Its a Living

You think your jobs tough? Try being the Ty-D-Bowl Man for Huntington Beach

And now the dog's hips are slowing. There are three dime-sized drops of blood on the linoleum and a spot of what looks like seminal fluid, though that could be human sweat. He backs off the bitch, panting and quivering. He's 11, and this may be his last romance. He's already too old to mount such an expedition on his own, his owner says; he can't catch the fillies and keep them down, not even with the aid of a peculiar evolutionary adaptation present in all males of the species: the bulbous glandus, a doughnut-shaped protuberance at the base of the shaft that, once inside the bitch's vagina, cannot be withdrawn without serious, appendage-wrecking ramifications.

No, this boy needs a doctor's help. Hence this vet (who asked to be nameless), who specializes in collecting canine semen for multitudinous purposes—shipment to far-off customers in need of exotic, high-level sperm, for instance, or assistance in such gerontological situations as this one.

The old guy is led off to the car outside, to wait there while the procedure is completed. The bitch has more coming to her.

The doctor examines the dog's semen for motility and fertility—quality and quantity—and then has three options: fresh thawed, fresh express or fresh breeding. She can freeze the stuff in liquid nitrogen (where it can survive for approximately 10,000 years) for delivery to a certified canine sperm bank, or ship it around the world in dry ice; she can chill it for overnight delivery anywhere in the U.S. for use in artificial insemination—the only real A.I.—for up to 48 hours; or it can be used right here, right now, to impregnate the fertile, ovulating brindle bitch now panting at my feet.

"He didn't give us very good stuff this time," the vet says. She's looking through a microscope. There aren't many sperm, she observes, and some are dead.

"He's disintegrating faster than we knew," the owner says sadly.

But—hey!—why the glum faces? There's enough to proceed. The vet is mixing up the good sperm—the happy, can't-wait-to-fulfill-their-sole-biological-purpose spermatozoa—with a patented, top-secret serum. She will insert this into the bitch. Not even the vet knows precisely what's in the serum. (I can tell you it is green, comes in a pharmacological-looking glass bottle and reportedly makes sperm more assertive.) She dumps the contents of the best of the seven vials along with the green stuff into a single syringe and attaches a "pipette"—a long flexible tube. This, as you can guess, will go up the bitch's vagina.

An assistant places a metal folding chair on the industrial carpet, and the owner sits, locking the bitch's head in her lap again. The vet loads up the syringe and aims it at the bitch's backside. The procedure has all the subtlety of a porn shoot—bright lights overhead, industrial sex below, crowd gathered round the talent—and here comes Doc with one gloved hand (remember Chekhov's rule that a gun appearing in Act One must be fired in Act Three) and the syringe and pipette. Two assistants grab the bitch's legs, and the vet slips the pipette in fast, smooth and far, like a sword to the hilt. The bitch quivers, whimpers and lets out a weak yelp. The owner holds on to the bitch's head like she's roping a calf.

"Okay," the vet says, swiftly removing the pipette. "Lift."

And then we are in the Twilight Zone. With the bitch's head still firmly in her owner's lap, the two assistants lift her back legs like the handles of a wheelbarrow. I don't need to ask if they're using gravity to help speed the flow of the now amped-up spermatozoa. The bitch is about 40 degrees above level, and I imagine the effervescent, champagne sound of millions of aggressive sperm sprint-swimming for eggs, Woody Allen as a cell in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), and the bitch out of her mind with vertigo.

The doctor now reveals the reason for the rubber glove: she inserts two fingers of her gloved, lubricated hand into the bitch's black-plum vagina and piston-fires in and out.

"I do this for the breeders," she tells me. By "breeders," she means to say this: breeders—like the ladies in this room—are often medieval in their thinking and believe any number of old wives' tales, including the one that says you've got pump the vagina to get the uterus to contract and help speed the sperm. The doctor says it's nonsense, but it keeps her customers happy.

"In my first few inseminations, I swabbed with a Q-tip this long, way up inside the bitches, and I got nothing," she says. "Nothing!" She seems as amazed as I: the sperm were gone within seconds—vanished, scrammed—and the bitches' vaginas were as quiet and empty as the starting line of a road race five minutes after the gun has gone off. Nothing but empty Gatorade cups, the snapping of banners and the sound of wind.

The upside-down brindle bitch doesn't seem to mind much, right now; the vet is revving up her nether parts. She's quivering and bucking just a little. They wheelbarrow her like this for five minutes—a little cooking timer on a nearby table says so—and then she's lowered back to the horizon line, walked to the car, prohibited from peeing, and caged for one hour. In about two months, chances are very, very good she'll deliver a litter of Great Dane puppies.

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