“But it is an emergency,” I want to say, or rather wail, as the woman on the other end of the phone says goodbye.
No, this isn’t about COVID-19 or any other human ailment.
The emergency? We just acquired an un-neutered male dog, have had him only three nights, and our baby 28 week old Golden Retriever girl, Skye, just went into heat.
O. M. G. This is not exactly normal territory for me. All the pets I’ve ever had have been spayed or neutered, and the one family dog that wasn’t—my sister’s Golden—was simply never around any un-spayed female. And I grew up in the time when vets spayed or neutered dogs at six months.
But, as I’ve written about before, my husband and I ended up with a female Golden Retriever puppy. Current research on the breed says you should wait until they are a year old before spaying or neutering them. They need all their hormones to grow properly. Goldens who have been left until a year (or later) to be spayed or neutered have many fewer problems with their joints than Goldens spayed/neutered earlier.
My husband spots the little drop of blood on the floor where our pup, Skye, was lying.
“This isn’t good,” he says.
“What?” I say, distracted because I’m commenting on a poem by a student taking one of my online classes.
“Blood,” he says.
My first thought is injury: something’s wrong with one of our pets. I look around. The new dog is beside me on the couch. The three cats are doing feline things somewhere else in the house. It can only be Skye.
“What?” I say. And then, “Oh. Oh no! She’s too young!” I’d done the research: Goldens never went into heat before they were 9 months, and not usually until a year old.
The new dog is a three year old intact male Golden Retriever. We did buy him, from a Craigslist ad, but for less than an adoption would have been and from a very rural family who was shutting down their breeding operation. He had been a farm dog, basically left to run loose. When we put him in the car to bring him home, he had to be lifted in—all 75 pounds of him—because he’d only ever ridden in the back of a truck. The morning after we got him, we took him to the vet because he wouldn’t stop scratching his ears. He had two bacterial ear infections, the poor boy, and we pulled a few ticks off him. This was clearly just the first vet trip of a few to get him into “city spoiled dog” shape. We thought the neutering could wait a week or so.
Clearly, we were wrong.
“But she’s still a baby!” I say.
“Could something be wrong?” he said. “Should she go in to be checked out, too?”
“I’ll call the vet.”
And then the vet’s receptionist told me the weird news, if any news can be called weird in the time of a global pandemic. “We’re going to have to call you back. We’re not sure, after the governor’s announcement, whether we’re going to have to close for a while, or close to anything but emergencies anyway.”
My stepdaughter thinks it would be a great idea to have puppies. She’s off at college, in her own apartment, so could either watch them via webcam (and not have to clean up or worry about them or Skye) or potentially visit (when allowed) but still not have to do any of the work.
Um, no. No no no. I do not want puppies. There are more than enough puppies in the world, and we didn’t buy breeding rights for Skye, and the new dog—Duncan, renamed from his original Gunner, because in Memphis you do not go running around the dog park shouting “Gunner!”—has allergies that should not be passed on to offspring.
I should say that the acquisition of Duncan was not an accident, nor a whim. Since we first brought Skye home, I’ve wanted a companion dog for her. I realized I’ve never had just one dog; there was always an older one to help the puppy learn bite inhibition and basic household manners, and then to play with the puppy when it was old enough to need a lot of exercise. Walks don’t do it for a puppy after a certain age, and doggy daycare was getting expensive. Not to mention that doggy daycare would ban Skye once she was seven months old and not yet spayed, and not let her return until she was spayed. I couldn’t face five months of taking her for multiple long walks a day and still having her groan in boredom after bringing me every single toy in her toy box and then refusing to retrieve them when I threw them for her.
In searching for a brother for Skye (I had been advised not to have two females, as they are more likely to fight than a mixed couple or even two males), I spent hours online looking at Petfinder and Adopt-A-Pet. I looked at the local Golden Retriever rescue’s website daily. I really wanted to rescue a dog, partly because I didn’t want to go through the “puppy shark” young puppy training period again, and partly just because I believe in rescue. But I was picky: the dog had to be good with other dogs and with cats, and it had to have at least some of a retrieving breed in it, and I had to think it was cute, and it had to be young enough to be a playful companion for Skye.
See, I’d had a terrier x something mutt when I was in my 20s, and while loving with people, she was difficult with other dogs. She often jumped right into a fight, even with my family’s normally placid Goldens. Breed characteristics could definitely come through, and the dogs I knew—had always owned—were retrievers, specifically Goldens and Cocker Spaniels. In addition, we’d met a few dogs we were trying to adopt: one black Lab mix who chased the cats; one Golden mix who’d growled at Skye when she was just 9 weeks old and hadn’t done anything but walked near him; and just recently, a beautiful black and brindle mutt that looked like a Flat Coated Retriever, who Skye was frightened of because of his hyper activity.
So when we saw an ad for a 3 year old Golden Retriever male, we thought we’d drive the hour and a half to check it out. Of course when we met the sweet boy, outside-stinky and prone to rolling on his back to get his tummy rubbed, we had to take him home.
Duncan—formerly Gunner—is getting used to life lived inside. The first night, we put him in a crate in our bedroom beside Skye in her crate. He whimpered for hours. The second night, I slept on the floor beside his crate, my fingers through the screen. The third night, he absolutely refused to get off the couch to come into the bedroom, making himself so heavy and awkward we couldn’t even lift him, crying when we touched his collar, and not even succumbing to the lure of treats, so we left him there and went to bed. When we woke in the morning, he was in his open-doored crate, thumping his tail.
The vet’s office, actually, never called back. My husband instead emailed our vet personally, explaining the situation and asking for her advice. Her response came the next day: A male dog can still have enough fertility to impregnate a female up to six weeks after his neutering. She suggested we find another place to keep him for a month. She said if they’re living together, they’ll find a way. She said they may already have had relations. (No, no, no, no, no! I thought. She’s just a puppy!)
Oh, and she said that in the time of COVID-19 quarantine, they were only allowed to do “emergency” surgeries, but she’d consider this an emergency and make sure we were scheduled.
My husband and I sat on the couch, silent. I had suspected all this, but I’d somehow thought the vet would have a nice, neat solution we hadn’t considered.
We kept sitting. Duncan thumped his tail (he does this much of the time, especially when anyone moves, coughs, or looks at him). I patted him and teared up. I would have liked to talk with my sister, who passed away in December, about this. She would have immediately volunteered to take care of whichever of the two dogs I chose.
“Ok,” I finally said. “Ok. So should we see if his former owners want to take him back for a month? Board him for a month? Give him to the Golden Retriever rescue people?”
“But will we get him back after?”
“I don’t know,” I said, and started to cry.
Duncan thumped his tail. Skye picked up a toy.
Finally, I turned to the dog-savvy Siren Lisa Rose. She assured me that breeders dealt with this all the time. “Crates,” she said. And female doggy pants, which doubled as chastity belts. And doggy gates. I could do this.
Of course, when we tried them, Skye had her pants off in less than five minutes.
It’s Day 2 of Skye’s heat/the doggy separation, and we’re doing reasonably ok. The dogs look at us and each other with confusion and sadness. How could we do this to them? Duncan has the What did I do? look. Skye has the What did you do? look. Both are pictures of betrayal.
Duncan gets neutered today, the day this is posted. We will pull up to the vet’s office, call them, and a technician will come out to get the dog. If the vet has any questions, she’ll call us. It makes sense; I certainly don’t want our vet to get sick.
Then we only have about three weeks left. Juggling one dog in, one dog out; one dog in the crate, one dog out; one dog in the kitchen, one dog in the living room; one dog sleeping in her crate in the bedroom, one dog roaming the house, shut out from the rest of us.