TG: This is Fresh Air. I’m Terry Gross.
Animal surgeon Nick Trout has noticed that many pet owners feel more like pet parents. The people that bring their animals to him want him to know how much they love their pets. He loves animals although the cats and dogs he treats might not return the sentiment during his examinations.
We’re going to talk about some of his more unusual cases and how the whole field of veterinary medicine has changed in the past few decades.
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TG I want you to tell us of one of your more challenging cases. And this is a case, I would describe this dog as, um, almost a hermaphrodite?
NT Yeah, yeah…
TG It had, it’s a male dog that had become feminized? It it had, uh, you, why don’t you describe what it had.
NT It, it was quite bizarre and you know occasionally these cases do get reported in the veterinary literature. What is more entertaining is how you explain this to a somewhat chauvinistic owner.
TG And how’d it do?
NT Well uh, I um, I like to think that the uh, the feminine side of his male dog brought out the feminine side in him.
TG < laugh> How so?
NT Well because, you know he, um, he did find it difficult. He was um just insistent that this was a male dog and that this couldn’t be happening. This, this hormonally-induced ability to be attracted to the other male dog in the dog park. And so what I ensured the end of the day was that uh he should understand that the man the male side of this dog actually shines through, was the dominant um party, and he seemed to be comfortable with that.
TG You know, one of the supermarkets tabloid seems to specialize in bizarre animal stories. It
TG Kind of combine the photos together.
TG so it’s half-cat, half-dog.
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The point of this piece is to draw show how veterinary medicine is taking on human medical modalities.
This excerpt relates to a dog that had a genetic or perhaps a congenital oddity that Gross identifies with a community of humans that she identifies as “hermaphrodites.”
What do we learn from this?
1. For starters, Gross is misinformed.
The term “hermaphrodite” has long fallen into disuse as objectionable, replaced by the neutral and descriptively correct term “intersexed.” That term has just recently been supplanted (by the medical professionals over the patients’ overwhelming objections) as people with “disorders of sexual development” (DSDs.) But Gross uses the outdated and demeaning term “hermaphrodite.”
2. Gross calls the dog’s condition “bizarre,” and the vet agrees.
But the medical community and society at-large understands that sex and gender variances occur within the human community all the time. Roughly one in 2,000 children are born intersexed.
We’re mammals; so are dogs. If this happens to us with such frequency why should anyone be surprised to see it in a dog? Given the number of canines among us what’s surprising is that the vet has only seen or heard of this one case.
3. Gross is uncomfortable with sex and gender variance.
She punctuates each juncture that she deems sexually amusing, whimsical, titillating or mildly prurient with her signature laugh/guffaw, signaling that it’s a matter we can turn into an off-color joke because it is after all about sex and sex makes us uncomfortable. Why? Fifty-five years into Playboy magazine and we still live in a sexually repressed society?
You’d expect Gross's take from teenagers when they discuss something that makes them nervous – like sex. People do that when they're not fully mature adults.
Maybe Gross just plays it cute for ratings.
4. The vet, who’s a medical professional, doesn’t seem to have a better take on this than does Gross. Toward the end he interjects agreements with her (two rights and a yes) as she trivializes the subject.
5. Gross and the vet’s unease is shared by the men in general if not the public at-large.
The vet relates the dog owner’s discomfort with his hermaphroditic and gender-bending dog. I suspect he sees it as reflecting on him personally. Men who buy fighting animals like pit bulls and tough-looking hyper-masculine dogs like boxers are projecting their animals’ innate aggressiveness. It’s an advertisement – “Don’t mess with me.” It’s the same with their cars – high power and long hood lines to compensate for their likely genital under-endowment. What can be more embarrassing for a macho stud than having a male dog who likes to take it up the ass?
Fathers have the same problem with their less-than-masculine sons.
Too bad Terry Gross missed the larger story. Query whether she could ever have seen it.