I was eight, running with my loyal best friend, Spot, our family dog, who was mostly beagle. She had black and brown spots on her white fur, long silky ears, and brown, soulful eyes that looked like they understood more than a dog should. My younger brother, Roger, picked her out of a litter and named her Spot. When she was allowed inside, I stroked her white paws, laying my head on her firm belly, while she slept on her side. I heard her pleading yelps for freedom whenever I left for school in the morning. She lived in a dog house surrounded by a gated pen, and I had to fight myself not to set her free. Instead, I lovingly called, “Don’t worry Spot, when I come home from school, we’ll play again.”
Spot’s lonely, howling bark remained with me throughout the school day. Years later, while studying in the library in medical school, I’d hear that pleading cry again from dogs slated for medical research, caged in the basement and barking for freedom. When I returned home from school, I’d bring Spot food and water, and "accidentally" let her wildly rush out of her pen. We were both overjoyed to see her exercise her freedom. “Go, girl, go!” I’d shout as she bounded away. The neighbors, though, complained that she dug up holes to tunnel into their backyards and have sex with their dogs.
Spot came to me whenever I felt sad, and she never betrayed me. One day, while playing ice hockey on a lake with my brothers and the other boys in the neighborhood, I skated over a hidden log in the ice and fell hard, smashing my head on the frozen lake. When I awoke, I saw a circle of kids standing around me, and they teased me, claiming I was faking injury. None of us knew I’d sustained a concussion. Spot came over and licked my face. I slowly got to my feet, but I could not remember the way home. My dog led the way.
With awe, I watched Spot give birth to her first litter. Eight beautiful, multicolored, bouncing puppies emerged from their mother’s body. One of the puppies, my favorite––all white, the runt of the litter––always got pushed out from suckling. Yet, Spot was gently attuned with her, protecting her from getting trampled by the bigger and more athletic pups, patiently allowing her to suckle after the others finished. Gently placing the pups in a baby carriage, I gave Spot time to rest and pushed the puppies around the block. I was delighted and proud when the neighbors fussed over their adorable, fluffy faces.
When Spot became pregnant for the second time, my Dad, a surgeon and urologist, decided to abort Spot’s litter with our family assisting in our basement. I dreaded my Dad coming home that day to operate on Spot. My mother had railed against aborting Spot’s litter, but she lost the argument to my father, a rare occurrence. Nevertheless, she refused to participate in Spot’s surgery. Spot was already many weeks pregnant, and her swollen belly swayed back and forth when she walked.
Our basement, typically suburban, had toys and records neatly stacked in an armoire. At one end, there were hockey sticks, pucks, a net, a batting cage, baseball bats, and a bucket of baseballs. A pitching machine sat on the other end. My father prepared the ping pong table and organized his instruments for the operation. My oldest brother, Daniel, ten at the time, a sensitive child having an intense fear of the sight of blood, barricaded himself in the bathroom after being told he had to wash his hands with special soap. After washing for fifteen minutes, he desperately clung to the doorknob inside the bathroom while my father barked at him from the other side, “Finish cleaning your hands, get downstairs and stop acting like a sissy!” Hiding was Daniel’s best defense from ruthless shaming. This time, I was elated to be a girl, happy to be ignored and unimportant; getting off easy, my job as a surgical nurse was to throw the bloody rags into a massive heap on the basement floor. My younger brother felt excited to watch the procedure.
After putting on sterile gloves and a mask, my father intubated Spot and inserted an IV in her vein with anesthesia. Spot's heart began to beat wildly, and I feared that it might bounce right out of her chest and onto the cement floor. Anxiously, I asked, “Is Spot’s heart supposed to be beating that fast?” Dogs are different from humans, I reasoned, worrying that my father had given her too much anesthetic, a quantity suitable for the humans on whom he normally performed surgery. He nonchalantly mumbled under his mask, “All is well,” dismissing my worry as that of a silly, little girl. I did not feel reassured. The cold, fluorescent lighting of the basement reflected on Spot’s belly after my father cleansed and shaved it, making her look so vulnerable and helpless.
Dad swiftly and deftly cut through Spot’s skin and muscle. Daniel began to sweat profusely and his hands trembled. He looked sick and his body swayed as he stood next to my father. Dad snapped, “Stop shaking, retract the skin and guts more!” Exposing her reproductive organs, my father’s face tightened and grew hard. His disgust towards females was palpable as he yanked out Spot’s uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. Daniel’s face turned ghostly pale, and I feared he would faint. Please God, give Daniel and Spot the strength to get through this, I prayed. Some of the pups started gurgling and twitching. Turning to stone, I witnessed Spot's, litter of ten tiny pups slowly suffocate on our ping pong table. Spot withstood my father’s operation.
Afterward, Mom slowly came downstairs, her hands supporting her growing belly, five months pregnant with a child my father did not want. Weeping, she came to check on Spot. She and I stayed with my dog until she woke up, and then we cleaned up the blood. Caressing Spot, I whispered in her ear, “ I love you. So sorry about your babies.”
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