The following are a few of my articles, essays, and lyrics.

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. 

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The Cost of Spraying

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.  

Letting Go With Love

Lyrics by Gail Lang and Shondra Jepperson
February 27, 2018 


 INTRO

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

VERSE

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

CHORUS

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

VERSE

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

REPEAT CHORUS

VERSE

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”

REPEAT CHORUS

VERSE

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

OUTRO

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 

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The Dilemma

 

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?”