Friday, August 24, 2007

dogs get artificially inseminated too

My life lately has revolved around a dog's reproductive system. I've taken Nola (the female German Shepard who lives downstairs) to get a progesterone test every other day at the vet for the past two weeks. We were waiting for some magic number, a number that means, "I'm fertile and ready!"...ready to be artificially inseminated by my boyfriend, Axel's (the male German Shepard who lives downstairs), sperm.
Yesterday I received an urgent call from Max's mom, Amy, at 10:15 in the morning. "Alyse.Hi." I knew by the urgent tone in her voice that it was time. "I knew this was going to happen. I knew she [Nola] was ready to go, but they didn't listen, and sure enough, I was right, so you need to round up Max and the dogs and this [insemination] needs to happen this afternoon. Call Trish, she's expecting you. I told her you are my...surrogate--if you will."

Trish is the "reproductive specialist" at Dr. Greer's small animal clinic up in Lomira, Wisconsin. "It'll take you about three hours to get here," she told me, as I plugged their address into Mapquest. "Wow. Ok. Well we should be able to get on the road around 11, so I guess we'll see you as close to 2:00 as possible."

I threw some magazines and my camera in a bag and ran downstairs, intent on finding Max, who I knew would be stationed in the basement. Before I could make it all the way down there, though, I got sidetracked by Dulcie (70-year-old woman I share the upstairs with) shrieking about the chair in the sun room. Axel, in his animalistic attempt to get Nola, who we've been keeping in her cage to try and prevent mass chaos, completely tore apart the cushion of the chair next to her cage. Yellow foam popped out of the slashes. Great, I sighed as I descended down the spiral stairs to the basement. This is going to be a really fun trip.
Sure enough, Max was parked in front of the XBox. "Good morning," I started. "We will be leaving for Wisconsin in 20 minutes to get Nola inseminated. I'm going to take a quick shower. Be ready to go at 11:00."

While I took a shower, scribbled down driving directions and freed up space on my memory card, both dogs ran around attempting to love each other in the backyard. Ordinarily we let them out one at a time, but we were hoping that they'd tire themselves out in time to get in the car.

No such luck. The plan was for Max to sit in the backseat with Axel and for Nola to sit shotgun next to me. But Nola climbed into the driver's seat and Axel refused to stay in the back so long as his girlfriend was within sniffing distance. To minimize the probability of getting in an accident, we decided to just let them both sit together in the back. And Max took over shotgun.

There were two major backups on 94W within the first 15 minutes of our journey. The first ended up being a minor collision on the shoulder, and once we got past the site, we started cruising...only to come to a complete halt one mile later. Eventually we crawled our way up to the problem. Over on the eastbound side a motorhome had flipped over and appeared to be practically flattened into the grass. Gaper's block, a Chicago favorite.

Amy called to check on our status. I handed the phone to Max so I could continue concentrating on the road. "But I swear--if Axel's balls don't work, I'm gonna be so pissed!" I guess I shouldn't be surprised anymore at what comes out of Max's mouth, but when I know his mom is on the other end, I still cringe a little. Then I reminded myself that his mom was the one who, a few days ago, said to me during our discussion about how I was going to be in charge of bringing the dogs up there while she and Max were out of town: "You're going to have to tell us all about the jack-off session!" I guess it's true when they say kids are a product of their environment.

We had fun for about an hour, singing along to The Clash, The Police and Queen and laughing at my hair, which kept flying straight up out of the sunroof.
Around Kenosha Max and I both expressed that we needed to eat something. A few minutes later, as we entered, Racine, I noticed off to the left the perfect oasis. The old-fashioned A&W drive-in! I quickly threw it out there as an option, preparing to get shot down, but got an "ok." Alright!
I am a product of my Dad, who brought me up on going to A&W (although, usually the one in Woodfield Mall) every other Saturday. While we waited for our food, I called him and left a guess-where-I-am message. We shoveled in our chicken strips and french fries, and I had to refrain from laughing hysterically when Max said, "Cheers" and motioned to clink root beer mugs. He's adorable.

Then he turned to Axel in the backseat, who seemed to have just remembered that he had free access to his girlfriend and cornered her against one of the doors.
"You're about to get artificially laid, Buddy!" Max said to Axel. Then turned to me and said, "Want me to jack him off and see if it works?" How do you respond to a 13-year-old boy who says something like that? I just rolled my eyes. No, I don't, but thanks for asking.

When we were ready to hit the road again, I turned to look behind me as I put the car into reverse. I noticed three men standing about 100 feet away staring at our car, all with knowing smiles on their faces. Who knows how long they had been there, but apparently it had been long enough for them to witness some doggy action in the backseat. If they only knew our final destination...
I stuck my camera out the window and took their picture. For posterity purposes.

We arrived at the Small Animal Clinic around 2:30, amazingly in one piece...or so we thought until Max opened the back door to let out the dogs out and turned towards me yelling, "Axel broke his leash!" (I happened to take a picture just as he made this discovery) "What do you mean he broke his leash??" He held up two pieces of the dog's leather leash. First the chair, now this. Max improvised and looped one of the halves through Axel's collar and used that to try and guide him to the front door of the clinic.

As soon as we walked in, a woman in scrubs (who ended up being Trish) said, "This must be Nola." Sure is. She gave me paperwork to fill out, while she weighed both dogs and handed off Nola to another tech in the back. Trish then debriefed me on the whole procedure and introduced me to Dr. Greer, who would be performing the surgery. They explained that the first step was to collect Axel's sperm to make sure the quality and quantity matched their needs; if not, then they wouldn't proceed with cutting open Nola. I found myself agreeing with Max's statement about Axel's "balls." "Oh I sure as heck hope it works," I said.
"So can we come with him?" Max asked.
I gave him an are-you-kidding-me look. He shook his head.
"As long as you don't say 'Ew'," Trish replied.
The Dr. then stuck a needle into Axel's shoulder. "This acts sort of like Viagra. We'll give it about 15 minutes to start working and then take him downstairs."

Axel laid down on the floor, loving life I suppose. A woman came in to pick up her dogs. It ended up being a pug, so I started telling her how my family has had a pug for 14 years (Happy Birthday [in 4 days], Scrunch!) and we bonded over how the breed makes such wonderful pets. Then a second, younger pug came out. "Aw, you have two??" I stupidly asked. "Well of course! You can't just have one pug!" She yelled over her shoulder as she exited the facility. "Tell that to my parents," I replied pretty much to myself.

Axel must have smelled Nola's trail because he determinedly plowed through the back office and practically pulled Max down the flight of stairs. I stopped on stair #2 as I noticed the wallpaper decorating the stairwell. Animated sperm characters pointing and swimming their way to the lab! Holy shit. I paused to take a picture.

"You'll have plenty of opportunities to take pictures throughout the whole procedure," someone said to my back.
Not expecting someone to be there witnessing my fascination with the smiling sperms, I jumped as I whipped around to see who was talking to me. Dr. Greer.
"Really?" I asked.
"Oh yeah. We have a sense of humor here."
"Well that's great because Max's mom will love to see this. She's a surgeon."

There was a "Penises of the Animal Kingdom" poster framed on the wall and a clock beside it advertising Viagra.
"Are you ok with the word sperm?" Dr. Greer asked Max.
He nodded.
"Oh, don't worry," I said. "He's pretty much seen and heard it all." All I could think about was the number the scathingly embarrassing movie scenes I've sat through with him (#1 being Borat); most recently Wednesday when I took him to see SuperBad, which was basically an animated love letter to the penis.

It was time. Rubber gloves snapped into place, the Dr. had Max hold Axel in place so that he faced Nola (who was being held in place by Trish). Nola in heat served as Axel's Playboy and with no warning, Dr. Greer was down on her hands and knees yanking the poor dog's wiener. I stared in disbelief. Is this really happening? Was "watch my dog get a violent hand job" really on the list of job responsibilities?

Although the show seemed like several minutes in length, in actuality, he filled two unbelievably large condom-like containers with his stuff in less than a minute. Way to go, Buddy! You did it!
Trish gave voice to Axel's thoughts. "Nine years! Nine years I've been waiting for that!" Wow.
She took Nola out of the room so that Axel could "relax and get back to normal." He continued to leak liquid onto the floor, which Dr. Greer called "prostate juice." Max started cracking up as the puddle under Axel continued to grow. Then, as the dog pulled the child toward the door to try and find the bitch, Max lost his footing and slipped on the "juice" almost falling onto it. Close call.
Dr. Greet put the collection of sperm under the microscope, which was then projected across the room onto a TV screen. For several minutes we scanned the goods.
"Well he produced 496x10^ you know what that equals, Max?"
He didn't.
I love arithmetic, so I answered. "496 million!"
"That's right. Half a billion, which is about half of what we expected from a dog his size, but it's still twice what we need to get Nola pregnant. And it looks like a pretty good sample."
"I see a dead one!" Max excitedly proclaimed, as he pointed to a bent tadpole on the monitor. The Dr. told him he was right.

She then switched places with Trish, so she could take Nola upstairs to prep her for surgery. Trish took over in the sperm bank. She spun both samples in a centrifuge, then showed us how the result separated the sperm from the semen. The latter was unnecessary, so she used an eyedropper to remove the liquid and squirted it down into the garbage can on the floor. Then she added a neon green fluid to the viles, noting that it was "sperm extender." "Food for sperm," she added.

Trish confirmed that Axel had returned to normal by feeling his underside (with her bare hand, I may add), so we proceeded up the stairs to check on Nola. To keep Axel from acting on his hormones, they let us put him in one of the their kennel cages.
Nola was lying atop the counter in the center of the room, about to be anesthetized. "Ok Nola you're gonna take a nap," the vet's assistant said.
"...and wake up pregnant," Dr. Greer added. "I guess that happens to a lot of girls," she muttered under her breath.
We watched as she went limp and they pried open her mouth so that she wouldn't bite her tongue or the breathing tube. They carried her into the surgery room and laid her on her back, legs splayed open, her tongue dangling out the side of her mouth.

"What kind of surgery is your mom going into?" Dr. Greer asked Max.
He was spaced out, so I answered, "Cardio-thoracic."
Her eyebrows raised. "I mean she couldn't just go Neuro? What's her problem?" Her follow-up question dripping in sarcasm.
Amy's profession seemed to impress the vet so much so that she insisted on me taking pictures of the entire procedure. "She'll love this," she said. "Yeah you're right. She will."
She placed a blue sheet over Nola's abdomen, with a hole cut out, outlining where the hole in Nola would be. Max and I watched as she made the incision. I'm usually not good with blood and gore, but she kept it to a minimum so it was more interesting than disgusting to observe.

When I came home one day about six months ago to find Amy watching a video called, "How to artificially inseminate your dog," I never would have imagined that she'd actually go through with it, much less that I would be the one standing here staring at Nola's exposed uterus.
"She has a long uterus," Dr. Greer pointed out, as she held both "horns" of the organ in her gloved hands. "So if this works, there's definitely room for 12 puppies."
She then took the green mixture and moved to inject it into the first horn.
"Did Trish tell you what the green stuff is?" she asked.
"Yeah," I answered. "Food for the sperm."
She smiled and said, "More like Gatorade for the sperm."
"It looks like Gatorade, actually," I agreed.

After she finished injecting the second side, she massaged the mixture into both horns, I supposed to aide in the swimming. Find those eggs! Then she pushed everything back into the hole she'd previously cut open--such a weird thing to watch--and then sewed her up.

Since it was going to be about 45 minutes until Nola emerged from the anesthetic, Max and I drove over to the BP gas station to get something to drink. I had a voicemail from Lindsay, who said the tornado sirens had gone off downtown (she lives across from the Hancock Building) and that she had shut herself in the bathroom with her cat, Chloe.
"Looks like we're missing out on quite the storm back home," I relayed to Max.
Light rain hit the windshield. We decided to head back to the clinic to check on Nola.
She was awake, lying on a girly sleeping bag spread out on the floor.
"Now she's still going to smell sexy to him," Dr. Greer warned us. "So try and keep them apart because she needs to rest."
She provided a stick, which she dipped in a tub of peanut butter and stuck a tranquilizer pill amidst the gooey food. Axel whined as Max stuck the concoction into the cage, but he ate it up like a good little addict.
I settled things financially with Trish at the front desk, while Max brought Axel outside to pee. Honestly, I thought this was going to be a multi-thousand-dollar procedure, but the total cost only came to $542. Actually doesn't seem too unreasonable.
Trish then helped me get Nola outside and boosted her into the car. Max sat in the back with her and Axel claimed shotgun. Well, really he had no choice. I thanked Trish for all her help and said we'd let them know if it was successful after the allotted 28-day waiting period.

4:25 p.m. Back on the road. Five minutes later, Axel's tail pushed down the lever that makes the back of the seat recline. This was funny until Max started freaking out that the pressure of the seat was killing his knees. I got off at the next exit and pulled into a random gravel lot, ran around to other side of the car and opened the door to relieve Max from being lodged beneath the seat. Axel ran out of the car and headed straight for a mud puddle, which he proceeded to drink out of for several minutes, before I was finally able to drag him back to the car. He brought the mud puddle with him as his big feet landed on the seat. Dog hair circulated the interior air, several times landing in my mouth.
For about an hour we cruised traffic-free down 45S, which brought us to the 894-bypass just in time for 5:30 Milwaukee rush hour traffic. Max had to pee, so we detoured briefly to a gas station, then turned around and got back into the mess.

Anne, from the place we were supposed to board Axel for a few days upon our arrival back in Chicago, called to get our E.T.A.
"We probably still have about two hours ahead of us," I told her. "We're just south of Milwaukee."
Compared to Chicago, the traffic up in Cheese country was nothing. Once we got off the bypass and onto 94, it was smooth sailing...although I did note that we driving directly into the storm. The approaching sky over Illinois looked pretty ominous, dark clouds that could have been purple and relentless lightning. I like stormy weather and was secretly disappointed that we apparently missed the best of it back at home. But this would suffice. It would have to because all of a sudden, just past Highland Park, traffic came to a complete halt.
"Well this is going to be how it is the rest of the way home," I said to Max in the back.
We barely inched our way forward for the next two hours and 45 minutes. We were across the highway from a giant AMC theater and Max kept joking that we should gun it across the grass and through the trees to the parking lot and watch a movie. It wasn't such a bad suggestion, except the '96 Volvo already has so many random parts falling of it, that kind of distress would do nothing to help our situation.

At first we joked around about how we were stuck with no exits in sight. We made fun of the guy next to us who was riding solo and way too into sucking on a BlowPop, we had a fake farting noise contest, rocked out to some Zeppelin. We even saw a storm rainbow! We thought up names for the puppies that would hearken back to our conception adventure. I suggested Stormy, Traffic, Lightning, and Tornado, while Max, taking a different angle, suggested Semen and Prostate Juice. And while I made a series of you'll-never-believe-my-day phone calls, Max sat in the back seat occupied by his iPhone (yes, he's 13 and has an iPhone).
"What are you watching on there?" I asked.
"The 'Dick in a Box' video," he replied. If only Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg knew how appropriately their SNL digital short fit into our special day.

Max talked to his mom and Alex a few times. At first his tone with them was playful, seemingly still high on the excitement of his live sex ed. lesson. "He was really giving it to the hand!" he told them. "He was giving more to the hand than he ever gave to Nola!"
The longer we sat there, though, the more energy and patience he lost. "Alyse is second on the priority list for getting a puppy!" Max told his mom. "This sucks!" I smiled to myself, appreciating Max's teenaged chivalry.
Amy kept saying, "Well as soon as you guys see an exit, get off the road."
To which Max exasperatedly kept replying, "Mom. There are NO exits. Obviously we're going to get off when we SEE one!"
I'm glad he said that because those were my thoughts exactly.

Eventually we came across a road sign, but not for an exit; on top of all this we now had to "Merge in 1,000 feet" into one lane. Awesome. Nola remained passed out in the back seat for the entire journey. Axel, on the other hand, was totally drugged out and kept falling over, sometimes with his head landing on or near my lap. This would be fine except all the window and mirror controls are located between the two front seats. So every time he passed out, a window would start opening or suddenly I could no longer see out of my side mirrors. Then his enormous head kept knocking the shifter into neutral, which was really fun because in order to shift back into drive, I had to get both arms under his neck and use all my strength to shove him off.

After the merge, the road turned onto a ramp to join up with 41. Still no exits. But at least people had a sense of humor. A Vitamin Water van appeared on our left, and a guy (about my age) stuck a megaphone out the window and announced, "We love traffic!" I shouted back, "Me too!" Then a car rolled up on our right and yelled over, "Excuse me? Is traffic always like this?" I started laughing. "Um, no. This is pretty unbelievable."
"Cause I'm trying to get to Texas," he continued.
"Yeeeah you're probably not going to make it there," I yelled over.
"I've been on this road for two hours..." he said.
"Yeah, we've been on here for over five," I sighed, looking at the clock.
Axel then shifted his huge body and ended up rolling up the passenger window. I tried apologizing through the remaining crack, "Sorry! My dog is rolling up the window!"

This was all happening simultaneously with me trying to listen to my mom on my cell phone...who, incidentally, also advised that we get off the road when we see an exit. "Thanks, Mom. I didn't think of that."
About two minutes after I hung up with my mom, my aunt, the biggest worrywart in the family, called. "What's wrong? Why are you stuck in traffic?" she demanded, her voice strained.
"Who knows," I replied. "We just are."
"Well look for an exit!"
"There are no exits," I stated calmly. "We haven't even seen a sign for one in a about two and half hours."
"Well, you know, when you see one, get off 94."
Is this a joke? Do all these people think I'm that stupid, that I want to be sitting here? Next to us a car reversed up an on ramp, almost causing an altercation with two cars going the correct direction.
"Ok thanks," I said. "I'll try and remember that." We hung up.

Two minutes later she called back. "Eric and I just saw on the news--the Edens [94] is closed from the Kennedy to Willow Road. All the on and off ramps are flooded." (I just found this newscast online at ABC7's website: I94 video)
"Ok well thanks for the update."
"Well ok. Be careful." Before hanging up again she reminded me to get off at the next exit.
I started laughing and turned to Max in to express my disbelief at people's lack of faith in my intelligence.

Meanwhile, Axel's tranquilizer seemed to be wearing off, and he made weird noises like he was going to barf. I shoved him towards the open window. Luckily he never did because that may have pushed me over the edge.
Then Max started freaking out, punching the car seats and the ceiling. At first I thought he was kidding, but then I saw the tears in his eyes as he screamed, "This fucking sucks!!"
I put my hand on his knee. "I know it does, Max, but listen, you're going to have to relax, ok? There's nothing we can do. Why don't you get out of the car and blow off some steam. Pee in the grass. Walk around. Whatever you need to do."
"Fine," he mumbled and exited the vehicle. Shuffled along the grass on the side of the road and took a leak. Boys have it so easy, I thought, realizing that I had to pee, too, but wasn't going to anything about it.
As he clambered back into the car, I was trying to pile my hair on top of my head. My fingers ran along a crunchy spot.
"Sick! What the hell is in my hair?!...I feel like I'm in There's Something About Mary," I shared.
Max wasn't familiar with the reference, so in an effort to cheer him up I tried to re-enact the infamous "hair gel" scene.

Finally. A sign. Tower Rd, 1 1/4 miles. When we finally made it to the godforsaken exit, we had about a 20-minute back up to even turn onto the road. Max started plugging coordinates into his iPhone. He told me to turn right on Willow Road, which turned out to be the wrong direction. So he directed me back through some neighborhood to the intersection we were originally trying to find. Almost every street light was out and debris from the aftereffects of the storm littered the road.

On some back road a Hummer came whipping around a felled tree in its way on the other side of the road...with no regard to the potential of oncoming traffic. I swerved to avoid a head-on collision and slammed on my breaks. Poor Axel went flying into the dashboard and fell, whimpering, half on the floor and half on the seat. I stopped, cursing the hummer (who drives Hummers anyway?! If you want to show-off that you're that disgustingly wealthy, why don't you just sew some hundreds together and wear a money suit--not drive a war machine like a fucking maniac!)

Soon after that I stopped at the next gas station we happened upon. My legs were literally going numb from being in the same position for seven hours, and we were just about out of gas. I left Max with the dogs while the car fueled up and wobbled inside on my Jello legs to go to the bathroom and buy us both something to drink.
Let it be known that the iPhone saved us (did you hear that Steve Jobs? i'm advertising your product free of charge. feel free to send me a free the form of an I can at least be on equal ground with my 13-year-old buddy here). After many a darkened road, we finally found Milwaukee Ave.!! And we both cheered.
Both of us clearly lightened up once we hit familiar territory and called Amy and Alex to share the good news. They said to call back when we reached Logan Square so they could heat up our pizza in the oven. Then they said to call when we pulled into the alley so they could come out and help us with the dogs (at 7:30 I had received a text from Anne saying she had to leave the kennel, so Axel stayed at home overnight).
When we got to the intersection of California and Milwaukee, about three miles from home, Max and I agreed that a song with excellent rock-out potential was in store..."That's it," he proclaimed. "'Fat Bottomed Girls' it's going on."
"I think you're my new best friend," I said, laughing. We sang the intro to the Queen classic at the top of our lungs, the windows rolled down. "Arrrre you gonna take me home tonight/Oh down beside that red firelight...." Should I be singing a song about a "naughty nanny"? Absolutely.

Amy and Alex met us in the garage, Amy in her long nightgown and Alex, shirtless, with shaving cream on his face. I looked at the clock--11:40 pm. Only seven hours and fifteen minutes door to door...
Neither Max nor I had eaten anything since our A&W stop over 10 hours ago, so we greatly welcomed the sight and taste of piping hot pizza. And tall glasses of water with two Advils apiece. Unfortunately, my head was pounding so badly, I could barely focus on eating. But I stayed down there to fill in Amy and Alex on all the juicy details. They huddled over the screen of my camera, while Max narrated the whole experience.

Max and Amy had to leave in six hours for the airport. She told him she had packed his bag. After he got to the part in the story about slipping on the "prostate juice," his mom suggested that he double-bag his shoes before packing them.
I retreated upstairs, eager to lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling. "Oh, Nola, I hope you're pregnant," I thought. We'll know the verdict in 28 days.

Here is the full album of our insemination adventure: photos.


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