he bel cane. È maschio o femmina?” asks the man staring at Bella at the bus stop near Claudia’s house. The common gender question used to annoy me but now I realize her “old man” beard is confusing, so I don’t take it personally.
“Ooo, quanto sei bella.” He says as he caresses Bella. “Io ho un maschio. Vuole farla accoppiare?” An eyebrow rises as if to suggest that he and I have always been on intimate dog-mating terms.
“No, lei non può.”
I assume my terse answer will stop the conversation, and then I remember I consistently fall into this trap. Please don’t ask me why she can’t. I cross my fingers and toes.
“Non può?! Come mai?” He gapes at me. I come equipped with the following sentence.
“L’ho trovata al canile, l’hanno sterilizzata loro.”
“Sterilizzata?! Che brutto.” The man reaches down and whispers something to Bella that I assume is, “Don’t worry, it’s not your fault that your insides were removed. Unlike you, your owner is a true bitch.”
He tsk-tsks and walks away. I nudge Bella to growl at him.
This conversation happens twice a month, at bus stops, in the pharmacy, in the park, the post office, enoteche, wherever I go, inevitably someone wants to mate with my dog. It has taken a lot of practice to succinctly explain that Bella can’t have puppies because she is spayed, basta.
Not because I didn’t want to give her the opportunity to procreate or withhold her individual rights. It just happened.
Admittedly, the “Why is she spayed? Che peccato!” comment-question puts me on the defensive. I used to say I was willing to fork out the cash for another Yorkie pup, or adopt an abandoned Pugshire (yorkie/pug mix), or even bank her genes for future cloning (see viagen.com). But it didn’t help. Most Italians still tell me what a horrible thing I did to my dog. Animal neutering and spaying isn’t the norm.
I called my vet to ask him why there is such a negative response to sterilization and why almost every male dog I’ve encountered isn’t neutered. He said only that Italians are not in the habit of sterilizing their pets. As abandoned animals increase in numbers, sterilization is slowly becoming more popular — among female dogs. But castrating a male is taboo. What is good for the goose definitely ain’t good for the gander.
I decided to ask around the neighborhood to see why people were not spaying or neutering (Note: These excuses apply to cats as well as dogs):
— Dogs need to have sex or else they become hyper-active (ex-boyfriend).
— A spayed pet becomes fat and lazy (gym instructor).
— Animals lose their sense of smell once sterilized (truffle hunter).
— It’s mean and they look “stupid” when neutered (guy-on-the-street).
— Why is it necessary? The dog lives at home (Giuseppe the Policeman).
Good question, Giuseppe.
Why is it necessary? Not to get too preachy (for that you can visit the American Humane Association), sterilization can potentially make your pet less aggressive. It also reduces the possibility of cancer — mammary, ovarian, testicular, and uterine. Yes, your skinny kitty or puppy could gain weight post-sterilization. But it’s a good idea, as a responsible pet owner, to monitor food intake completely aside from sterilization.
If your pets live at home, spaying or neutering may not be necessary, particularly if you intend to breed them. If you don’t, consider that sterilization may lengthen your pet’s lifespan and, at least for females, reduce maintenance.
My favorite observation, though, belongs to Mr. Guy-on-the-Street, that “it’s mean and they look stupid when neutered.” This is machismo rearing a miniscule head. Boys, just because your dog is castrated doesn’t mean we think you are. Get over your vanity, and neuter your agro Rottweiler or you may find yourself feeling as emasculated as the Great Dane did when he approached Bella, me, my friend and his excited daughter. “Look, Daddy, the doggie has udders. Can we milk her? Please??”