For over 24 hours, the nation has been reeling as our country’s military and White House officials appear unable to agree on the biological sex of Conan the dog, the four-legged commando praised for participating in the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Because we live in a world where the White House can’t be trusted, and as journalists dedicated to truth, we simply could not let this uncertainty stand.
The trouble first began after President Donald Trump referred to Conan as a “he” in his remarks during a brief White House appearance with the dog, which everyone has at least agreed is a Belgian Malinois. Several hours later, in the pool reports that get disseminated among the White House press corps, a reporter noted that a White House official had confirmed “on background that Conan the dog is female.”
More than an hour after that, another pool report went out declaring that Conan was again, in fact, a male, according to a White House official. Nearly a day passed before at least one defense official got involved, declaring Conan a lady.
Most recently, and allegedly according to “multiple internal checks,” Conan has been declared, for the the third time, a boy.
With these constant retractions and doublings-down, whom can we possibly trust? We know that the White House isn’t afraid to pressure government agencies to back up the president’s claims, regardless of the facts. Just look at what happened a few months ago when Trump displayed a weather map doctored with permanent marker to match his disputed claims.
Instead, if we want the truth, we must look to independent experts. We must ask the veterinarians about Conan the dog’s genitals.
Part of the difficulty in determining Conan’s sex is that a dog’s penis normally sits safely inside “a fold of skin known as the prepuce,” as described by the USDA. It’s typically only when the dog becomes aroused that one will see what’s colloquially known as “lipstick” or a “red rocket”—which is to say, the dog’s bare penis.
Offering some hope for independent analysts, however, Trump’s first tweeted photo of the dog included a fairly unobstructed view of the slobbering hero’s lower half.
After sending the above photo to the University of Georgia, I learned from a spokesperson that multiple doctors at the school’s College of Veterinary Medicine were unable to come to a conclusion, due to the poor angle and Conan’s voluminous hair. Still, the spokesperson said a few of them had guessed at the dog being female.
Michael Nappier, an assistant professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, had a different (though still uncertain) assessment. “On zooming in, because of the way the dog is seated and its harness is on, I can’t actually tell for sure,” he told me over email. “It appears that the dog likely has a scrotum and testicles, but I can’t tell for sure from this view.”
Ezat Luba Yomtovian of Bushwick Veterinary, however, had a decidedly more confident conclusion, declaring Conan to be almost certainly male. “If she were female, her vulva would be just below her anus, not so visible when seated,” she told me.* “You know the ‘lipstick’ thing? He obviously wasn’t excited about this photo shoot.”
Perhaps most convincing was the work of a doctor at a small-animal veterinarian in Ohio, who requested anonymity to discuss the controversial dog’s genitalia freely and provided a compelling diagram, which I’ve attempted to recreate in full below.
A persuasive display of canine male genitalia. Conan, we can say with a strong degree of confidence, is a male.
Still, Emily McCobb, who oversees the Luke & Lily Lerner Spay/Neuter Clinic at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, emphasized that “it’s not possible to determine Conan’s sex with certainty from just looking at a photo” and that “the most important thing is that we recognize the heroic efforts of Conan—and other military working dogs—for the very important jobs they perform, and lives they save, each day.”
So, dear reader, as you go about your day, don’t forget to take a moment to give thanks for the phenomenal work of national hero Conan, a dog with what is almost certainly a penis.
Correction, Nov. 26, 2019: This post originally misgendered Yomtovian. She’s female.