Animals: Thoughts and Considerations

So, I’ve been thinking about something (those who know me know it’s time to groan). What follows is long and rambling, but, there are questions at the end.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about dogs, cats, companion animals, and farm animals, and how our society expects different behavior from the owner of a companion animal versus the owner of a farm animal.

Kasha!

What provoked this line of thought? That would be Kasha, the amazing Kleenex & cat litter eating dog. Kasha has recently developed a very bad habit, of raiding whatever she can find to raid when we aren’t home. She never used to do this, but then, until a year ago, she was never the only dog left home alone, because we had Shunka, who passed two years ago this June, and Dart, who passed a year and a few days ago.

I’m thinking that since Kasha’s naughty habits only occur when we’re gone, that it’s caused by separation anxiety – dogs are pack animals, after all, being descended from wolves. Wolves are rarely alone, preferring a pack, and that whole “lone wolf” idea is really an invention – wolves very rarely leave their pack.

So Kasha, feeling abandoned by her pack, has taken to relieving her natural anxiety by raiding a.) Rhiannon’s trash can full of Kleenex & paper towels (which hold up amazingly well after passage through a dog’s digestive tract); b.) the litter box (let’s just say Rhiannon hadn’t cleaned it in a while & leave it at that); then c.) the empty Kleenex box that Rhiannon was using  as a trash can since she couldn’t use her actual trash can, and had buried it under other stuff, but that Kasha found, ripped part, and then devoured the contents of (more Kleenex & paper towels). The vet did say Kasha needed to lose weight, but I don’t think this is quite the method she had in mind!

Incident c.)  is what has sparked today’s train of thought in me, as I posted the “Oddest Question Ever Asked On Facebook: Has anyone ever given an enema to a dog?” yesterday.  I was surprised at all the helpful answers I got – apparently their are a lot of constipated dogs (& cats) in America!

But a part of me felt guilty for even asking the question. In our culture, if your dog is sick, you don’t try to fix the problem yourself, you trundle off to the vet’s office for x-rays & IV’s & let the poor vet techs give your dog an enema. And then you fork over $500 (or way more) for something you could probably have dealt with at home.

Now, if Kasha had been a constipated sheep, there would have been no question – the farmer (or shepherdess as I preferred to be called back in the Before Times) drenches (stuffs a bottle of medicine) down the sheep’s throat, and does whatever else is necessary. Farm profit margins are very slim – you don’t call the vet unless the animal is really valuable (like a horse).

Part of farming is learning how to be your own vet most of the time. I have done nearly every conceivable thing to a farm animal, starting with the first baby goats I cleaned off & set to nursing, to pulling stuck lambs (sometimes inserting way more of me than was comfortable to turn a recalcitrant lamb into a better position), vaccinating, treating infections (including fly-strike – takes a very strong stomach), cleaning & bandaging wounds, catheterizing a horse recovering from neurological illness who couldn’t pee, starting IV’s, the list goes on & on & on.

So it seems only natural to me to try to treat the dog’s issue at home.

Dart, One Spring

Still, there was this sense of guilt. And then I realized there was also a very deep sense of guilt about Dart’s passing. Dart was very old – 15. She had some kind of intestinal cancer, I’m pretty sure. She eventually stopped eating, despite my attempts at tempting her. And I wrestled with what to do, oh, how I wrestled. It had been less than a year since I’d had Shunka put to sleep, because of a brain tumor. I just couldn’t face that again. So I decided to let Dart die naturally, at home.

Society would say that my decision was selfish & even abusive; that I should have had her put to sleep. If I’d known how long it was going to take, I probably would have. But I didn’t know. And she wasn’t in any obvious pain. She was just dying, as is only natural for a 15 year old dog.

If she had been a sheep, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to take her to the vet to have her put down – she would have been allowed to live out her days in peace, and if I thought she was suffering, I would have shot her (or had someone shoot her for me – I’ve never killed, personally, one of my own animals before).

Wow, that thought trips the memories of Cherokee the horse’s death. She had gone through multiple medical problems, including cataracts (causing blindness) in her final year. She was 16 (pretty old for a horse) when I found her down & shivering in a snowstorm, and had my second husband shoot her while I sobbed incoherently into the phone to my mother. For Cherokee, as for any animal in my keeping, the time to take action to end their life didn’t come until or unless they were in pain or distress, excepting the lambs and cows I sent to slaughter (a painful part of farming – for the farmer no less than the animal).

Why is it okay in our society to let a newbie farmer learn all about vet care through trial and error and lots of reading, and yet, if a companion animal, a dog or cat, is even possibly getting sick (as in Kasha’s case) or dying naturally (as in Dart’s case), we expect the owner to take them immediately to the vet? For some of us, this is a question not only of consideration for the animal, but a big financial consideration – something we really can’t afford, living on very limited income.

Is it really fair, to value the life of a dog over the life of a goat? Goats are highly intelligent, inquisitive animals, with their own distinctive personalities.

Shouldn’t compassion for animals be equal for all animals? And yet it isn’t.

I know there are many arguments to be made for dogs and cats, that they are more intelligent, that they are companions, and part of the family, whereas a sheep is not. But it’s not like that in all cultures – some cultures value dogs more for their protein content then their ability to be trained, and cats more for their beautiful fur than for their mouse-hunting, purring, affectionate, cat-ness.

Should I feel guilty for letting Dart die naturally at home of old age, even though she wasn’t in pain or visible distress?

Should I really feel guilty for giving the dog an enema myself instead of rushing her off to the vet?

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts below!

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On Shunka

We’re approaching a landmark in time… one I don’t want.

The one year anniversary of Shunka’s death.
If today was all PMS anger & frustration, yesterday was all PMS tears.
I had a dream. Shunka was lying here beside me on the bed, and in the dream, I rolled over & put my arm around him, feeling his silky fur, the soft fuzz around his ears.

And then I woke up, and sleepily put my arm out to him… and touched air.

Instantly awake, it was as clear as it was a year ago, the pain of knowing he wasn’t here anymore. There were no soft ears to rub, no silky fur to stroke, no big black protector dog laying beside me.

For a frighteningly long time I fought back screams. How could this be real? How could my constant companion be just… gone?

And did I do the right thing? Was it right to have him put to sleep? Should I have given him more time?

My book on dealing with pet loss says those are answers every owner who has to make the decision will forever ask themselves. And it says the guilt will never go away.

Never is a long time.

Gutwrenching Decisions

This post is supposed to be about my visit to the doctor yesterday. But it’s not. Sorry, Mom, but you are going to have to wait a little while longer for that. Because this post is about those gut-wrenching decisions we face as pet-keepers, companion animal lovers, dog lovers…

Dart, April, 2006

This post is about Dart. Dart is a Silken Windhound, a newly developed breed, a mix of Borzoi with Whippet, to make a smallish or medium sized sighthound with long silky hair (longer than a whippet’s, anyway).

Dart is now about 15 years old, or close to it. And she’s either incontinent, or stubborn, or doesn’t like to get wet/muddy/etc.

Because she’s been pooing in the basement, and now is also peeing, and though she only weighs 30 pounds or so, it’s stinky, and smelly, and just plain gross.

And, I’m pretty sure their is something seriously wrong with her gut, though she has a healthy appetite, but unless I give her antibiotics, she has pain sometimes when she poos. But that’s the only time she has pain, the rest of the time she’s the same ole’ Dart as she’s always been.

I can’t afford to take her to the vet to check her gut out, and it doesn’t make sense anyway, since if they say there’s something serious, she’ll have to be put down. Put to sleep. And I’m pretty sure it’s something serious.

So now I face The Decision. The one we all dread, the one that wrenches our guts and makes our hearts empty holes.

Shunka, in 2006

But, this post is also about Shunka. Aka “My Boy.” The purebred black German Shepherd we got as soon as we moved to the woods.

Here he is:

Shunka way back in 2002

In 2005, in my bed, of course.

So, why, you ask, is this post also about Shunka? Because I loved him, still love him, sooo much I can’t describe it. And because last June, just before my birthday, I had to have him put to sleep. Shunka had a brain tumor, and it caused seizures. And made him very uncoordinated. And as it progressed, he lost the ability to control his bowels.

And it still tears my heart to look at pictures of him, even after so long has passed. I’ve talked to family about him, but never written it out, how it felt, how it still feels.

April, 2009

Shunka…was…different…from Dart. Our relationship was very different. I had a seizure of my own, way back, in 2001? 2002? I was at the computer, and no one was here except Rhiannon, and she was 7 at the time. Shunka was the one to realize something was wrong with me, and he went and got Rhiannon. Shunka kept licking me, biting me on the arms, anything he could do to try to arouse me.

This was not your garden variety seizure, and I don’t remember a thing about it. But basically, we think my heart was beating so fast that it couldn’t refill, so I was oxygen deprived. I was in and out of “awakeness” I would guess you would say – not aware, always incoherent when awake, then unconscious, incoherent, out of it….for an hour and a half or so.

Rhiannon panicked of course, tried to call for help, but we had new phones and she couldn’t figure out how to turn them on. She tried to get the mail lady to help me, but that didn’t turn out to work. And through it all, Shunka was by my side, trying to get me to be okay.

If he hadn’t kept stimulating me, I might not be here right now. It’s what they said.

After that, Shunka changed. He hadn’t been a particularly cuddly dog before that, but after that he didn’t let me out of his sight, and if I made even a slightly odd noise, he was in my face, staring into my eyes, concerned, checking to see if I was okay. And he checked on other people too, like my mom, when she’d cough.

He slept on my floor, and eventually on my bed. In my bed. And when I went through the terrible year of IV antibiotics, with a PICC line in my arm, and doing IV’s every day, and really, not sure I was going to live through it…he was there, against me, always touching, always watching.

Sure, he had his bad moments. Like when he bit the poor delivery man who brought some medical supplies to the house after dark. That was chaos. He was very protective of me, the house, Rhiannon.

He was a one person dog, and I was his person. For all his terrible fierceness with intruders, he was also so silly, afraid of thunder so that he’d get on the bed where I lay, and wrap himself around my head, so I’d have back legs on one side and be face to face with him on the other. Very silly. And the same at the vets – terrified, a lap dog. Very silly.

And now the tears are coming, because I miss him so damn much. I didn’t intend on writing this, it just happened. I went to look for a pic of Dart, but instead found pics of Shunka, and one thing led to another.

Kasha

We have Kasha here too, she’s a good girl, an adopted German from the shelter who has blended with our family very well. She is just getting over Lyme disease. But Kasha and I don’t have the same relationship as Shunka and I did. That was one of the few, the once in a lifetimes, perhaps.

And when we have Dart put to sleep, which is going to be very soon, we will only have Kasha. A house with one canine??? It doesn’t seem right, after all these years of having three, and now two.

Are they a blessing, or are they a curse? Dogs, I mean. It’s so unfair, that we bond so close, but they have such short lives. And when you have a special one, like I’ve been blessed with several times, it hurts so much, you never really get over it when they pass.

I’ll end with my favorite quote about dogs:

We are alone, absolutely alone on this planet; and amid all the
forms of life that surround us, not one, excepting the dog, has
made an alliance with us. -Maurice Maeterlink

Dart, in younger days.