Sorry, Doctor. We’re Not Castrating Our Dog

to alter: verb, to make different. to geld.

to geld:  verb, to castrate; hence, to spay


It’s not always so easy to remain whole. Especially if you’re a male dog. 


Before my husband and I went on a vacation, we left Joey in the good hands of an animal medical boarding facility. He had round-the-clock medical care. We were nicely vacationing, a well-needed rest, when the on-call vet telephoned us and said that Joey’s prostate was enlarge and he would need emergency surgery to remove his testicles. She says there is blood in his pee and that’s a sign that he has an enlarged prostate. What? 


We also thought: What a coincidence that he just happened to be in a medical boarding facility.He’s been healthy for 10 years. All of a sudden he needs emergency surgery?


Now I understand that most of you reading this and who have a male dog (what proportion of you is that, exactly???) got your dog already “fixed.” That’s what almost all of the veterinary facilities are recommending. Even the State of California has mandatory fixing. If you’ve gotten your dog from a shelter, he almost certainly is not whole. 

Back to our telephone conversation, we decided to not order emergency surgery.  Instead, we ordered that the hospital perform a blood and urine test and we ordered the results be sent to our darling veterinarian back home. 

The weeks after our vacation and preceding our dog Joey’s annual exam provoked much thought. I note that as I write, the two adjectives – unaltered and male – seem as defining as the noun category, dog.

My husband and I used this time before the annual exam to closely and carefully observe our dog and to try to understand him even more than before. 

There’s a very good rhetorical question that lately I have been hearing: How would you like it if you had a collar and leash on you all day?  To answer that question, and others, to improve the quality of life of our dog, I learned and learned about dogs. I learned about Retrievers.

I learned that Retrievers were bred to hunt, to provide people with food; other dogs have it in their genealogical nature to be sheep-herders, such as the Corgi, out in the fields and mountains; dogs such as the Yorkshire Terrier were bred to find and kill rats who sneak into the farmers’ food supply and thus deplete the food stock for humans. These dogs are specialists. We humans have been dependent on dogs for our survival and have used the breeding of canines to help us survive. Though I find myself being more endeared to Joey, and I find Joey to be more bonded to me, I also find myself becoming more aware and more appreciative of the differences between dogs and humans. Joey is “whole.” People were always asking me, “Why didn’t you alter your dog?” Fact is that altering a male dog is the default, the default that not many people question anymore.

There are arguments everywhere – by medical professionals, by dog behaviorists – against leaving male dogs whole. The arguments go: “It’s better for their health.” “‘They are more sociable.” “They are better behaved.” I’m not convinced. There are also ethical and religious considerations that are important to my husband and me.

But if Joey were castrated, what would he be, exactly? And what would we be saying about him? And why?

Came the day of his annual exam:

  • his prostate was slightly enlarged but nothing extraordinary or dangerous to his health.
  • The blood test and the manual examination of Joey’s prostate showed, indeed, that we were right all along. There was no infection, nothing out of the ordinary.
  • The blood in the pee was due to his being hit by the car, as his penis had been severely lacerated and blood vessels were damaged. Hadn’t the doctor read the medical report?

Given the facts, which backed up our intuition, we all – my husband, Joey’s regular doctor, and I – decided to take no action, and let Joey continue living as he was.
Months later, Phil and I are happy we pursued our path of action. We knew our dog and his medical history. and we consulted with a doctor who we trust and who has Joey’s interest at heart. We are glad we reached out for a second opinion, and to have the opportunity to work together with Joey’s long-term doctor. We understand that the on-call vet did not know or understand our dog, or his behavior, and maybe didn’t even take the time to look at the medical chart that reported the injuries to his penis; we understood that she was too anxious to promote a popular and personal philosophy at the expense of our dog and his health.

Dr. Kiko is also happy that Joey will remain whole.

If you haven’t read Joey’s post on his recent annual physical exam, please do so now, so you can put together the two halves of the story.


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