I love both the picture and the sentiment here. Until next time, Good day, and good dog!
Created by the author of “Citizen, Your Role in the Alternate Kingdom”, “Intersect” is a DVD resource made by him and Chris Rogers and designed to help do one of the hardest thing in a Christian life, starting up spiritual conversations, particularly in a time and world where Political Correctness and “Don’t talk about your…
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In 2014, a young, vibrant woman named Brittany Maynard moved from the home in California she had known all her life so that she could die on her own terms in Oregon. Diagnosed with glioblastoma, arguably one of the most monstrous forms of cancer in this world, Maynard was willing to uproot her life, put her face out into the world, and share a most intimate decision with a universe of strangers in order to help people understand why someone might make the decision to hasten their death.
With little fanfare and no more than a small sidebar in the local newspaper, California has just become the fifth state to legalize assisted death for terminally ill patients. When I read it, on a plane on my way to deliver a talk on how we deal with death in our culture, I cried. I cried for Maynard, and for my mother (seen here on the left at last year’s Fourth of July bash), and for me.
Like so many others, I was transfixed with Maynard’s bravery in opening herself up to scrutiny and criticism. I put myself in her place and wondered what I would have done in the same situation. As a veterinarian who routinely helps people gently end the lives of pets suffering from terminal disease, the idea is not as challenging to me as it is to many. Especially with brain cancer- something that can rob you of the essence of who you are, turn you into someone else, snaking its way without order or reason through your control panel until your body can no longer hang on.
It is, to me, one of the most petrifying propositions out there.
So when my own young and vibrant mother was diagnosed with the very same cancer not five months after Maynard’s death, I fell to my knees and cried with grief, with anger, and above all with terror. For we, too, live in California, and my mother’s delicate health by the time she was diagnosed did not allow us the luxury of moving anywhere. Three weeks before her diagnosis, she was hiking though Red Rock. Three weeks after, she was bedbound. It happened that quickly.
I found myself preoccupied with fear for my mother, and worry about what I might do if her pain and suffering were unable to be controlled. Hospice and palliative care is excellent, but even that has its limits. People I thought were my friends sent me all sorts of horror stories they have heard about this cancer, expressing remorse at the news and the hope that my mother, ever so dignified, would not be one who would lose it all in the fugue of neoplasia.
I am really good at delivering an easy death. I have access to drugs no one else can get, and they are remarkable. We can give them to dogs and cats and rats and horses, but not to people. People have to ride it out on cocktails with middling degrees of efficacy. Our own perceptions make it worse: more than half of palliative care professionals have been accused of “euthanasia or murder” by providing adequate palliation to dying people, because euthanasia for a pet is mercy but for a human is dastardly. We have a long way to go in how we think of these things.
Fearing the Loss of Control
Instead of concentrating on my time with my mother, I spent most of it worrying- what would I do if the meds stopped working? How would I respond if she asked me to help her die? How could I refuse? How could I say yes? I had no reassurance that the necessary tools to control the situation were in my toolbox, and that took away from so many little moments I wish I could have back.
In the end, my mother’s cancer took mercy on her. She died quickly, as she wished, and never once complained of pain. She forgot things, felt sleepy, and drifted off oh so gently into that good night. It was a blessing, strange as it sounds. She willed herself to progress the way she wanted.
Had we been given access to life ending drugs, she would likely have filled the prescription.
Had she filled the prescription, secure in the knowledge that she had some control, she would not have taken them. There is no doubt in my mind. She didn’t need them. It doesn’t change my mind one bit as to their necessity, doesn’t make me any less inclined to cheer this new law and fight any who would seek its appeal. It would not have changed the medicine, but it would have changed the emotion, the fear, and the terror.
Because it’s not the inevitability of the outcome that matters in these situations, it’s the little bits of control we are given in times where so much of it has been taken away.
And that would have changed so much.
I’ve been thinking about the future a lot. This blog has helped me reach a sense of closure following the deaths of two beloved dogs. I knew a working type golden retriever intimately well. She could retrieve anything, for she lived for the retrieve. She was one of those dogs who sought kinship with our species to the point where she began to take on some of our traits. The other was a half golden retriever/half boxer that was a truly fell beast. She was the menace of skunks and feral cats, and the coyotes hit the brush when they saw her approach.
Neither of these dogs would have fit into modern American suburban life very well. The intelligent retriever with such a desire to retrieve would probably drive her owners batty in the subdivision. And no insurance company would ever take on a household that included dog that could rather quickly dispatch a feral cat with a simple crushing bite to the skull.
These two dogs taught me a lot about their kind. For their tutelage I will be forever grateful.
But I don’t think it’s fair for me to quest after dogs in hopes that they can replace what once was. It was great when it was, but because it’s based upon the very finite existence of a dog, it cannot be replaced.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I really want in a dog. I suppose that deep down, I want a dog that is pretty unspoiled but also domesticated and useful.
On my trips into the woods, I’ve been coming across a ruffed grouse. I’m sure it’s the same one, but it is hard to tell for sure. I remember eating the ones my grandpa killed, along with the copious dishes of pressure-cooked squirrel. I remember it as the finest poultry I’ve ever tasted.
Grouse have had a rough time in West Virginia outside of the High Alleghenies. When timber industry fell apart in the early part of this century, the woods stopped being logged. The forests started to mature, and the grouse, which prefer younger timber, began to disappear. I’m also sure, though it has never been tested empirically, that decline of the fur industry meant a rise in the number of raccoons and opossums, which love nothing more than to eat grouse eggs, and and a rise in number of red and gray foxes, which love to eat the grouse themselves.
I’ve thought about getting a working golden retriever to hunt grouse, which they certainly can do. They were actually bred to pick up red grouse in the Scottish Highlands. Red grouse are British subspecies of a Holarctic species that we North Americans call a “willow ptarmigan.” Unlike the North American variant, the British red grouse does not turn white in the winter.
Ruffed grouse are more like the forest grouse of Scandinavia. Probably their nearest equivalent in the Old World would be the hazel grouse, which is quite a bit smaller.
These birds can be hunted with retrievers, but it’s more of a flushing dog situation. This sort of raises the question if maybe I’d be better off with a spaniel of some sort.
But the truth is most people who hunt ruffed grouse with dogs don’t use flushing dogs. That’s because ruffed grouse are notoriously good at lying low until the last moment. The one I encounter on a regular basis usually flies off as soon as I walk by where it’s been hiding. Most people use pointing dogs.
The problem is that I don’t like English pointers or Llewellin setters. Nice dogs. But the American version of the English pointer is not the kind of dog I like. It’s more like a pointing white foxhound. To my mind, it’s a dog of the bobwhite plantation of the Deep South.
And it may seem picayune and petty, but I don’t much like the looks of a Llewellin setter. They look unrefined and unkempt, and when they point with their tails sticking up, it reminds me of a joke about all dogs having Ohio license plates. That’s a dog that shows it off!
But then I’m reminded that the pointing dog world doesn’t end with all the plantation stock. On the European continent, there are plenty of different breeds developed. Many of these are multipurpose dogs.
I know the German breeds of these dogs better than the others. The most easy one of these to find is the German short-haired pointer, which is split into several different lines right now. I’ve known one of these dogs from 4-H camp many years ago, and she was a very intelligent and docile animal.
The dogs that are closer to the German version of this breed are also quite capable of retrieving waterfowl, even though it would be unwise to use them during the dead of winter portion of the duck season that West Virginia has.
This breed is a sort of compromise between the Central European big game hound, the pointing gun dog and the retrieving gun dog. It’s not the only breed that Germany has produced that is like this. It just happens to be the most common one in the US.
But again, I’m thinking out loud here. I’m a long way off from being in the place to choose a dog.
But I know I want something unspoiled and something that is useful. I’m not seeking the most obedient dog on the planet. I like a dog with good sense and “sagacity.”
So here is where my mind is moving at the moment.
Idle thoughts about the future.
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Dear Amazing Veterinary Technicians of the World,
It’s sad that you only get one week to celebrate you and all that you do. The unsung heroes, the client counselors, absorbers of abuse, veterinary emotional support offerers, and in general people without whom these clinics would fall to pieces.
I’d like to offer to you this week an open apology for the transgressions of my past years.
- I ate the last M&M. I’m sorry. I know now you probably hadn’t eaten in 12 hours and really needed it. I also know you figured it out and let it slide.
- I actually wasn’t being helpful when I said I would clean that kennel. Thanks for being gracious. I saw you go back in later and do it correctly.
- When you couldn’t hit a vein and asked me to and I said “Try again! Practice makes perfect!” that was only because I knew if you couldn’t hit it, there was no way I could.
- I now know that your gentle suggestions are not really suggestions. I should have listened the first 15 times you were right.
- If it were not for you I would have walked into 45 exam rooms with my sunglasses on top of my head.
- When I left the room after that really hard euthanasia to “see my next appointment,” I went into the back to cry and left you alone with that sweet elderly lady because you were better at this stuff that me.
- For all the times you took care of me and looked out for my mental well-being, I rarely did the same for you. If I did, it wasn’t enough.
These days I work solo, and to be honest every day I head out I wonder to myself if I couldn’t come up with a business model that allows me to have you along. Because I need you. As I sit in a living room looking in horror at a vein that will not cooperate, I need you.
When I see a little kid making a beeline for the syringes and I only have two hands when I need three, I need you.
When there is a mess and I need to be graceful and take care of it with no one noticing instead of asking the owners if they have any paper towels, I need you.
When it’s been a rough afternoon and I could use a friend to talk to, I need you.
You all are the heartbeat of the clinic. Thank you.