I would like to acknowledge that I personally recognise that there exist perhaps three different “types” of people, each of them with a different opinion on what one should do when faced with a scenario comprised of turmoil. In context, the turmoil adheres when the life of an animal is compromised. And by animal I mean pet.
I’d like to highlight three archetypes. One is the person that will remortgage their home to pay their veterinary bills; the big scary word that starts in “Euth” and ends in “Anasia” is not an option, no matter what. Two is the person that will also do whatever it takes to save the life of their pet, and only in the most unpromising of circumstances – like a very, very humble prognosis, would this person consider The Big E. Things would have to look meagre; the animal’s quality of life was going to plummet and the likelihood of further illness elevated, for this pathway to be an option. And the third person represents one who will euthanise almost as soon as the problem arises. No surgeries, no chemotherapy treatments, no ongoing medication. All three of these casts have reasons behind their choices. I’m sure that each person, when faced with the conundrum of a life in jeopardy, would methodically consider her options, and align those options with her personal circumstances. She would then make a choice based on suitability. Her underlying life-values would be the foundation for her decision. I’d like not to tap a wand of judgement upon any of these people; that is not my role. It’s actually not anybody’s. But I had to practise this skill, and I’m only just learning how to empathically perceive values as being the basis for such decisions, and to recognise that when values aren’t accepted, contempt can arise.
On Friday November 15th, four days before we were due to fly home to Perth, my ten year old Bichon Frisé, Coco (Chanel, of course) was diagnosed with kidney stones, bladder stones, and a stone blocking the little tube between the aforementioned organs. She was a mess, and we later found out she was also carrying a staphylococcus infection – that which had knocked her down and led to these discoveries. The left kidney was loaded with stones, and the right with just one. The renal pelvis was engorged due to the blockage. The prognosis was substandard. Options offered to us didn’t seem feasible; one was surgery that may not work and pretty serious on-going care would be necessary. The alternative was “medical management” which involved “fluid therapy” and antibiotics, and essentially waiting to see if she would recover. With the diagnosis looking the way it did, this option was, in the most blatant of terms, a death sentence.
We had limited choices available to us, and about 12 hours to consider them. By the time Friday morning dawned and I had spent the time before midday on and off the phone, I was becoming Person Archetype #2. I was unequivocally distraught as we packed ourselves into the car and headed towards the hospital in Homebush. My girl was ten years old, and we’d been together since day dot. She’d lived with me in Wollongong, and moved across the country with me to Perth. She had been the reticent older sibling to little Bangers and she had patiently waited for the arrival of our human baby. She’d had not a single health issue in her life until now, and I was heading to hospital to put her out of her misery. And boy was she miserable! It hurt me to see her in such a state of agony, and my tear bank was drained by the time we hit Heathcote Road.
On the journey, we had a call from our specialist, Narelle Brown. She had tossed and turned the night before, trying to figure out a better way forward for Coco. Her suggestion was to place a stent in the ureter, the small tube connecting the bladder to the kidney. Of course we took this as our way out of a burial ceremony, and authorised the go ahead, continuing the drive to Sydney to see the little fluff before her surgery.
The operation went ahead after we met Sarah Goldsmid, the surgeon in charge of opening up Coco’s little body. We paid another deposit after having already done one the previous day, and we organised Vetpay so that we could fund the procedure. We waited anxiously for the post-operative phone call with positive news, and we rested easy when it came. The next week was up and down, because little Coco refused to eat a single bite of food. She couldn’t be discharged until she had, so each day she was observed until came the point that my sister visited – this obviously reminded Coco that she hadn’t been deserted and she could quit the food-boycott. She was released the next evening, with a bill amounting to $9,698.50. We could cover some of the costs, and the rest was being taken care of by Vetpay. We would have a few weeks to repay the $6000 they loaned us, and then hopefully our insurance would also pick up some of the slack.
We did not hesitate to do what we could to save Coco’s life no matter the cost, because for us, that is what it boils down to. A Life. A little animal is a living thing, just like you and I. An animal may not have conscious thought in the manner that we humans do; we don’t really know if she is self-aware enough to realise that her life-forecast is currently highlighted in red. But is this the only real difference between humans and other animals? Is it language and self-awareness, action-consequence that separates us? Throughout history, our care and treatment of other animals has fluctuated in its moral code. Heck, there have been periods where fellow humans have had worse treatment than our actual four legged friends. What is it in us, that makes this distinction? Why are some humans okay to end the life of another living animal? If a dog could speak directly to his carer, share his thoughts and worries… would his carer still go ahead and euthanise him?
Three days after Coco was discharged from hospital, (again on a Friday!) our miniature dachshund Bangers Williams ruptured a disc in his long little back for the third time in three years. It seemed like a joke…Coco just out of hospital and now this? With Bangers having had two previous spinal surgeries, I was well aware of the costs, (both monetary and other) we were about to undergo with another one. But alas, the prognosis this time was much worse than in the past. The little sausage had hurt his back on Tuesday, and by Friday morning his hind legs were paralysed. He would have been in so much pain; anyone who has ever had this sort of injury would be all too familiar with the trauma before pain relief!
It was back to Homebush with a referral from the local vet to see Sarah Goldsmid again, but this time the verdict was much more grave. With his neurological deficits being so bad – loss of deep pain sensation in his hind legs, no deliberate movement, loss of bladder control, it was a grade five diagnosis with at the absolute most, a 40% chance that he would walk again. That would mean a wheelchair for this active little boy, and a colostomy bag for his toiletting. With a toddler and a baby due in February, I just didn’t know if it was manageable. And that’s if the surgery went well. We had already flown home to Perth by this stage, so here I was, trying to be as present as possible on the phone listening to Sarah talking about slim prospects for Bangers and crying my eyes out for this poor little dog who has been through so much.
By now, I was once again considering euthanasia. I couldn’t say it out loud though, and I definitely could not imagine it happening. In my heart I didn’t feel like this was the end for Bangers, but I was struggling to see a positive way forward. Also, the operation and related action plan was going to cost $12,000 minimum – more money which we didn’t have simply sitting on standby. My sister set us up a Go Fund Me page to try and get some support with the associated costs of going ahead. I was too much of a mess to make any decisions at this point, so our amazing, caring friends Leeona and Rob (who were with Bangers) gave the go ahead to perform some scans so that we could see how bad the rupture really was. After the scans, Surgeon Sarah was happy to proceed, so together we paid $5250 in deposits, hoping that Bangers wouldn’t lose his legs or his life.
We had good news 12 hours post-op, with our little guts eating his breakfast and trying to shuffle around in his enclosure. This actually continued each day, with little bits of progress making for a very positive outlook on Bangers’ future. By day five, we were waiting for Bangers to go to the toilet on his own, as his catheter had been removed. This sacred wee took 48 hours, and finally came the Thursday after surgery. Bangers was then released from hospital, after six nights and seven days. Certainly, an experience we don’t want to revisit. His odds of walking properly again are quite good – this is pretty incredible if we consider the grade of rupture and his progress thus far. He was lucky.
There were two episodes among the situations I have outlined, where I had to carefully consider my options. Twice, the option of euthanasia presented its potent availability, and twice I was brought to my knees trying to evaluate whether we should use it. Of course I wasn’t alone in all of this; I had the good ol’ “opinions of others” to listen to. I was advised to be pragmatic, to think about the money. True, we had just returned from eight months in Europe and had very little funding to support us. We are expecting our second child. We have several large debts which involve property. We need to buy a car. Outright, I was called a fool for being willing to spend so much to save my dogs. Some voices carried an unmistakable tone of contempt, evident both on the phone, via text and face to face. I felt judged, the wrath of being an adult and the task of decision making weighing heavily on my already broken heart. At this point, some words felt like burning bits of coal, blown by the hot summer wind and coming to rest on what remained of a tarnished landscape.
Among this experience, I learned a little bit more about “values.” There will always come a time when the underlying values that reinforce your life-story are challenged. And there will always come a time when those same values collide head on with somebody close to you. What I have learnt is that acceptance of seemingly incompatible values, particularly when a meaningful topic surfaces, is actually the first step to tightening a bond between people. What must be remembered is that first, if one (or both) people feel strongly (evidenced by simply ruminating on a topic) about certain subject matter, someone has to establish dialogue on it. Going into it, each person has to remember that they need to bring something to the pool of meaning – nobody should be going in to simply prove their point. Because when its a persons values that foot the dispute, all we can do is try to understand one another. Those pillars are the foundations of every decision we make, and mis-alignment of those pillars can lead to destruction. I saw a clash of values in the flesh, and I had to first move away before I could come to grips with it. In the future I am hoping to be able to used this experience positively, so that in dealing with comparable situations, I will be better.
Finally, it would be remiss of me to mention how extremely lucky we are to have had the help we did, in dealing with all of this. As you can probably imagine, being on one side of Australia whilst all of this was happening on the other side was not easy. We have been fortunate enough to have people who adore our dogs as much as we do, to help make decisions when things were looking really bad and to provide financial assistance at the exact time that it was truly required. These caring and compassionate people have taken time out of their normal lives to drive our little bunnies to and from veterinary appointments, and I think the biggest task of all, for being the carers for each of their recoveries. With a patient that has undergone a spinal surgery, can’t walk and needs 24 hour crate rest, this is particularly burdensome. “Thank you” doesn’t quite cut it for all of this, but I know that somehow we will show our gratitude when the time is right.
With the help of our community network, we raised about $3500 to support the cost of Bangers’ procedures. I cannot express how grateful we are to everybody that donated – either their time, in checking up on either myself or Shane with consoling words, or through the action of giving. If I had been alone in all of this, things may have been very different. So for everything… THANK YOU.