Arriving home from work everyday, I was greeted by my beloved dog Tabasco. All dogs have amazing greetings, but Tabasco’s greeting was unlike any dog’s I’d ever experienced. I opened the door, sat down immediately on the step at his level, and he pressed his body as hard against me as he could … and cried and cried and cried … for at least two minutes. He would just bawl. After a day of being a shoulder to cry on for my disabled clients … it seemed appropriate. I just kinda laughed at him and hugged him and told him, “everything’s okay … I’m home … I’ll always take care of you. I’ll always take care of you. C’mon, you probably gotta pee ….”
Tabasco repeated this for every family member as each came home at the end of the day. Tabasco even greeted our next-door neighbor Ann this way when she arrived home at the end of her day.
It was his way. He did it all the years we had him. He was just so relieved to have everybody in his world accounted for.
So … that was all in the past tense – you know what’s coming. I’m sorry to have to do this … but … they have such brutally short lives.
Tabasco was a dog who was frequently at the vet. He had skin allergies that were wildly symptomatic in the spring and fall especially. When he developed a cough I discussed it with his vet, but the vet didn’t make much of it. Then, one day, Tabasco coughed and spit up a little clot of blood or tissue, or something – I wasn’t sure. I brought him to the vet immediately with the – something – in a zip-top bag. The vet x-rayed his chest, and found an enormous lung tumor. We had a specialist biopsy the tumor, and though the tests were inconclusive, they were pretty sure it was cancer, and even if it wasn’t cancer, it was the largest lung tumor the vet or the specialist had ever seen in a dog.
… … “I’ll always take care of you. I’ll always take care of you….”
We consulted a veterinary oncologist, considered a lobectomy, chemotherapy – the works. Our family ultimately concluded it was best not to put Tabasco through a lot of scary and painful medical procedures – his prognosis wasn’t good. Also, having those procedures would have required him to be separated from his family for several weeks – that alone would have killed him. Not the best use of the short amount of time he had left.
… … “I’ll always take care of you, buddy. I’ll always take care of you….”
That care involved taking Tabasco with me to work everyday, feeding him steak and ice cream, and whatever the heck else he wanted to eat, and lying on the floor rubbing his belly … and bawling. This time, just me. Tabasco was suddenly stoic.
We talked to the vet about how we would know whether Tabasco was suffering, and how much he might be suffering so that we could help him out of this world humanely.
The vet said, “… so, that’s hard to say. He’s not going to let you know he’s in pain if he can at all help it. That’s not in an animal’s nature. When an animal is vulnerable, it does everything it can to hide its’ vulnerability. It’s part of how an animal protects itself when it knows it’s too sick or injured to defend itself anymore.”
Yes, of course. I knew that about animals. Everybody knows that about animals.
Everybody knows that about animals. Everybody knows that about animals …. Hey, wait a minute … humans are animals. We are mammals. Oh my gosh, is that what I’ve been witnessing in my clients for these fourteen years? Maybe that’s one of the reasons they won’t tell their doctors what the heck is really going on with them. Eureka!
It’s not just that it’s embarrassing to speak these things about themselves. It’s not just that they’re fearful of being hospitalized as they often told me. It’s not just that they feel insufficient rapport with their busy doctors to reveal the intimate details … … it’s that not telling is part of an ingrained vestigial animal-response to perceiving one’s vulnerability and resisting broadcasting it to the world. Maybe?
Huh. Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.