Castrating the Orphan

All of my adult life I have anticipated a dog. Through the years, friends and family have given me doggy gear including a small kennel, a crate, dog beds, leads and collars.

I had wanted an English Bull Terrier, but was open to other moderate-sized breeds, or even a mutt. I also enjoy travel, and knew a dog would be a grounding influence, so I did not actively search for a dog. Though there were dogs in my family, our ‘bonding’ was superficial. To be brief, I have not had an intimate relationship with a dog.

Huerfanito is a Jack Russell/Yellow Lab mix. He’s got a beard like mine, and a pretty blonde wire-haired coat. He looks like a pale miniature Russian Wolfhound. He is also a lanky 5-month old stray that showed up on my friend Nancy’s porch. She’s already got four dogs and called me to see if I was interested in taking this one. I met him, waited a week, and took him home.

I have mellowed considerably in the last few years, and was prepared to see poop on the Hatchlu carpet, or gnaw marks on the handcarved furniture made for me so long ago. What I couldn’t anticipate was the philosophical difficulties posed by ownership of another sentient creature.

Most dog owners counseled crate training and neutering. I have tried to follow their advice, but it has usually been with a heavy heart.

With regard to human castration, I know of only a few examples: Abelard, the cleric that fell in love with Eloise; and Farinelli–the Neopolitan castrato. It seems clear that we castrate humans for different reasons than we do dogs. We neuter (or spay) dogs primarily to keep them from breeding. In human terms, we ‘fix’ them to insure their chastity.

Now chastity has been a thorn in my side since I was aware of it as a mandate: the Church urges chastity among its unmarried members. It is our vocation. Blessed Mother Church gives no tools or techniques with which to realize this vocation (other than prayer and spiritual guidance), yet there it is, along the path to salvation: don’t use your apparatus outside of marriage.

I had Huerfanito neutered yesterday. The evening before, I felt disingenuous watching him lick his balls for the last time. There’s no way I could have communicated to him what was about to happen. And I sensed that once I did this to him, we were truly committed, his sole purpose in life would be to become my companion. I have never felt this weight of responsibility, even in my human relationships. It makes me wonder if the real reason for castration is the most compelling: it makes dogs more agreeable, less aggressive, and more focused on their vocation as devoted companions. Sounds like a lot of men could stand neutering.

Does anyone remember C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters?” The gist of it was that humankind needed to be formed by Love, and even the love between dog and master was an acceptable discipline to God. But always this superior stance to the animal. And I cannot see neutering as a loving act.

Huerfanito leans against me in the cab of the truck, the rising sun shooting across the bench seat. We’re on our way to the vet’s. I am thinking about Chester, a Yorkshire Terrier I know who has been neutered and yet despite that and his diminuative size, he is still the alpha male in a large household pack that includes Pit Bulls and Rotweilers. So my prayer for Huerfanito is this: may your sacrifice teach me to be chaste, and may your (our?) sweet restless spirit be distilled, not extinguished.



© Tasso 2001