They say my dog has cancer. He doesn't know it. What he does know is that going to the vet is no longer something to look forward to. After weeks of being poked and prodded, after blood tests, x-rays, myelograms and consultations, he looks at me like I have betrayed him when it's time for another test. He keeps trying to act like everything is normal. But I notice that week by week he is compensating for a pain in his lower back that will eventually leave him lame and incontinent. He no longer has the strength to push off from his back legs when he tries to jump. Instead he shifts his weight to his front legs and pulls himself into his favorite chair. He can't hop in the car anymore. I have to lift him and put him on the back seat.
I really have no choice. I have scheduled him for surgery tomorrow morning, even though I would do just about anything to avoid putting myself in a similar situation. I know I am doing this "for his own good," but I feel terribly uncomfortable in this kind of situation. It's one thing to make a decision that affects yourself. It's something entirely different to make a decision for someone else. What if I am wrong? The doctors give the surgery a 70% chance of success. Since I am very attached to this dog, these are not particularly good odds. I know I may take him in tomorrow and he might not make it. Or they might call me during surgery and say they've discovered something more serious than they thought.
Making a decision for another, even a dog, is a humbling experience. You realize that you don't, and probably never will, have enough information to guarantee that the choice you've made is the correct one. At best your choice is a hunch, a guess or a prayer. I wonder how my parents did it? They were always telling me what was best for me. And invariably it made me want to do exactly the opposite. Where did they get off even dreaming that they knew what was best for me. I have gone through life rebelling at people who thought they were acting in my best interests. I didn't listen to my parents. I didn't listen to my employers. And I seldom listened to doctors about my own health.
I'm listening now though. Because I know my dog won't. He will just keep on trying to compensate for the pain until it finally overcomes him. He will keep trying to run and jump and climb into his favorite chair, becoming perplexed when his legs give out from under him. There are no suicidal urges in this animal. I can tell by the many little things that he does to compensate for his dimished agility that he wants to live, even if he doesn't have a clue what is going on. So I accept the odds. I accept the sad looks I get from him when we drive home from the vet after another round of tests. I know that if I do nothing, my best friend will slowely but surely die.
I realize now that my parents did this type of thing over and over again. My sister had scoliosis and had to have a spinal fusion in high school. Ten years later, the medical community changed its opinion on spinal fusions and said many of these surgeries were unnecessary. At the time though, using the best information they had available, my parents thought they were doing the right thing. A while later, while I was in college, my Dad agreed to electroshock therapy for my Mom. I thought they were crazy, since I had just finished reading "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." but at the time it was considered the best available therapy for severe manic/depressives. Shock therapy has gone in and out of vogue for thirty years and you have to have to wonder if anyone even has a clue whether it works or not.
Seeing how easy it was to make a bad decision, I resolved to make no decision at all. When someone would ask what I thought best, I would always say, "It's your choice," "It's your life." or often just "Whatever." Nobody was going to trap me into making a bad decision.
I still don't feel comfortable telling someone what they should do with their life. But I can't be nearly as judgemental anymore about the many parents, teachers, supervisiors and friends who made a frequent habit of telling me I needed to do something "for my own good." Sometimes they were right. In many cases they were wrong. They were probably looking at me in exactly the same manner that I now look at my dog: as someone who just doesn't have the good sense to do the right thing.
All I want is for my dog to live a reasonably
pain free life. That's not that much to ask. I wonder now if that is
all my parents and friends wanted for me?
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