When I was a kid, we had a little apricot colored poodle named Cocoa. I don’t remember a lot about Cocoa except that I decided pretty early on that I didn’t like male dogs or poodles. I still don’t particularly care for poodles or male dogs, but I have learned that it’s not Cocoa’s fault.
The things that I remember most vividly about him were irritations that I attributed to both of those traits. Every time our front door opened, Cocoa ran out. If the gate to the back was open for more than a second, Cocoa escaped. If we left something in front of a fence that could be climbed on, Cocoa was outta there. We used to get into endless trouble for “letting the dog out” when we all knew that that little curly runt was as devious as they come. He’d tuck himself innocuously behind our legs and then squirt out when we were the most distracted – sometimes when the door was hardly even open far enough for him to fit. Of course, since it was “our fault”, many of our childhood hours were spent combing the neighborhood and calling for him – hours we could have spent playing with our friends or doing something far more fun than looking for a dog that had already gotten us in trouble.
The other thing I remember was that, since he was our dog (given to the kids in the family), we were responsible for walking him. That alone shouldn’t have been such a bad thing, but the requirement was that we walk him once around the block. It was a pretty big block to begin with. However, that little dog must have saved up every spare ounce of pee for that walk and every single vertical object got a leg lift. You couldn’t go three steps before having to stop. And if he wasn’t in the process of lifting his leg, he was certainly checking out the spots where every other dog had. By the time we got home, what seemed like hours later, we wanted absolutely nothing to do with that little leg lifting responsibility.
Since becoming an adult, I have learned something very important about the traits that I attributed to Cocoa’s poodle-ocity and gender. Cocoa was unneutered. In that day and age, there wasn’t as much education about spay and neuter, so I’m pretty sure that most male dogs were left unneutered.
Unneutered males (both dogs and cats, and likely other species as well) tend to roam in search of in-heat females. An unneutered male can detect a female in heat even miles away. They are relentless in this quest – worse than the most lecherous, smarmy, single guy in your local bar, as they don’t even make the pretense that they are looking for anything other than some afternoon delight. In fact, because of this drive, because they tend to escape and roam, their average expected lifespan is significantly less than their neutered counterparts – cars, dog fights, shelters and predatory animals and humans top the list of dangers for these guys. Neutering has been proven to reduce roaming by as much as 90%.
Additionally, unneutered males tend to have a much stronger desire to mark territory. The testosterone makes them want to show other males that this is their space. Our daily walks were Cocoa’s opportunity to thumb his little brown nose at the other dogs in the neighborhood. Of course this same propensity for dominance also led him to get in other dog’s faces – at only 20 lbs, he lost fights to a doberman and an irish setter while out trying to rule the neighborhood. He was one lucky little bugger to have still been alive after both of those.
Since I’ve been an adult I’ve met many adult male dogs who were neutered as puppies that don’t ever lift a leg, and I’ve met poodles that have desires to be with their human parents rather than plotting escapes into the world. Wow Cocoa, how could I have been so wrong about you? I’m happy to now live in a world that understands the health benefits of spay/neuter and how these procedures can make for a much more loving and affectionate pet.
I don’t know what happened to Cocoa. One day he was gone and didn’t come back. My parents told us that he went to live with a wonderful older woman who would feed him steak and let him sit on pillows. I hope that was true but I still think I’d like a do-over with Cocoa.
I know that the topic of spay/neuter is not a “warm fuzzy” one that people are happy to chat about in polite company. However, the alternative – hundreds of thousands of extraneous animals put to sleep every year because people couldn’t or wouldn’t spay or neuter is even less appealing. And by not bringing it up, we are quietly contributing to this massive mortal epidemic.
Supporting local groups that provide a spay/neuter for pet quality animals that might not otherwise be taken care of, and will prevent the 12-14 births that that animal could have in a single year (and that doesn’t even take into account the births that those 12-14 offspring might incur in that same year). Please donate to these local organizations and give a child the gift of a “Cocoa” that I didn’t get to experience.
(Please note that the first time this was posted, I was hurtfully attacked for being heartless as a child. For one, this was when I was 10 years old and the oldest of 4 children. Those who know me know that I was not a heartless pet owner then or now. I am merely trying to recount an experience that many of us my age had in the late 60s/early 70s and pointing out my gratitude that those attitudes have changed since then.)