I wrote The following essay in January of 2012. Shortly after, Lucy passed.
Recently, though, I've been thinking of the impact of an animal in a human's life.
In Chinese medicine, the Fall season has to do with a more inward movement of energy. The emotion of the season is grief - collecting the fallen leaves, composting them for the more energetic uprising of the Spring. It's a beautiful and calming time; it is a time of self-introspection.
Light begets light, and I am a human for whom animals bring joy. And so, I will always have animals! Lucy was a pet who shed lots of light on darkness: hers, mine, other people's. Through that darkness, we found what we sought. I am on a continual journey towards more light and then after that, more light. To find that light you need contrast. You need to accept the dark. This little dog that the following words are about helped me along that path.
Life is weird. Not in the sense of the events that punctuate your life like solar flares, or the beautiful people you meet who change you from who you were to who you are, or the mundane things you do, peristaltically, that drive you from moment to moment, or the things that just happen whether they’re good or bad, or all the blessings or all the traumas or all the joy or all the pain; but rather, about life as a container for living. Life as boundary. Life as beginning. Life as end. Our own alpha, our own omega. Who's responsible for that, from within? From without? Especially if the life in question is that of a dog?
Lucy is sick. She’s a 5 year-old mutt from the mean streets of Staten Island, found abandoned with her biological sister who was adopted out to rural Connecticut and named, coincidentally, Lucy. My Lucy was the runt of the litter and like any good Napoleon, she bosses her adopted brothers around: Puck, a 6 year-old lab mix from Hurricane Katrina, and Myshkin, a 7 year-old Russian spy who'd defected to Southern California and in this incarnation also happens to inhabit the body of a Maine Coon mix. Lucy’s life consists of laying around a whole lot, peeing, pooping, eating, and begrudgingly taking walks around the block.
-A dog usually gets a diagnosis of Cushings Disease later in life – 10 is the average age.
-The life expectancy is 2 – 3 years.
-Pharmaceuticals help with the quality of life, but do not extend the life span.
I’m not good with things like this. When I saw The Perfect Storm in theaters and the movie ended and the credits started to roll, I turned to my sister and asked her what was going to happen next. After the movie was over, surely they were going to make it back to land? She laughed at me and told me to get up. And that they died. It was based on a true story! They died in real life! And don’t forget to throw out the popcorn container.
I don’t ever seriously think about my animals dying. If I do, I joke that they’re going to live into their 20s. I extend their inevitable deaths another 20 years, so maybe when I’m nearing 50 I’ll be more equipped to handle it. My future offspring can help me through it!
But lately I’ve been wondering about my responsibility to Lucy, without the cover of comedy (gah!). Drug options include partial necrosis of the adrenal cortex (which often turns into accidentally killing off the whole adrenal cortex), or chemotherapy. Cushings is caused by a tumor on either the pituitary gland or on one of the adrenals. The tumor presses on the centers that secrete cortisol (in the pituitary) or the secretors of cortisol themselves (the adrenal glands), with hyperadrenocorticism as the end result to both those scenarios.
Adenomas, like most pituitary tumors in Cushings, have the propensity for growth. Really, any tumor is a physical abnormality and can disrupt homeostasis, even if it has the most honorable (or at best, neutral) of intentions. On the other hand, 50% of adrenal tumors are malignant and have a tendency to spread their wings and fly to neighboring internal organs, depositing ickies into previously healthy tissue in the process.
One of the drugs would stop the excess production of cortisol, which in turn would run the risk of her already hard-to-manage allergies flaring up to a really painful degree. The kid already chews her paws off every night because they’re itchy! The other drug would essentially poison her in order to poison the tumor. But historically, the drugs don’t stop the tumor from growing, and the tumor is really the problem.
A chihuahua with neurological changes can have dangerously severe personality changes, so a pitbull mix with a changing brain needs to be put down at the first signs. Ethically, that is the only option. Seizures and circling aren’t reasons to put a dog down if those issues are contained, but if the etiology of those changes has the ability to grow further into aggression? That’s the point where I have to get up, toss the popcorn, and accept the fact that not every story has a happy ending.
Lucy's life with me began when I held her, at 17 muscly little pounds, on a short walk to the shelter vet. My intention at that point was to adopt an older dog, around Puck's age. This adorable little puppy - suctioned to my heart, mother nature syncing our beats - was not the objective. My insane dog Puck needed a playmate, and Puck As Puppy was more akin to Godzilla than this delightful, sleepy little creature on my chest. My previous experience with a puppy was that when sick, puppy in question would 1) get better and 2) subsequently return to default state of insanity. To me, there was no bright side of Puppyhood. But 5 years later, here we are! Her energy level has always been more couch than straightjacket, showing me that there is more to raising a puppy than batshitcrazy, and she since our familial inception, she’s just kept right on snoozin’.
Lucy has a happy life. Now, in the present, her life is happy. I've given her 5 very joyful years, and plan to give her more, when perhaps another owner would have been smart about it and returned the defective item (I say this, of course, with the love of someone who has cleaned up more dog pee than I ever thought was caninely possibly). She leaks (ectopic ureter) and so wears diapers (and I do a lot of laundry), limps (malformed shoulder bones), steals food off the counter (push the bread loaf all the way back, please!), and cannot be left alone, lest you want the whole building - scratch that: the whole block - to think that you're torturing your dog by ripping her toenails out one at a time. At least, that's the noise she makes when Puck and I try to go out for some endurance walking (since, as mentioned, her favorite activity includes a REM state).
So if the stuff on the inside of the boundaries of your life has brought happiness and light into this world, does the part of me that can't bear the thought of losing her just deal with it? Because an even bigger part of me cannot see her in pain. And all of me cannot - because a foreign object in her brain is pressing all the wrong buttons - allow harm to come to those she loves.
I'm spending hours a day thinking about this, compromising the meat of my life sandwich, while the meat of Lucy's is happily dreaming away in her comfy little Lucy spot. And honestly, at the end of this day, that's all that matters.