During summer, when a large patch of wild greens in the wetland opposite our house dries up, we jump across a tiny bridge and take our Dogo Argentino, Khal Dogo, for walks there.
On the other side, where the road is, lies the turf of a few other pet dogs, also out for their evening walks. This mix features an adorable female Labrador, Gigi. On one momentous day, when she was in heat, we realised that Khal has become a ‘man’ from a ‘boy’, and so had his Golden Retriever friend, Shiro.
That day, these two playful, carefree dogs neither played nor sniffed around. All they did was stare longingly at Gigi from across the lake and made strange sounds, which neither Shiro’s parents nor I had ever heard. This went on for 90 minutes, even after Gigi was taken home.
While I couldn’t help but laugh at how my dog was behaving, being ‘love sick’, if I may call it that, the fact is that when female dogs are menstruating, it’s torturous for male dogs, who have not been neutered.
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Even though Gigi’s house is a couple of blocks away from ours, that night Khal didn’t sleep a wink and nor did we. He strolled from one end of our bedroom to another, desperately trying to follow Gigi’s smell outside the window and get to her somehow.
It was the first time my husband and I thought about getting our dog neutered. His trainer had suggested we neuter Khal when he was just five months old. “It will control his testosterone levels and keep him calm. Do it before he learns any harmful behaviour like biting humans,” he said. But back then, we wanted to breed our dog. Also, we wanted his puppies, to keep one, sell the rest, and recover some amount we spent on his upkeep. Today, I am ashamed that I admitted the thought.
However, on that night of our dog pining for love, we started looking up online articles and discussing castration with other pet parents. As there is no conclusive research on the subject, pet guardians’ and even vets’ opinions differ. It is believed that some cancers and orthopaedic diseases are less likely to occur in large dogs such as Khal if they are not neutered. Though, there are also chances of them developing prostate disease, perianal hernias, perianal tumours, and testicular tumours in their senior years, if not castrated. For female dogs, however, the popular opinion is for spaying as it avoids many diseases, including breast cancer.
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We then heard about the painful few days for a dog after the surgery. “He may even refuse to eat for a couple of days,” someone told us. The thought of my food-crazy Khal not eating was heartbreaking. So, we swept the subject under the carpet for the time being.
Then one day, a breeder called us to ask if Khal Dogo was available for breeding. The reality hit us then—by mating Khal we would be doing a great disservice to dogs, both, community and pedigree. Let me break it down for you. Raising any dog, especially someone as high in energy and as big as a Dogo Argentinos, takes a lot of work, patience, discipline and unwavering, long-term commitment. But most people are unwilling to or simply can’t put in that much work or that many hours. After a few months of bringing a dog home, he or she is handed to the walker. The dog, a pack animal, stays home alone for hours while his humans work in offices. He is neither trained nor exercised enough and becomes anxious or depressed or aggressive. Worse, HE is abandoned on the streets to die. We definitely don’t want Khal’s puppies to end up with any such people. Also, dog breeding in India is highly unregulated. The female dogs are often treated as puppy-making machines. There are also no checks to assess the temperament of the parent canines or their medical history.
Then there are the many, many community dogs that urgently need a loving home, so they are not thrown away in garbage bins, thrown acid at or killed.
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Khal will be the last of his family lineage because we will be neutering him in 7 to 8 months after he turns three.
After speaking with a vet, and a couple of ethical Dogo Argentino breeders and doing online research, we learnt that large-size Mastiffs, which Khal is, continue to grow until they are three years old. If they are neutered before, their growth could be stunted, and cause medical issues. Until then, Khal will have just had to deal with love pangs.
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based journalist, a first-time pet parent and a Kathak student.