My friend Sara runs the Prevent a Litter Coalition, an American charity promoting spaying and neutering of pets, to prevent unwanted litters of puppies and kittens being born and (often) abandoned, abused, or euthanized because shelters cannot find good homes for them.
From Sara I learned about Neuticles, fake testicles for neutered pets – so that your gelded male pet can look as macho as ever, even if he acts like a pussy(cat). I find the whole idea ludicrous, but apparently the prospect of a ball-less pet is a psychological barrier to neutering for many pet owners, especially men.
This is probably a factor in the low incidence of neutering of Italian pets. Some parts of Italy, especially Rome, have famously large populations of feral cats. These are fed by “cat ladies,” some of whom are reputed to lure cats with food, capture them, and whisk them off to be neutered (though I doubt that many of these retired ladies could actually afford the cost). This supposed practice is viewed with horror by Italian men, who feel an all-too-keen vicarious sympathy with the ex-tom cats. (These are the same men who superstitiously touch their own testicles when they see a nun, to ward off bad luck; I suppose a woman who can do without men is a symbolic threat to all manhood.)
A few years ago, one of the biggest celebrities in Italy was Varenne, a champion trotting horse. His exploits on the track endeared him to many Italians who knew little about horses or racing. They were sorry to see him retire to the stud farm at age seven, but contented themselves with imagining their idol happily ensconced in a harem of mares.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works for champion studs. The fans were dismayed to learn that Varenne would not have any actual contact with mares; like many stud stallions, he mounts a dummy, from which his sperm is collected and divided up, each dose thus being stretched to inseminate up to ten mares (if I remember correctly), at a cost of 60,000 euros each.
There was a popular uproar about Varenne’s dismal fate. After all those years of thrilling the public, surely he deserved a few real thrills himself? Varenne’s owner conceded that the stallion could have a companion mare, with whom he would actually be allowed to have sex from time to time. But the owner soon backpedaled, claiming that it would be dangerous for a stallion accustomed to the dummy to mate with a real mare: either or both of the parties might get hurt. The more likely pain would have been to the owner’s bankroll: each of Varenne’s authentic sexual experiences would have cost 600,000 euros – no horse’s sex life is worth that much, even in Italy.