Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Castration Anxiety

I usually do my best to adjust to Spanish life, but today I very deeply miss at least one aspect of The American Way. Simply put: In the Old Country (the USA), male dogs are neatly “neutered,” or “fixed,” or “altered” at the veterinarian´s office.

Here in rural Spain, we animal owners roll up our sleeves and pitch right in on Castration Day.

Back where I come from, “spaying” or “neutering” pet animals is practically a moral imperative. Anyone whose pooch or cat or ferret still has all its equipment is looked upon as cheap, or irresponsible, or maybe so lacking in funds he should not keep a pet at all. Letting a critter wander through life with a sex drive and the accompanying nervous tics is considered cruel.

Therefore, when you adopt a pet from the animal shelter, it´s already been “fixed” by the veterinarian on staff. And if a stray animal decides to take up with you, or a neighbor gives you a pup from his dog´s accidental litter, one of the first things you do is get him neutered.

This is easy: You drop off the dog in the morning at the vet´s office, and you pick him up again in the evening. Yeah, he´s a bit beat-up, but he´s up and about and happy to see you. You have to keep an eye on things “down there” for a day or two. But it´s really no big deal.

Here in Spain, a dog´s life is different... and a dog owner´s life surely is.

Tim is a young Brittany Spaniel who showed up here a year ago – a handsome hunting dog who´d had enough veterinary exposure to own a docked tail and identifying microchip. But he also had two testicles. Of course we inquired at the Sahagun vet about having those removed, too. The vet looked at us with shock and dismay.

“This is a beautiful animal! Why would you want to change him?” he asked. “He´ll get lazy. He´ll get fat. No!” he said. So we went away. And Tim has, in the months since, lost his mind whenever there´s a bitch in the village in heat. (They don´t alter the girl dogs either.) Tim really is a beautiful dog, and an all-around nice guy, too. But he´s high-strung. Tim pees on every vertical surface within 2 meters... this includes the neighbors´ front doors, the water fountain in the square, and sometimes Una Dog. And when he´s incredibly excited – like whenever we get up in the morning, or we return home from the shops – Tim sometimes whizzes on the ground beneath him.

And last week´s adventures with a wired-for-sound 3-year-old boy made it clear that Tim´s testes had to go. And so this evening we took Tim to the new vets, a trio of handsome young men in Saldaña. At 6:30 p.m., Luis met us at the door. I handed him the leash and petted Tim´s head. “When do we come for him?” I asked him. “What time do you open in the morning?”

Luis laughed uncomfortably. “I´m here on my own,” he said. “Come in and lend me a hand. It will be easier for the dog with you here. We´ll be done in an hour.”

I won´t go into details, but I can tell you it took 20 long, harrowing minutes and about five injections to knock out this dog. Once he finally packed it in, Luis asked us to wait another minute or two...I wondered if we were supposed to stay and hand the doctor his tools? But Paddy´s face changed everyone´s mind. He was pale. His eyes wet and wide with horror. Tim apparently was not the only patient in need of anesthesia.

Luis took down my cell phone number and sent us off to the nearest bar. Twenty minutes, half an hour, he said. “Don´t you worry,” he told us. “It´s all going normally.”

They were thirty long minutes, spent waiting in a diner straight out of an Edward Hopper painting. (the famous one above, "Night Hawks," is at the Art Institute of Chicago...and there´s nothing like the real thing!) Paddy, being British, had a gin and tonic. Me, being American, thought about having a shot of bourbon and a draft beer, but I was driving the car. And I might soon be needed in the recovery room.

And we were.

A very floppy and drugged-out Tim went home in the back seat, whining and twitching his head back and forth. I carried him into the house and laid him in the dog bed near the woodstove. He´s been crying there for four hours now, but more and more quietly. His pupils are dilated, his tongue lolls and drools. He´s a sad, pathetic mess. Luis says that´s normal, and Tim has what amounts to a bad hangover. (Paddy and Una are dutifully sleeping next to Tim´s bed tonight, even if Tim´s not sleeping at all.)

I suspect these horrific scenes are everyday life in the back rooms of American veterinary clinics, where animals struggle into and out of anesthesia without their owners there to hold their paws and whisper comfort to them. By the time we show up to take them home they are through the worst. We never see the hard parts. We never know what really happens. And that is why it seems so simple and easy. Because it is painless and clean and simple... for the humans involved.

Yes, it is selfish to say this, but had I known we´d be serving as castration nurses I´d have probably done like so many Spaniards do, and let my dog get through life with his standard equipment. Or maybe I´d have traveled with him to a big city, where they´d just neuter him. He might have the same experience, and the same outcome. But they´d leave us out of it.


Laura said...

Poor Tim! We were amazed at how many animal testicles we saw in Spain! One place we stayed had puppies and they told us all the males had homes but the female didn't because no one wants a female dog because they don't want more puppies. Sam suggested they get the female "fixed" and the response was a blank stare. When he explained further we were told that no one has the money for something like that. Then we felt like ridiculous rich Americans who treat their pets like family, etc. etc...I hope he is spunky in the morning.

conortje said...

What a great read that was - I feel a little groggy myself after it I must admit - hope he's bounced back after the ordeal.

Deirdre said...

I've assisted at the gelding of young thoroughbred horses...once you get them down in a paddock (no mean feat!) the vet uses what amounts to a pair of long-handled brush clippers to do the dirty deed! A few stitches later and voilá! nasty temperament all gone! Sometimes I recount this tale to my upper middle class urban male adolescent students - who have no clue about animals of any kind...and watch in amusement as their eyes get wide with horror! I'm sorry for Tim, but then, I don't have to live with him. You are having adventures - so much for the quiet life in Moratinos!

Anonymous said...

If only this treatment worked for Republicans.....


Libby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Virginia said...

I had to laugh - your experience closely parallels our experiences in Ukraine. There population control comes into play once a year when strays are shot and hauled away...but despite that, Ukrainians loooove their animals and the poorest people can be seen sneaking a bit of meat to a cat or a dog on the street. Our nieghbor cooked kettles of fish and rice three times a day to feed a pride of plump felines. When the lady died, nieghbors poisoned the 15 or so cats and considered it humane because who would feed them now?!?

Our cultural biases are like colored glasses - sometime obscuring the view....

Thanks for the great post!

Life is good...

VJ Pulver
In Sunny Santa Fe

PL said...

"...eyes wet and wide with horror." I'm sitting in Terminal A of Denver International Airport waiting for a two hour delayed flight to Washington D.C. where the soon-to-be powers beckon and I'm laughing so hard I'm coughing.

You two (Paddy and yourself) are most assuredly "pieces of work" in the panoply of humanity and I derive great vicarious 'humanity' from your writing and adventures both.

- Nev