Poor Coco, my 1-year-old, 65-pound, positively loony standard poodle, was about to get his balls chopped off. There's just no delicate way to describe it, and I'm not sure whether under the circumstances we should tiptoe around anything or sugar coat the true nature of the event. Employing a more acceptable word like "neuter" would not alter the graphic significance of such a procedure, at least to any human male.

Before Coco left I approached him with bowed head as if he was going to the gallows. I said I was sorry I had failed him. While I had been convinced of the necessity for this procedure long ago, and despite the assurances and sage advice of the capable veterinarians I consulted (who, I assure you, would just as speedily recommend the de-balling of your canary or your koala), I could not shake the disturbing notion that my loving pet's very soul would be affected in some way. Maybe he would come out of surgery like a Stepford wife, or like one of those pod people who are just like the humans they replace, except they're not.

That bothered me. That and the fact I couldn't even discuss the issue with the vet without two hands shielding my gonads. Hey, don't wave a red flag in front of a bull, if you know what I mean.

Standard poodle 

Anyway, my wife took him to the vet that day. Before Coco left I approached him with bowed head as if he was going to the gallows. I said I was sorry I had failed him, that I had done everything I could, but that it would be over quickly and he wouldn't feel a thing.

He looked at me with disdain, and I didn't blame him a bit. So off they went.

The task of retrieving my pup fell to me several hours later. This is a duty that has always caused me great pain and anguish. How it is possible that a man gets as anxious over the health of his dog as the health of his children I cannot imagine, but I do. I drove to the vet with feelings of dark anticipation and dread.

My anxiousness comes out in comedy, I suppose, or in the attempt, at least. I guess it's a way of expelling bad thoughts. I entered the clinic and approached the five sweet but always distracted female administrators who crowded the small area that was the front office. They were separated from a patient waiting area by a four-foot high barrier, which they no doubt thought steep enough to discourage the breaching thereof by any large beast weighing more than any of those sheltered within.

"I'm here to pick up Coco," I announced stoutly. "I believe he was spayed," I added.

On the one hand, I was quite proud of my use of complex medical terminology. On the other hand, I didn't mind disclaiming precise knowledge and awareness of the procedure so I would at least have culpable deniability if anyone was to think me cruel or unfeeling for having so mercilessly mutilated my pet.

"You mean neutered, I hope," one of the oh-so-kind assistants cautiously inquired, reminding me that the word "spay" was most often used in connection with the female of the species. She spoke with a curious narrowing of her left eye, as if to assess whether I might have brought the animal in for a sex change.

"Oh yes, I'm sorry," I cheerfully agreed, adding simply that he was here to get his balls cut off and that I guessed that was the long and short of it. This remark was received with some disapproval.

Then I got an idea. I giggled to myself. I became serious again, and looked around to see if anyone was in earshot of my thoughts. Finding no one—and somewhat disappointed—I leaned forward.

"May I ask you something?" I inquired of the wholly efficient two-kids-three-cats-mom assistant in front of me.

"Of course," she replied.

"Can I keep them?" I asked.

Everyone in the office area stopped what they were doing and looked up.

"Excuse me?" she asked.

Timing was everything here and I knew it. I floated a pregnant pause and replied.

"Can I keep them?" I repeated.

"You want to keep them?" she asked.

"Yes… well, actually, it's my wife who wants them."

"Your wife?"

Everyone was at full attention now, and I had achieved what I had set out to—namely, to make a complete spectacle of myself.

"Yes," I replied.

"In a jar?" she asked with some astonishment.

"Yes," I repeated.

"On the mantle?" she inquired.

"Yes…" I eagerly replied, ready for my close-up, ready to deliver the punchline. "She wants to display them right next to mine."

Well I thought it was funny. Most of my audience laughed, but the majority of them in relief.