Yet Another Lesson

Our eight year old dog, Swirl, still has his balls.

He is called an intact male which seems odd to me because isn’t a male not neutered just a male? We’re not sure why he’s still intact but surmise it had to do with him being a sled dog – that being intact helped his running, kept him slim, or kept open the possibility that he could father baby sled dogs. Nobody said. We don’t ask the kennel because, after a thousand questions about Swirl’s siblings and races, we would be pushing our luck to ask why this particular dog, one out of two hundred, is intact and not neutered.

Anyway, after we got him in April, we took him to our vet. She said we should think about neutering him because it would reduce the risk of cancer in his balls. She didn’t say “in his balls.”

We debated this for a while. Should we let him be which was pretty much my preference or should we have him neutered which, oddly, was my husband’s preference, giving me the first real indication that he might be even more attached to the dog than me, or, rather, than I am attached to the dog, if you see the difference. Neither of us is prepared for the notion that we may outlive this dog. That’s deep.

So we decided to go ahead with the neutering. Today we took him to the vet for blood work. “He is the perfect dog!” the tech said when she brought him back to us. “So calm. He did everything I asked.” She went on to marvel at his looks, his personality, how friendly and sweet he was.

And then my husband said this and it has stuck in my mind all afternoon, how careful and perceptive a statement it was, how much it revealed about his love for this dog, after just a few months.

“One reason why he is so sweet and calm is that no one has ever hurt him.”

And he talked about his worry that the surgery and the ensuing pain might make our dog feel that he had been hurt and change him in some fundamental way. It hadn’t occurred to me until he said it, how profound gentleness had been in this dog’s upbringing. How profound it is in every creature’s life. And how rare it is at the same time.

We are so accustomed to harshness. So accepting of it. The harsh commands, the pulls on the leash, the shouts of disapproval. When we went to the sled dog kennel to bring Swirl home, the owner said this to us, “Just say ‘No Swirl’ if he does something bad, anything more than that will break his heart.”

I think now of my commands and orders and insistence with dogs and, if truth be told, with children. My extraordinary impatience, my need to control, my unintentional ability to make either or both flinch with my sudden moves, though I never did anything horrible to anyone. Sometimes I acted like I could not be trusted. I see that now. Because of this dog. He has been such a gift to this old woman.

3 Comments on “Yet Another Lesson

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