A Mandala Moment
June Beyer is helping women have a Mandala Moment. Within the walls of the Jefferson Street Artists Studios in Falls Church, June works with a group of five women to open windows into their creative selves.
A square with four gates and a circle at its center, a mandala is an ancient Indian spiritual and religious symbol representing the universe. Often used as an aid to meditation, the mandala’s contents are a reflection of all that exists at a particular point in time. June’s workshop instructs women in creating their own mandala’s - exposing the individual’s universe within. In revealing their inner being through colors and symbols laid within the circle, participants experience new aspects of themselves.
‘“I can’t tell you how many women say, “That was so soothing,”’ says June. Coloring as a method to reduce stress is gaining in popularity and is a growing trend. Lacy Mucklow’s “Color Me Stress-Free: Nearly 100 Coloring Templates To Unplug and Unwind,” and “Color Me Happy,” are among many adult coloring books currently near the top of Amazon’s best selling books chart.
While using coloring books can be relaxing, creating your own mandala provides greater rewards. “When you are coloring in a book you are still drawing within someone else’s lines,” says June. “The benefit of doing a mandala is that it allows you to release your own pattern, to fully express your creative self. It changes you, and is a much more fulfilling and richer experience.”
In addition to self-discovery and self-expression, the workshops also provide a way to connect with other women outside the usual realm of work and kids. Laughter and banter is part of the adventure. Like the mandala itself, the class is a multidimensional experience. Workshops are held monthly within the Jefferson Street Artists Studios at Art and Frame of Falls Church.
It's mid-July and I'm sitting in my back yard reading a book and something feels wrong. The weather in Virginia has been cooler than normal, and there is a slight breeze behind my Falls Church home. But that's not it. Something is missing. Where are the mosquitoes?
They ruin family picnics, romantic dinners and violate spaces we pay good money to own and have minimal time to enjoy. As a result, residential mosquito spraying is a growing business that promotes safe and effective mosquito elimination. While these pest control companies claim spraying is harmless, there is increasing evidence that the pesticides used to kill mosquitoes are also deadly to beneficial insects - like butterflies and bees - and pose potential health risks to humans.
According to Mosquito Squad, there are one hundred forty-four residences within my zip code that are receiving pesticide treatment every twenty-one days. Five are on my street. One is next door. There are no county or state regulations that require my neighbors to notify me of their spraying. So, while I try to minimize my family's exposure to chemicals by consuming organic foods, I have no control over the pesticides seeping through my fence.
Synthetic chemicals consisting of Pyrethroids are the most common insecticides used in mosquito control. The American Mosquito Control Association states the dosages in which these are applied are "at least one hundred-fold less than the point at which public health and safety merit consideration." This is not a statement of fact, but of opinion. While the Environmental Protection Agency allows specified quantities of Pyrethroids such as Permethrin to be used, the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs classified Permethrin as "likely to be carcinogenic in humans." Additional studies have also indicated that Permethrin may cause autoimmune disease in children. As of 2012, of the eighty-four thousand chemicals that Americans are exposed to, the EPA has tested two hundred and placed restrictions on only five. So while the EPA allows Pyrethroids to be used, they do not say they are safe.
While Permethrin's toxicity to humans needs further investigation, there are clear indications of its harmful effects on other insects. In his Washington Post article "Butterfly Decline Signals Trouble in Environment," Darryl Fears writes, "At least one species of butterfly has vanished from the United States, along with two subspecies in South Florida. Habitat loss is a major problem, as are bug sprays, especially those used by municipalities and homeowners to control mosquitoes."
Permethrin is also highly toxic to important pollinators, such as honeybees, whose declining populations are causing concern amongst both commercial and backyard farmers. A 2011 Hazard/Risk Assessment Study conducted by the Ecotoxicology and Risk Assessment Laboratory at Florida International University concluded that "Adult mosquito control insecticides are highly toxic to honeybees based on acute exposure and Permethrin was the most acutely toxic insecticide."
Interestingly, while the toxicity of these chemicals is destroying populations of beneficial insects, their effectiveness in eliminating mosquitoes is questionable. Contrary to Mosquito Squad's assertion that customers find "the presence of mosquitoes and ticks enormously reduced," scientific studies done after spraying have reported a thirty-five to forty percent kill rate of adult mosquitoes. Furthermore, pesticide spraying only targets adult mosquitoes and does not target larval populations – hence the need to re-spray every twenty-one days.
In addition to removing mosquitoes as an annoyance, spraying is touted as an important method of reducing mosquito born diseases like West Nile Virus. Serious or fatal cases of West Nile Virus are extremely rare. Less than one tenth of one percent of people bitten by infected mosquitoes develop the disease. There were twenty-one cases of West Nile Virus in Virginia in 2015.
While backyard spraying is growing in popularity, studies have shown the most effective method to reduce mosquitoes is to remove stagnant water from breeding sites such as birdbaths, gutters, plant pot saucers and other water collecting objects. This does take some management and time, but it's not as cumbersome as it may seem. Removing saucers from flower pots, storing toys and outdoor play items in covered storage bins, and keeping gutters free of leaf debris are simple changes that can make a big difference.
At an average cost of eight hundred dollars for pesticide application per season, the mosquito control business is claiming to sell medicine when it's really selling snake oil. Well-worded promises delivering costly consequences. My backyard used to be a safe place. The pesticides coming through the fence have put an end to that.
Lyrics by Gail Lang and Shondra Jepperson
February 27, 2018
Letting go of you
Is letting go of me
Accepting you will grow
Is the way it’s meant to be
So my dear child I set you free
Letting you go with love
To be who you’re meant to be
I remember you when I dream
Playing in the dirt
Mud on your hands,
Your face, your shirt
Happy from your laughter
Joyful from your play
Yearning to hold on to
Those early innocent days
Letting go of you
Is letting go of me
Accepting you will grow
Is the way it needs to be
So my dear child
I choose to set you free
Living out your version
Of who you’re meant to be
Sitting in the stands
Early in the Spring
Here to cheer you on
When you take that first swing
It rockets to the fence
You circle round each base
You slide into Home
With elation on your face
Almost a man
You’re standing with your date
Flower in your lapel
Arm around her waist
Selfie with a text
“Hi from the Prom
I’m gonna be late
So don’t wait up mom”
I’m so happy for you
And so sad for me
Cause your all grown now
And packing to leave
I’ve been blessed to be your mom
I’m proud of the person you’ve become
I love you with all my heart,
My dear boy, my son
Letting go of you
Is letting go of me
Watching you grow
Has been a miracle you see
So my dear child I set you free
Letting you go with love
To live out your dreams
I’m sitting in Dr. Hitt’s brightly lit examining room while my daughter Chelsea’s one-year-old cat, Honey, wanders around the floor looking for a place to hide. The vet has pulled out a plastic replica of a cat’s jaw and teeth and is describing the problem she sees with Honey’s mouth. She points at the x-rays and explains that Honey has an oral disease known as feline stomatitis – a condition in which the immune system overreacts to dental plaque causing lesions to form near the roots and destroy the teeth. If her immune system continues to overreact, which is common with this condition, Honey will eventually loose all her teeth. Vets don’t know what causes the disease. The recommended treatment to manage the condition is to remove teeth as they become diseased. She says Honey should undergo periodontal surgery – having two molars extracted as well as the teeth cleaned.
Dumbstruck, I’m staring at Dr. Hitt in disbelief. All I brought this cat in for was a routine check-up. She’s not old or suffering from age-related diseases. She’s just supposed to be here for her annual shots. She looks healthy. Her calico coat is shiny and well groomed. Her amber eyes are clear and bright. She acts perfectly normal – eats fine, sleeps fine, plays. Still in shock and with my brain not fully grasping the situation yet, I ask Dr. Hitt the only other thing I can think of: “How much is this going to cost?”
“We’ll give you an estimate,” she says. “I don’t think it will be more than six hundred dollars.”
Our relationship with animals as pets began in the Paleolithic era. This period, approximately forty thousand years ago, marks the time when a radical change in the structure of the human mind allowed for a greater understanding of the natural world. Fire, tools, art, music, and religion made important cultural and technological advances possible. Humans began recognizing that animals could have value beyond being a source for food. DNA, as well as evidence from tomb paintings and other artifacts, suggests that dogs were domesticated in the late Middle Paleolithic era. They have been part of human families for the last ten thousand years. Cats came on the scene as pets a bit later, serving as housemates and rat catchers for the ancient Egyptians.
Early humans’ ability to recognize the benefit of domesticated dogs is directly linked to being able to understand animal behavior in human terms. This translation of animal behavior into human terms, otherwise known as anthropomorphism, allow us to attribute human mental states such as thoughts, feelings, motivations, and beliefs to animals. Imagine thinking your dog chewed your shoe because she was angry you were gone for too long, or your cat licked your hand after petting her to say she loves you, or the dog looked sad because you yelled at him for eating the left-over chicken from the kitchen counter. Most animal researchers agree that our understanding of dogs and cats stems from our anthropomorphic perspective.
While the data indicates that animal domestication would never have been possible without it, anthropomorphism is not without controversy. Critics of this classical anthropomorphic approach say our desire to see our pets like ourselves sometimes causes us to impose our needs on them, instead of recognizing that their needs are distinct from ours and can be different from what we perceive them to be. The effects of this disconnect can result in animals being harmed in numerous ways.
For example, cats are natural hunters and explorers. They have an innate desire to be outdoors – chasing and killing small animals, climbing trees, and roving a self-determined territory. In an effort to keep domestic cats safe, many of us keep our cats strictly indoors. (Indoor cats do live longer on average than those allowed outside.) While the commercial pet industry has profited in selling products designed to fulfill indoor cats’ needs (scratching stands, elevated climbing perches, and interactive toys for chasing and pretend killing), physical and behavior problems have manifested regardless of their use. Keeping cats indoors restricts their exercise, and along with overfeeding, has led to an epidemic of feline obesity. (In 2012, fifty-five percent of the cats in the United States were recorded as obese.) Urine-marking – a natural act for cats outside – as well as other inappropriate elimination, is the second most reported behavioral problem in cats. Most veterinarians recommend the depression drugs Prozac or buspirone to treat this difficult-to-remedy behavior.
I must be a bad person because driving home I’m not thinking, oh, poor Honey, or, Chelsea is going to be so upset when she hears about her cat. No, the only thought in my head is that I need to spend six hundred dollars for periodontal work on a very young cat. I could get a second opinion. But I saw the x-rays and Honey’s swollen gums. Why spend more money to be told the same thing?
My heart is telling me to take care of the cat no matter what needs to be done, and at the same time my logical, left-brained self starts yelling all sorts of questions. What did people do in the old days – just wait and let the cat’s teeth fall out on their own? Why does this have to cost so much? I’m in a place I have been before – torn between loving and wanting to do anything to help an animal and wondering if our medical capabilities have pushed us beyond what is reasonable.
Like an abscess lurking below the skin, exploding veterinary costs inflict pain on pet owners as well as veterinarians.
According to the American Pet Products Association, last year consumers spent an estimated sixty billion dollars on their pets. Of that sixty billion, almost sixteen billion was spent on veterinary care. In 2015, dog owners, on average, spent two hundred thirty-five dollars on routine vet visits, with surgical veterinary expenses averaging five hundred fifty dollars for the year. For cat owners, the average routine vet visit was one hundred ninety-six dollars and surgical veterinary care averaged three hundred ninety-eight dollars. The cost of vet visits has risen forty-seven percent for dogs and seventy-three percent for cats over the past decade.
Rising vet costs are hard on pet owners. Availability and use of technology and drugs in treating once untreatable conditions in animals are trends that are driving veterinary costs. Placement of pacemakers, kidney transplants for renal failure, drugs for anxiety, arthritis pain, epilepsy, and cancer are just some of the treatment options that are now available. The pressure on owners to treat, and treat at all costs, is high. How do owners who love their pet say no? Many can’t. Unable to pay the bill outright, some turn to specialized veterinary credit lenders, like CareCredit, and suffer significant consequences. Peter Fenton, in his Washington Post article, “Vets are too expensive, and it’s putting pets at risk,” says a New York State investigation into alleged predatory lending practices found that approximately sixty-five percent of CareCredit card holders apply for the card while they’re in the veterinarian’s office. Some assumed they were signing up for an in-house, no-interest payment directly to the vet, but what they got instead was “a deferred-interest rate card with charges that accrued at a rate of up to 26.99 percent on the total bill after a promotional period.”
Rising vet costs are also hard on veterinarians. While every profession has members who work solely for their own best interest, the majority of veterinarians struggle to provide the best care for the animals they treat at a price their owners can afford. A survey conducted in 2014 by Colorado State University found that ninety-nine percent of veterinarians offered some discounts with sixty-eight percent providing reduced-price services at least several times per month. A number of veterinarians also provide services free of charge or at reduced rates for rescue groups, as well as homeless individuals with pets.
Some pet owners wonder if vets’ salaries are contributing to rising costs. While veterinarians’ salaries have increased over the years, from a mean of around sixty-thousand dollars in 1995 to an average today of seventy-three thousand dollars per year (starting salary for newly graduated vets is much lower, averaging forty-five thousand to fifty-five thousand per year), considering the cost of debt for education – now exceeding hundreds of thousands of dollars – vets’ salary levels are relatively modest.
With “first, do no harm” as a fundamental principal of medical philosophy and ethics, veterinarians are under tremendous pressure to balance the benefits of treatment versus the practicality of costs. The stresses of working to heal patients who cannot speak for themselves can take a heavy toll. A recent survey completed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 14.4 percent of male veterinarians and 19.1 percent of female veterinarians – three times the U.S. national average – have considered suicide.
Advanced veterinary care options are due to people having new attitudes about their pets. Pets are no longer just companions or domesticated workers but are now considered by many to be members of the family. In its most recent pet owner’s survey conducted in 2006, The American Pet Products Association stated that “Over sixteen million dog owners report that they are more attached to their dogs than their best friend, and just over five million are as attached to their dog as their spouse.” Owners who love and treat their pets like children are also on the rise, creating a new consumer group of pet parents.
The trend toward viewing dogs and cats as members of the family began in the early 1900s with the change from multigenerational households to individual ones, according to David Grimm, author of Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs. “You went from eight to twelve people in a household to two or four. This created an emotional void,” he says. “Also, animals disappear as family disappears. You had horses in New York City, backyard chickens, and stockyards. Our contact with animals was going away as well. Cats and dogs form an emotional bond and fill the void,” says Grimm.
The loss of farm animals combined with the growth of dogs and cats as pets has caused veterinarians to function more like human doctors. Grimm tells me that before the 1920s, veterinarians were viewed like mechanics, and the animals were seen more like machines that served a particular purpose. Cows, pigs, and chickens were used for food. Horses were used for transportation. “It was a very unsentimental approach,” says Grimm. “There was no bedside manner necessary.” Now, people see veterinarians more like pediatricians, and, Grimm says, it is in the veterinarians’ financial interest to support this view.
With veterinary practices operating much like human medical practices, most vets expect that medical treatment options should be utilized at all times. This expectation occurs regardless of a person’s financial circumstances. During one particular office visit, Dr. Hitt told me, “It’s not wrong if you need to consider money in deciding treatment, but really, you shouldn’t have animals unless you have enough money. To really take care of an animal in our society you need money. Responsible people know this.”
A link of unconditional love joins people to their pets.
While Maslow’s hierarchy of needs dictates that the primary needs of humans are geared toward the physical requirements of the body – air, water, food, and safety – we continually exhibit behaviors that make them secondary. History is filled with remarkable examples (we call them heroes) of individuals who risk their own lives to save others. More frequent, but of the same essence, are the smaller acts of putting the needs of oneself second (the person who donates a kidney; the exhausted parent who is up night after night taking care of an infant). In large ways, and in small, we demonstrate a requirement to fulfill a deeper need, a need that goes beyond the primary needs of the body, a need calling out from the soul.
In her book, My Dog Always Eats First, Leslie Irvine interviewed seventy-five homeless individuals who have pets. While the individuals would sometimes be without food, Irvine states that none of the pets of the homeless she interviewed went hungry. She quotes a homeless man with two dogs who says, “Some of us out here take better care of our animals than we do ourselves. When I don’t have money sometimes for food, I’ll give ‘em what I’m eating and go without food, ‘cause I won’t see my animals go hungry.” In addition to food, homeless individuals often have to sacrifice help in housing, as most homeless shelters do not allow pets. Irvine further explains, “Even getting a meal at a soup kitchen requires a dependable pet sitter.”
In addition to the physical sacrifices they make, homeless pet owners endure emotional strains that domiciled pet owners do not. The homeless are in constant fear of losing their pets. Police officers shoot them. Animal protective agencies confiscate them. Strangers try to steal them. (To prevent theft, owners’ sleep with their dogs tied to their legs.) They endure criticism by veterinarians and condemnation from people in the street.
What scientific studies show, the homeless (as well as other pet owners) unquestioningly experience; regardless of setting, these animals demonstrate love irrespective of a person’s appearance, age, economic circumstances, abilities, or other elements that usually influence person-to-person relationships. So despite the additional physical, social, and emotional hardships to an already difficult life, the homeless maintain an unrelenting bond to their animals.
Seen as companions, protectors, life-changers, and family, animals (dogs in particular) serve wide-ranging needs for homeless individuals. Studies on homeless youth with pets have found decreases in suicide rates, lower levels of criminal activity, and lower rates of drug use. For these homeless people, pets are a reason to live.
Like Dr. Hitt and most veterinarians, animal welfare advocates also say that cost should not be a barrier to treatment. While stating that medical treatment should not be administered if it “would just cause your companion discomfort without preserving a life of good quality,” The Humane Society of The United States advocates providing medical treatment even if “you’re faced with vet expenses that are far beyond your ability to afford them.” The Humane Society lists a number of ways you can secure funds to meet this obligation. Some suggestions are rather routine – negotiate a payment plan with your vet, use a vet in a less expensive area, get a second opinion, and utilize a lower cost clinic at a veterinary school. Others are a bit more strenuous, such as having a yard sale or selling things online. Most remarkable are suggestions that impose more significant costs such as, “getting a second or part-time job, ask your employer for a salary advance, or get an account with CareCredit, a credit card that’s specifically for health expenses.”
My mother utilized her own credit card, incurring over six thousand dollars in debt, when her ten-year-old cat Pepper was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1992. While the vet qualified that treatment might not extend Pepper’s life for long, nor would it be without possible discomfort, she urged my mother to choose treatment over euthanasia.
Unlike me, my mother has a compassionate heart sans the left-brain yelling feature, so it was without hesitation that she opted for treatment. My mother loved Pepper very much. She lived alone and Pepper was an affectionate companion. When presented with the opportunity to give her more time, my mother would not refuse the treatment option. “It’s a life,” she said. “Why shouldn’t she have a chance?”
Lymphoma is one of the most common forms of cancer in cats.
A cat from a cigarette-smoking household is three times more likely to develop lymphoma. Cats over seven-years-old are also at considerably more risk.
Lymphoma is a tumor in a lymphocyte, a type of white blood cell that functions as an infection-fighting cell within the immune system. Lymphomas have the potential to form in any tissues that have a large number of lymphocytes. In older cats, they tend to occur in the cat’s digestive tract and the organs that adjoin it such as the pancreas, liver and gall bladder. Other potential locations include the area surrounding the cat’s heart, lungs, nervous system, and lymph nodes.
The methods used for treatment are determined by the size of the individual lymphoma cells. Small-cell lymphomas are the most treatable and are usually treated with the steroid prednisolone, and sometimes combined with other drugs. Large-cell lymphomas are treated using various chemotherapy drug combinations.
When faced with a cancer diagnosis, owners hope that the animal will be cured of the disease. While there is little data on cure rates of cancer in animals, most often treatment does not provide a cure. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states that “cure” means that there are no traces of cancer after treatment and the cancer will never come back. They also say while by current measures patients may be classified as cured after surviving five years past the diagnosis date, there is no certainty that the cancer will not return, and the most doctors can truly say is; ”that there are no signs of cancer at this time.”
Therefore, the goal of treatment is to put the cancer in remission, and in doing so allow the animal’s life to be extended for a period of time. NCI defines remission as: “A decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer. In partial remission, some, but not all, signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although cancer still may be in the body.”
Survival time for cats receiving treatment for lymphoma varies based on numerous factors. A study conducted between March 1996 and December 2004 of twenty-three cats treated for lymphoma using a combination of chemotherapy regimes showed that the overall survival time for the twenty-three was two hundred forty-two days.
Money is important. If you have it, spending it is not a problem. If you don’t, it is. My mother is seventy-two-years-old and still works full-time selling wedding gowns. A former smoker, she has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and significant out-of-pocket medical expenses. While she was never a lavish spender, somehow her income was never much more than her expenses. She lives paycheck-to-paycheck, using money from her savings account and Social Security. The last thing she needs is to spend money on vet bills.
Yet Pepper underwent six months of chemotherapy. During the treatment period, the cat had complications requiring intermittent hospitalizations and infusions of fluids and other drugs. When not at the hospital, Pepper, my mother said, hid under the bed and did not want to be touched. Her formerly glistening black coat turned dull and speckled with dandruff. She sometimes wandered around the house, zombie-like, bumping into furniture. She ate little and slept a lot. She died ten months after being diagnosed. I wondered if Pepper was in pain.
While nobody knows if it was the right decision for Pepper, I do know it was not the right decision for my mother. In addition to time lost from work and significant medical debt, it was painful for her to watch Pepper struggle to survive. “I never want another pet,” she said. “I couldn’t go through it again. It hurt me to see Pepper in that condition and think about how she must be feeling.”
The question of whether and when an animal should die usually comes down to pain.
In her book, The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives, bioethicist Jessica Pierce says if the animal is in pain, death is viewed as both an ethical and humane choice to end suffering.
Pain is a physiological event followed by an emotional response. Behavioral and physical responses of animals to pain are similar to humans. Increases in heart rate and respiration as well as behavioral changes such as eating less and moving less are seen when humans and animals are in pain. Pierce writes that pain in humans and animals are essentially the same and “if a medical intervention or disease process is painful for us, we should assume that it is also painful for other animals.”
Detecting pain in animals can be difficult. There is no objective criterion for assessing the degree of pain an animal feels. Animals in pain will often exhibit changes in their normal behaviors and physical appearance. Pierce states a few signs of pain may be obvious, such as vocalization, writhing, and struggling. Some signs are subtle such as drooling, dilated pupils, panting, and shivering. Others include: tucked abdomen, drooping head, arched back, aggression or avoidance of social interaction, reluctance to move, prolonged lying or sitting, lameness, decrease in appetite, and a decrease in grooming.
Another obstacle in assessing an animal’s pain is a behavioral response not to show pain. Pierce explains that, “Stoicism occurs in many species, most notably cats,” and “The survival value of stoicism is obvious: you don’t want predators to know you’re hurting, or you’ll become a target.”
Treating animal pain is complicated. While the list of treatment options for animals is similar to humans (local anesthetics, steroids, opioids, anti-inflammatory drugs), they cannot be used exactly like they are in people.
To be effective, pain treatment may involve trying various drugs as well as other pain management strategies (massage, physical therapy) all of which need to be balanced against the side effects of drugs and the stresses to the animal as a result of the treatment.
Pierce writes that unfortunately many pet owners on their own may not have the knowledge, money, and time to do all that is needed to manage pain in a seriously ill or injured animal. This is when, she says, owners begin to think that euthanasia may be the best way out for everyone involved.
Talking with me by phone, Pierce says that while euthanasia often becomes the compassionate course of action, owners can also consider giving the animal more time by using hospice and palliative care support. Veterinary palliative-care practitioners are on the rise, and while there is a cost to using the services, they are generally less expensive than aggressive treatment. Hospice can improve the life of a dying animal as well as provide support to the owner. In The Last Walk, Pierce writes that “hospice offers a gentler way down into the Valley of Death, a slow path down that we can travel hand-in-paw with our animal rather than shoving them brusquely off a precipice.”
Treat or kill are no longer the only options pet owners have.
I had my own experience with a veterinarian recommending treatment over euthanasia when a car hit my cat, Mouse (I know – an oxymoronic name which, not surprisingly, was chosen by my children). Mouse was small, with a long-haired black and white coat and skittish temperament. Inside the house, she enjoyed sitting on my lap while I was reading and purred happily when stroked. Outside, she liked to explore, but would scare easily and hide under bushes whenever she heard loud noises or encountered people she did not know. When I realized she was hurt, my heart ached as I thought of her pain and suffering.
The vet at the emergency veterinary hospital explained that Mouse had a broken pelvis and possibly a fracture to the lower spine. Her bladder was also damaged and its ability to function normally was questionable. The vet recommended surgery to repair the pelvis and spine. After surgery, he explained, the cat would need to remain immobile in a cage for four to six weeks. Following the immobilization, she would receive physical therapy to attempt to restore her ability to walk. I felt like an idiot. Was I missing something? Was he recommending surgery and subsequent physical therapy without being certain that Mouse would be able to walk or hold her bladder? My husband, David, standing next to me and looking as perplexed as I felt, had the gall to ask the doctor this very question. “Well,” the doctor said, “we feel it’s important to give the animal every opportunity we can.”
The words reverberated and sent waves of pain through my body. It’s a life, it’s a life echoed in my mind.
While my heart and my brain were engaged in the battle of should we or shouldn’t we, my husband turned to the vet and said no to the surgery. Looking at Mouse in the cage, glassy eyed and broken, David murmured that the recommendation was ridiculous. “She can’t live like this,” he said.
“OK,” said the vet, “if that’s what you want to do.”
I was shaking. I did not want the vet to kill Mouse. At the same time, I knew the treatment would have been difficult and probably painful for her. She did not have a good chance for a normal life. David made the decision I couldn’t. I couldn’t stay to watch them put her to sleep. I stroked her gently and told her I was sorry. I told her I loved her. Heartbroken, we paid the twelve hundred dollar vet bill and went home without our cat.
While our behavior towards animals vacillates between kindness and cruelty, science has firmly established that animals are intelligent, conscious, feeling beings.
Evidence of animals’ multidimensional lives is expanding. Each year brings new discoveries. Reptiles can learn through imitation. Bees learn to access hard to reach food by watching and communicating with other bees. Bullfinch birds have the capacity to learn to sing melodies from people. Prairie voles show empathy to other distressed voles. Rats will try to save other rats from drowning. Fish feel pain.
In addition to demonstrating mental capacities like perception, reasoning, and problem solving, it has also been determined that animals experience a wide range of emotions.
Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, says the worst thing you can do to an animal emotionally is to make it feel afraid. Studies show that for animals, fear can be worse than pain. In the article “Distress in Animals: Is it Fear, Pain or Physical Stress,” Grandin and co-author Mark Deesing write, “In assessing criteria for suffering, psychological stress which is fear stress, should be considered as important as suffering induced by pain.” As an example they write that, “When wild cattle that are not accustomed to handling are held in a restraining device for branding, the fear stress induced by the restraint will raise their cortisol levels almost as high as the hot iron branding.”
Animals also experience loss and display grief. In “Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures,” former Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Marc Bekoff writes:
“Sea lion mothers, watching their babies being eaten by killer whales, squeal eerily and wail pitifully, lamenting their loss. Dolphins also have been observed struggling to save a dead infant. Elephants have been observed to stand guard over a stillborn baby for days with their head and ears hanging down, quiet and moving slowly as if they are depressed.”
In addition to animals having an extensive range of feelings, their awareness of themselves as well as others is broader than we once believed. Darwin contended that there is continuity between humans and other animals in their emotional and cognitive lives. He said that while there are transitional stages among species, there are not large gaps, and the differences are in degree rather than kind. In other words, if humans feel anger, fear, despair, grief, joy, and love – so do animals.
If animals and people share the same emotions, do differences in degree even matter? When you’re afraid, you’re afraid. You experience fear. Maybe we say the fear is great, or small, but it is still fear. The experience is not partial – it is always whole. What then is the difference between a person who is afraid, and an animal who is afraid? What is the difference in suffering?
I call Dr. Hitt and ask what would happen if we just gave Honey antibiotics and let her teeth fall out on their own.
“The bacteria will return,” she says. “And losing the teeth that way is painful.”
I don’t want Honey to be in pain.
“OK,” I say. “When can you do the surgery?”