he death of our collie Bonnie in 2006 hit my husband Frank and me so hard that it was almost a decade before we considered taking on another dog. But, late in 2015, my daughter mentioned that a friend of hers had a jack russell that was about to have pups. Familiar with female dogs, we decided that if there were any bitches in the litter we would take one. That’s how we ended up with Molly.
Picking her up involved a round trip of about 200 miles, but it was love at first sight. She was a tiny wee doggy, only 11in long and 6in high, and she weighed about a kilo and a half. She had delicate features – very feminine-looking.
We registered Molly at the local vet and made sure she had all her jabs. It was only when she started taking walks outside at about three months old that we noticed peculiarities in her behaviour.
Indoors, when Molly needed to pee, she would squat on her training mat as she had been taught, but when Frank took her out he noticed that she cocked her leg like a boy dog. We had spotted before that she had a tiny appendage between her back legs, but we thought little of it until we noticed that it sometimes seemed to cause her discomfort when she tried to sit down.
We took Molly to the vet to get it looked at. After examining her, the vet said: “I’m going to have a senior colleague look at this,” and took Molly into a back room. I was reminded of Bonnie’s diagnosis with stomach cancer and feared the worst. When the vet came back and said she thought Molly could be a hermaphrodite, I didn’t realise what she meant; I started crying, assuming she was referring to another form of cancer. But she said: “No, it means Molly has male and female genitalia.” I was flabbergasted; I had never heard anything like it. But we were assured that Molly’s condition could be fixed, although we would have to wait until she was older and stronger.
In the meantime, Molly started to behave more like a male dog, mounting cushions and soft toys, although this often left her sore and unhappy. When she was six months old, we took her back to the vet, where a senior practitioner, Ross Allan, examined her. X-rays and other tests confirmed his suspicions – Molly was an intersex dog. In fact, she was most likely genetically male, meaning she was a male pseudohermaphrodite. She had a small vestigial penis within what looked like a female vulva and testicles inside her abdomen that hadn’t descended.
Molly’s condition was very rare. About one in 6,800 dogs born are pseudohermaphrodites. In 15 years of practice, Ross had never encountered another case, nor had any of his more senior colleagues. Sometimes no operation is needed, but Ross explained that Molly’s complications were likely to increase as she aged. Well-meaning friends had already suggested it might be kinder to have her put down, because she was often visibly distressed. The thought horrified us. However, Ross reassured us that an operation would make her life much easier.
The day she went into theatre was very stressful. Ross said: “Call me in the morning.” I didn’t sleep a wink that night, thinking about Molly and fearing the worst. But we were able to take her home the next day. Ross had removed the partly formed penis and testicles, which were at risk of becoming cancerous, and created an opening for Molly’s urethra so she could pee comfortably. She was exhausted the first day back and lay at the end of our bed, crying. When we spotted blood, we rushed her back to the vet, where she ended up spending a few more days being treated with drugs and antibiotics.
Twenty months on, she’s a cheeky little dog, full of character. She’s still unmistakably our Molly, whatever her genetic makeup. When our grandchildren visit, she jumps all over them and licks their ears; she’s clearly much happier than she was before the operation. She still loves her soft toys, too – just not in the same way.
•As told to Chris Broughton