The sun was shining brightly through the boughs of my neighbors’ trees as it sunk down toward the west, down over Wisconsin where my brother and his family are packing up to move to Montana, down over Joplin, Missouri, where rescuers are still searching for survivors in the midst of the rubble of the Home Depot, leveled by a tornado, down over Texas where my friend Shelly was preparing to see her dying grandmother. Hoping she would make it in time.
With my puppy, Tilly, on one end of her leash, and me on the other, we walked outside under that setting sun, the cotton wood pollen falling down on her black coat. The white fluff dancing around in the air didn’t bother her like it normally would have, the effects of the anesthesia and pain medicine still lingering, making her calm. Tilly was spayed yesterday.
She woke up on the day of her surgery like any other day, with no indication that anything was different except that she wasn’t allowed to eat or drink. She wanted to. She walked to the spot in the laundry room where her bowls always sit, crying and looking up at me. I tried to tell her what was different, tried to explain to her what was about to happen. I wanted to comfort her over the loss she was about to experience, over the babies she would never have.
But that wasn’t her grief. That was mine. For me.
I had never really considered what was involved in the process of spaying a female dog until after my own hysterectomy. I was too young for the procedure, really, but the cancer that was growing there threatened my life, and the disease and the treatment would have left me sterile anyway.
My own illness was on my mind when my first dog, Precious, first became ill. I wondered if she could also have uterine cancer, but when I asked the vet, he asked, “She’s spayed isn’t she?”
“Yes,” I said. “Is that basically a hysterectomy?” I had always wondered.
“Yes,” he answered. “She can’t have uterine cancer.”
Tilly is young, and so she is handling the procedure pretty well. Neither of us slept well last night, though. Every time she moved, I checked on her, making sure she wasn’t licking the stitches. My vet said he had only ever seen two dogs who had licked so hard their guts fell out.
“Two?” I had said, disbelievingly.
He was trying to make me feel better about the procedure. I thought guts falling out couldn’t really happen. I thought it was an urban legend.
Conventional wisdom would say that having children turns a girl into a woman. And I would say conventional wisdom must be just about right about that. I’ve seen that same transformation in my younger sister over the past few weeks as she has given birth and embraced motherhood. Though she had been on her own and even finished graduate school before that, something changed when she first held her baby.
But I think conventional wisdom left out a part. Though it is inherently ironic, I say having a hysterectomy — experiencing the loss of possibility, the absence of hope — also makes a girl a woman.
And it turns a puppy into a dog.
Now if I can just get her to stop jumping.