It began at doggie daycare a week ago, when one of the trainers there gave Capone a speculative look.
“Is he still intact?” she asked. It took me a full five seconds to understand her meaning.
“Oh. Yes. Yes. Very much so.”
She frowned. “And how old is he now?”
“Ten months on Saturday. Still a baby. A big, hairy, 85 pound baby.”
She shook her head. “We should have mentioned this before, like two months ago, but there is an extra charge for intact male dogs.”
She winced. “It’s actually double the fee.”
That made a day at doggie daycare sound more like a day at the most exclusive spa in town. “Gosh. Okay.”
I was in a pinch, moving my oldest back to college that day. It would take hours and I couldn’t leave Capone alone. When I got back to pick him up that evening, the people at doggie daycare kindly charged me the regular rate since they hadn’t warned me ahead of time. As I paid and waited for Capone to be brought forth, I explained my dilemma.
"Quite a few people have encouraged me to wait a year or two before getting Capone neutered. They said it would be better for his health in the long run."
The girl working behind the counter listened sympathetically. “Has he exhibited any…behaviors?”
“Not at all.” I responded, quite proud of the fact that Capone was not a humper. He did have a brief interlude with a Mexican blanket a few months ago, but nothing at all since then. But maybe there were other things I should be worried about. I frowned. “I mean, he doesn't...uh...hump. Are there other behaviors I should worry about?”
“Well, there is marking….”
I stared at her. “Is that when they pee on every tree, bush, rock, fire hydrant, and anything remotely shaped like a phallus when you take them for a walk?”
She nodded. “My dog started marking, and I kind of ignored it. Then he started doing it inside….”
“Oh, no.” I suddenly imagine pee splattered walls and couches and curtains.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “That’s when I knew it was time to get him fixed."
I called the vet the next morning and made the appointment. Capone is now scheduled to be emasculated on August 27. Not everyone in my house was happy to hear the news.
“Do we have to do it?” asked my husband on a long distance call from Amsterdam. “I feel bad for him.”
“I’ll feel bad for us if he starts marking our furniture.”
“I guess so. Wait. How much is this going to cost?”
It would be roughly the price of a new set of tires for our car. My husband gasped when I told him. “I think we should wait,” he said. “It’s not just the money. I feel so sorry for him.”
“I think it’s time,” I said. As the only person in the house without testicles, I quickly realized I had to be the one to make this decision, and I had to stand firm.
My oldest son, already back at college, reacted with shock. “Can I see him before it happens?”
My middle son quietly patted Capone’s head and handed him extra treats. “Poor puppy,” he said.
My youngest had a different plan. “I think we should breed him. He’d make really cute puppies.”
My husband had been all for this idea, too. “Let him have at least one happy memory.”
I rolled my eyes and messaged the breeder, who really didn’t need Capone’s services. I knew this would be the case, but I had to contact her just to confirm it. Otherwise they all might have wondered if we’d rushed into things and missed out on the possibility of an affair de coeur for Capone.
Then the questions started, mostly from my youngest. “Do they actually cut off his….you know….?”
“Yes. I think so.”
“Can we keep them?”
“His balls?” He nodded, very seriously, and I shook my head. “Uh, no. We cannot.”
Whenever the subject of the surgery came up, every member of my household had the same reaction. A wince. A flinch. A sort of doubling over (like someone had punched them very low in the stomach), followed by the instinctual and involuntary covering of their male parts. It was like every time they thought about what Capone would go through, they imagined it happening to them, too.
“It’s not going to be that bad,” I said, rolling my eyes as they did their flinching ball covering dance once again. “You guys are ridiculous.”
Even the neighborhood children were concerned. “Will they put him to sleep for it?” asked one little boy, his blue eyes huge in his face.
“Yes, they will.”
“Phew,” he said, giving Capone a pat. “I’m glad you won’t remember it, boy.”
It was like a conspiracy among males to protect other males. Every conversation I had with my husband (still in Amsterdam) often centered on Capone and his balls. “I think we’re rushing this…” he began, but I stopped him.
“It’s time. He’ll be calmer.”
I looked at Capone, sleeping on the floor and snoring like a cartoon character. A loud inhale of a snore followed by an exhale that sounded like “waba waba waba.” It had to be the cutest dog snore ever. For a lab, Capone was a very calm puppy already. If he got any calmer, he might be comatose. Maybe this wasn't the best argument for neutering.
“I don’t want him marking our house,” I said.
“Neither do I,” said my husband.
“And I don’t want to pay double the price for doggie daycare.”
“Neither do I.” He let out a sigh. “Lots of dogs go through this, I guess.”
“Yep. Most do.”
And so it’s been decided. Capone will officially be turned into the dog equivalent of a eunuch next Thursday. He will recover very quickly, I’m sure. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the guys in my family. I think it’ll be a long time before they can look at Capone without wincing and flinching.