unexpected lesson when I mentioned to the man how Goliath had been “fixed” at 18 months.
“I don’t know if it makes any difference, but I should probably tell you that you know, Goliath wasn’t actually ‘castrated,’ he was ‘drained.’”
“Yeah, at the time the vet said that either they could castrate him, ummmm, cut off his, ummmm, testicles, or drain them. I chose to have him ‘drained.’”
I’m pretty sure that all of Dr. Joe’s medical training in delivering disturbing news culminated in this one moment with me. Every cell in his face solidified so that there wasn’t even a hint of a smile.
“Ummmm, Ma’am?” he said without so much as a hint of humor, “There is no such procedure in veterinary medicine. We don’t “drain” the dogs. We surgically remove the testes. All that’s left is the skin.”
“Oh,” I replied.
I’ve never told this story before. Somehow, I bet both vets have.