October 31, 2014

Cloning Dogs: Grief Doesn’t Make It Work

my dying dogWould I clone this dog?

In a heartbeat—if it worked. But it doesn’t. At any price.

Cloning our animal companions is in the news these days, stories of people paying upwards of $150,000 to clone their deceased dog or cat.

I just sigh. What are these people thinking?

Actually, I know what they’re thinking. They’re grief-stricken, mourning the loss of a beloved animal companion. Just like anyone mourns the loss of anyone they love. They just want them back.

I mourn this dog: my beloved Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Murphy, died March 8, just two months ago. She was a week shy of 13 years, 8 months. Forever would not have been long enough with Murphy, but she’s gone. And cloning her won’t bring her back: cloning never brings anyone back.

Here’s why.

Scientists are obsessed with replicating genetic material, so they can say they’ve cloned the animal. It’s supposedly an exact genetic duplicate. Well, barring the problems of mutations and other serious effects of cloning (we just aren’t superior to nature), genes are genes. So what? 

Genes are not personalities. And they are not souls.

So the people who clone their animals may get a genetic match, but it is not their dog come back to them. It may look like them, but it won’t be the same personality. It won’t be the same soul. The way life works that isn’t possible, at least scientifically.

Now I’m not going to say to run off to a shelter and adopt a dog, because that’s not how it works, either. I will say that you should find a heart match between you and your next dog, whether you find it from a breeder or a shelter/rescue organization. Sometimes you have to look hard for it.

But you won’t find it in a laboratory.

Here’s the thing people miss in the whole cloning argument: grief and longing create new dogs from dead ones, because we’ve allowed fear to rule us. Love finds a way to move on, to have new relationships, to stay healthy and balanced. Yes, it’s possible to love an entirely different dog just as much as you did the lost dog. I know. I’ve been lucky that way.

With cloning you’re trying to freeze time: understandable, because loss is devastating. But cloning comes from fear: we simply can’t let go and move on. Fear damages us psychologically and emotionally, because we actually step out of life and into memory. Maybe that’s too philosophical, but think about it: as we recreate the past, how are we living right now, and how much does that stifle our future?

To the point: cloning will never duplicate the same dog.

As a professional intuitive I help people explore relationship and business issues, find balance and healing, and talk with all life, including the dead.

When someone dies, they move on. Literally. If they come back, and they can and do, their soul inhabits a new body, because that’s what we do on this planet, we play with different bodies. We can’t create that body, because creation is the soul’s choice, not ours. The personality that accompanies that soul is different: so you may get a physical genetic duplicate, maybe even the same soul willing to come back (science has no control over that), but not the same personality. Cloning doesn’t bring the soul and personality back, just the genes.

Case in point. The soul that was Murphy is a very active soul. It is also the soul of my second dog, Alki. And it’s been the soul in many other bodies, currently and in the past, with me and other people. I’m not just talking reincarnation here, although that’s part of it. I’m talking a soul being in multiple bodies at the same time (or none, because it’s decided to rest).

So, Murphy and Alki are the same soul in two different bodies (well, until Murphy died). The same breed of dog. But strikingly different personalities. Because I’m experienced with this soul’s reincarnations, and with those of others I meet, I know that cloning their physical bodies wouldn’t duplicate their soul or personality.

Think about it. If you consciously chose to come back again in a body, would you choose the exact same body or personality to be in that lifetime?

Yes, we’re into metaphysics here, but that’s what science is trying to do in cloning. Science can create a body, but not a soul or personality.

And believe me, it’s the soul, and especially the personality, we miss when we’re gung ho for cloning.

The only way to get that soul back is to ask it to come back and, if it agrees, to find the body it comes back in. In fact, in my practice, I often see the same soul reincarnating in family groups (not always happily, but that’s another issue), so that isn’t as hard as, well, cloning. Honest.

Fair warning, though: you may want your dog’s soul back, but it may choose a different personality, and even species, meaning it could come back as a cat, if at all. It happens all the time.

So save yourself the money, and the grief. Find a new animal to love, if you’re up to it. A heart match.

Cloning your dog won’t bring your dog back. It might make a nice copy. But it won’t be the original. That only comes around once.

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

 

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 20

my dying dogLandmark days—those days that hold special meaning in our lives—are times to stop and celebrate and remember. They are the days that build families and communities—in multi-species families, they include adoption days, birthdays, breakthroughs, and deaths.

I remember the day I figured out what the book about my life with Murphy was all about. I was so excited I turned on Mickey Hart’s CD, Planet Drum, yelling, “Murphy, I figured it out!”

She came charging into the room and danced with me. As I danced, she leaped up on her hind legs and punched the air, then went down on her front legs to flip her back legs up. We danced together, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel break-dancing, and a clumsy human almost keeping rhythm with a rowdy drummer.

That was a landmark day with Murphy. I will remember another landmark day now: Thursday, March 8, 2012, the day I lost her.

I will also remember it as the day nature itself reached out to honor her, and comfort me.

I will remember the moon. The eagles. And the dragons.

We were up before dawn that day. Murphy needed to go out, so I carried her down the stairs and out onto the front lawn—into the light of the full moon as it started to set across Puget Sound. We stood in the moonlight as it arced over us, a shining river of light racing the water. I was awed and delighted, and as I glanced at Murphy, our eyes met. She faced the moon with me as I raised my arms wide and thanked it for its beauty.

When we came inside I hurried to our sliding doors, raised the blinds, and welcomed the moon inside. Once again I spread my arms wide and smiled at it as I felt its warmth sweep through me and flood our home. I felt the moon had come to greet us and fill us up with love.

About 7 a.m. I made a quick trip to the grocery store. As I pulled up to a Stop sign at the beach two bald eagles soared out of a tree and glided over the water. I watched as the adult eagle gently dipped its talons into Puget Sound and came up with a fish, while the immature following it swooped around it. I had to smile: the parent was teaching its child how to fish. While we see eagles and their offspring a lot at the beach, I had never seen one catch a fish before, and it was comforting. Life goes on.

We were into Day 3 of Murphy’s sudden lethargy. She had abruptly vomited her breakfast on Tuesday morning and had eaten only a few bites since. We’d been to the vet Tuesday afternoon for subcutaneous fluids, and gone back on Wednesday for more, and to learn how to administer them. Her vet and I agreed at that point that she was not just ill, like her recent bronchial infection: it was clear the cancer had spread to her gut. He thought we could support her through the weekend with fluids administered at home. My hope was that she would die quietly in the next few days, and spare me the choice of euthanasia.

I think now that our vet was being optimistic. I talked to him briefly early Thursday, that last afternoon. Murphy was not better, and we agreed on seeing where the next 24-48 hours would take us.

All three of us knew. We just didn’t know when.

As the day progressed I realized that bald eagles were everywhere. In the few minutes I was in the back of our home their shadows swept the hillside. As I sat with Murphy and attended to my other dog, Alki, and Grace the Cat, they’d fly by, low enough for me to see their backs from our second story home. They glided by, and circled the trees at the light house across the street.

At one point I said to Murphy, “The eagles are really busy today.”

Late in the afternoon I leaned down to her and gently caressed her face. Our eyes met, hers dull with fatigue. I bit back tears as I said, “Murphy, I’m taking Alki for a quick walk. If you need to go while I’m not here, you can. It’s all right. If that’s what you need, it’s all right.”

And it was all right. Murphy had dragons with her.

In our strange and weirdly wonderful world, there are beings we don’t know much about. Like dragons—not the evil creatures of lore but magnificent multi-dimensional beings who support the planet and all who live here. There are also jobs we could never imagine, and beings we might think unlikely to do them—one of the most unusual jobs is being an ambassador to the dragon kingdom. It is a role Murphy has filled in multiple lifetimes, and certainly in this one since dragons came back into the world in 2005.

Yes, my beloved, aging Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Murphy, is the ambassador to the dragon kingdom.

I admit, I don’t quite understand what that is. What I did know is that as a dog she didn’t have to worry about human preconceptions, and could simply act as the go-between for the dragons, working at the subconscious dimensional level to lay the groundwork for a new cooperative era between the dragons and, well, everything else on the planet.

I know, awesome, isn’t it? When Murphy first told me about the dragons, I was shocked. “There are jobs like that?” I asked her, awed. Apparently. Clearly other beings knew about her, because a number had come visiting in recent years, anxious to meet Murphy because she was the gateway to the dragons.

They told me the idea was if they got in good with Murphy they’d get in good with the dragons. Except that Murphy had a cantankerous, overprotective mom/friend figure who kicked a lot of them out. But all that’s another story.

This one is about how dragons honor their friends, especially their ambassadors.

The dragons are always with our family, and they were particularly close in the weeks leading up to Murphy’s death. They were working with the new energy system that has come to our family, and with their own, to support Murphy in her dying, to keep her as healthy and vigorous as possible as death approached, and to make the transition as seamless as possible. They were there for us. In the last few weeks, the queen, my friend, had been wrapped around me, protecting my grieving heart, helping me protect Murphy’s. And the king, our friend, Murphy’s special friend, had been kneeling in front of her, opening space for the transition.

The dragons were pressing close those last few days. Closer in the last few hours. I could feel them, and the amazing intuitive I work with, Debrae FireHawk, confirmed that they were there.

Late in the afternoon I left Murphy alone for 15 minutes to take Alki on a quick walk.

As we were heading home, another bald eagle flew towards us. At last I realized that I had seen more eagles that day than ever before. And more—I realized that they had been flying strategically all day, so I couldn’t fail to miss them.

That day, we were surrounded by eagles.

As that thought hit me, I stopped our walk and looked up at the adult bald eagle who was hovering feet above my head, ignoring a persistent gull.

“Have the eagles come for Murphy?” I asked, both awed and fearful.

“No,” the eagle said. “We fly to honor. The dragons are here for Murphy.”

I thanked the eagle for its service and hurried home.

As we walked in the door, Murphy opened her eyes and stared at me. The ancient, loving soul I had known for so many lifetimes, in three different bodies since I was a child in this lifetime, was there looking back at me.

“I see you, beloved,” I said to her. “I love you.”

A few minutes later Murphy’s spleen bled, swelling her belly tight and turning her gums white as she gently panted. The end was upon us.

I picked her up and held her close, weeping.

I called Debrae, who reported that the dragons had indeed come for Murphy. The king had left our side and was circling the building, creating space for Murphy to die.

The eagle was correct: the dragons had come for Murphy.

I decided to help them. After fighting for so many years to give Murphy the best life possible, I now realized that helping her out of it was the best, kindest, most loving thing I could do. Within the hour a good friend was there, and she took us to the vet, who agreed with me. It was time.

I made sure I was the last thing Murphy saw, that even though she was deaf, my voice and heart telling her I loved her was the last thing she heard.

It didn’t matter. She already knew that. She passed instantly, peacefully.

That night, I sat with my crystals, the sturdy columbite I use for clearing and grounding, and my crystal partner, Fallon. I sank deep into the columbite and felt my body release the shock of Murphy’s passing as the columbite settled like a warm blanket around me. I was at peace, quiet, resting.

Then I held Fallon close, my healing partner. I rested, breathing deeply. I slowly felt the pain not so much ease as move aside as my heart gently expanded. With each breath it grew and a warm softness moved in. With awe and gratitude I understood that Murphy was there, settling gently in my heart, filling it with a breadth and depth it did not have before.

My beloved had come home to me, nestling in my heart. She’s safe now, and so am I: the essence of her is never farther away than my next breath.

In the course of my work much of my life with Murphy and my animal family is a public record. At one point, several years ago, when I’d been told that Murphy’s life was ending, I’d held a party to celebrate her and our life together. It was wonderful. And it kept her here for almost 2-1/2 more years.

Her funeral was a different thing entirely.

I madly cleaned house the morning after she died, as much to clear my head as the house itself.

And that afternoon Alki and Grace the Cat and I celebrated Murphy’s life. We held her funeral in our house, where we had all lived together. Just us.

Well, that’s how it started.

I did a space cooperating session, thoroughly clearing our home’s vibrations, and ours. I sent copal through the house, and opened all the windows and doors to send it into the neighborhood. I used incense and smudge sticks and a bubbling fountain and sea salt and lit every light in the house.

I brought Fallon and the crystals into the mix, appreciating their voices raised in song.

And then I turned on Mickey Hart and Planet Drum, loud enough to be heard a block away.

I pounded my thighs as drums. I bounced. I danced. And as I whirled into the center of the room, Murphy came back to dance with me.

“This is fun,” she yelled, laughing, as once again, one last time, my beautiful soul mate danced with me.

With Alki and with Grace the Cat.

And then the others arrived, and we danced with them.

With our home and crystals. With Mount St. Helens and Yellowstone. With that rock-and-rolling goddess of love and fertility who works with us.

And with those raucous dragons. Together, all the beings we loved and worked with came to Murphy’s funeral to celebrate her amazing life.

I know that the community of all life is real, that everything is alive. That day, the community of life joined us to honor Murphy.

Now, I knew the dragons had prepared a reception to honor their departing ambassador. I knew the dragons had two new ambassadors in place: yes, it took two to replace Murphy, a rebel and a goofbucket, Robyn and Alki. We have no idea what we’re doing, but we’ll do it.

And I knew the dragons had honored my request, and Murphy’s, to speed her on her way. Murphy did not go into that gray zone that the dying seem to go to. The instant she died the king of the dragons himself whisked her into his arms and straight to my father’s, who runs what I call The Way Station for Dead Things on the Other Side. That, too, is another story. When I next talked to Murphy, a few hours after she died, she was safe with him, thanking me for everything I’d done, proclaiming it all “Perfect.”

So at Murphy’s funeral we laughed, and cried, and danced.

Murphy is safe now. She’s off on new journeys when she’s not visiting. And we move on. Her body is gone, but her great loving heart is deep inside mine.

It has opened a bottomless well of compassion in me that has already enriched my life and helped my clients.

It has helped me remember.

It reminds me, in the moments when breathing is hard, that Murphy will be there in the next breath, when, of course, she isn’t off doing whatever ambassadors to the dragons do when they’re out of their bodies and planning their next act.

Like creating giant dust clouds on Mars.

Laughing. Working. Loving.

Dancing.

My beloved Murphy.

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 19

my dying dogEuthanasia is murder.

Euthanasia is mercy.

The problem is, how do we bring those two truths together?

Future societies will call us barbaric. They’ll say, yes, they had comfortable lives, but they often ended them poorly. They had everything they needed to live, but they did not know how to die, they couldn’t let go.

They will say we lacked compassion.

They will almost be right.

What will be true is that we quailed at murder. Everything that is good and decent in us is geared towards life and abhors murder. It is good to quail at murder.

But we must not quail at compassion.

The technology we created to sustain us has moved beyond us. It can keep our bodies going well beyond what nature itself can do, and by doing so has thrust us into a twilight world where technology replaces choice. Our fascination with technology makes us think that if we can keep the body going, we should. If it’s possible, we must. No matter what it looks like, for the dying person or those waiting helplessly or fighting relentlessly, we force the body to keep going too far beyond what is physically possible in nature, when the soul need for that to occur is long gone.

My dad wanted to die two years before he actually did. He suffered horribly from rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease, yet no matter what he willed, his body kept going. In the last few weeks of his life I wanted to help him die and I couldn’t: I wasn’t brave enough to go to jail for euthanizing my father, even if I could figure out how to do that.

The only thing I could do in the end was act as his medical power of attorney—I stood at the door of his room in the nursing home and turned away food and water, because that’s what he wanted. Eventually, someone from the area’s fledgling hospice organization showed up to stand beside me.

My dad knew what dying without help would look like: he also knew he was dying and welcomed it. The one thing I could do for him at the end was take away time: because I honored his refusal of food and water he died a bit earlier than he would have with continued intervention.

And intervention seems to be what we are all about as a society: 80 percent of our medical care dollars are spent in the last few months of life, fighting death when there is no hope for the body to continue. Making people—and animals—suffer because we simply can’t let go (and, true, sometimes they can’t let go themselves). Stripping dignity from them and from the survivors.

Making death something to fear.

We think death is evil and should be fought at all costs, when death is part of life and needs to be honored as what it really is: the exit of a soul from that body.

When we should die is the question we must address. That brings up compassion.

When the body is impossibly broken, from injury or disease or simply old age, what should we do?

At some point we need to move beyond fixing to supporting the dying process.

We need to make dying easier. Honor it. Celebrate it. Prepare the community for it. Prepare ourselves for it.

We need to prepare the dying—and the survivors—for wise choices. We need to promote values over intensive and expensive medical care that prolong the agony. Values that allow grief and compassion to kindly say farewell.

Agony has no point. Pain and suffering have no point. I know. I’ve been disabled for over 20 years. I know what pain and suffering do to the body—and the soul.

I refuse pain and disability. There is no point. None.

Our bodies—all bodies—are programmed to strive to survive. That’s how species continue. But when is enough just plain enough?

My beloved dog, Murphy, was a week shy of 13 years and 8 months when she died. She had some severe early health issues, and I worried constantly about her dying, about having to euthanize her. Why? Because I had euthanized my beloved dog, Maggie, too soon.

Without all the information I needed. Without her permission.

Because, for Maggie, euthanasia was murder prompted by exhaustion and confusion. I carried the grief and guilt of that for years.

Grace the Cat guards her sister's dreams

In the weeks that Murphy was dying from splenic cancer, we talked about her dying. She wanted to go on her own: she believed it was easier for her to go through even a protracted, painful death than for me to once more be derailed by grief and guilt. I had work to do, and no time to waste, she said. So don’t euthanize her. She’d get through it.

I paid even more attention to this issue in the last year, as more and more people came to me and my crystal partner, Fallon, to talk about, and with, dying and deceased loved ones. Over the years, too, I’ve watched the hospice movement grow and now include animals, because people are beginning to value their animal companions as family members. To consider honoring choice.

Here’s what I know.

Hospice should be about the dying person, first and foremost. It should also support the family, including caregivers. What hospice does should be in line with what the dying person and the family want. Not what the hospice workers think or want, or the doctors or nurses or anyone else. Loading the dying up with drugs to mask the pain is cruel: it confuses the brain and the choice, and drags out the process. But at least hospice is out there, and honest, loving people are working through the details.

After all, our society hasn’t been open to dying since technology stole reason from us.

Sometimes death comes upon us unexpectedly, and we have no choice but to accept. I am glad that, in Murphy’s case, I knew death was coming, and we had time to prepare.

We had time to decide how it would look: Murphy was going to die on her own, without help.

I was not going to murder her.

Funny how things work out.

Murphy was right in that her body was gradually shutting down: in her last few days it was clear she really did have cancer, and that it had spread to her gut. She was tired and exhausted, and gradually things shut down.

She wanted to die on her own, so I honored that process.

A splenic tumor can take your dog in several ways: they can just die, as the heart and body give out, or the tumor can rupture, and death is horrible.

In the end, I saw the tumor massively bleed. Murphy got to her feet and stood there, head hanging, as her belly became hard and distended with blood and her gums paled.

I knew her end was upon us. It could be hours yet, but it was there, and could no longer be denied. Would it be horrible, or would she just die peacefully?

That’s when I knew our answer.

Murphy was sparing me the guilt of euthanasia, bravely meeting what could eventually be every bit the horrible death people warned me about.

And I was being selfish in letting her do that.

After all that we had been through together, I was being selfish. That meant I didn’t love enough.

Choice is a community action: equality and individual choice matter, but in the end we have to compromise. It was clear that there was no hope, that Murphy had walked the mystery of death far enough to see the end. Letting her walk into suffering was inhumane.

As tears streamed down my face, I picked up my beautiful girl and said, “Murphy, I love you, and this is enough. It’s over.” I thanked her, too, for allowing me to accompany her on her journey, for living long and well, for helping me to see that helping her die was the last best thing I could do for her. For our family. For me.

The episode was long past when we arrived at the vet’s: she had perked up enough to weakly greet the friends who came to say goodbye and drive us. But I was not going to let Murphy suffer another episode, not even the possibility of one.

Because I was no longer selfish.

Allowing someone to suffer so you don’t have to just creates suffering all around. And pain and disability win. Fear wins.

My grieving, loving heart couldn’t tolerate that. Hers didn’t have to.

Compassion won that day. Love won.

Yes, euthanasia is murder.

My dad would have welcomed euthanasia, but he didn’t have that choice.

In the end, Murphy welcomed it as well, and we were both glad for it.

I quailed at murder, yes. I am glad I did.

But I did not quail at compassion.

I did not quail at mercy.

When the future judges us, as they will, I hope they find that we, or if not us, our children, did finally understand that technology has its limits, that suffering and pain are not acceptable, that death is to be honored and respected, and welcomed when all hope is lost.

That we learned mercy and compassion.

That we made euthanasia what it really is: love sorely tried, and triumphant.

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 18

my dying dogAs my beloved dog, Murphy, and I walked the mystery together—her dying and her death—I marveled at how much my life had changed in the nearly 14 years we shared.

I used to think people like I am today were impossibly woo-wooey. Were crystal-loving, freakily dressed hippies who believed in weird mystical things, like reincarnation and talking to dead people and being psychic.

Then I became one of those people.

Thank goodness.

In the years Murphy and I were together I stumbled upon animal communication and experimented on Murphy. I learned that there was more going on in an animal’s mind than I ever realized. And I put that knowledge to good use: I learned to talk with other beings, and now I do that for a living.

And when push comes to shove, I hire other people to talk to other beings for me. I call those people intuitives. They call themselves animal communicators, or intuitives, or psychics, or mediums.

The real ones are worth more than their weight in gold.

The one I know the best, and trust from long years of working with her, is Debrae FireHawk.

When you work as an intuitive you’re always dealing with people looking at you the way I used to look at people like me: like they just don’t get us and find us weird, out-of-touch, and maybe just a bit scary. So it’s great to hire an intuitive and find out what they say is going on with you, or around you. To be accepted for who and what you are and tap into their unique strength—because just like doctors or carpenters, each intuitive has a special way of doing their work.

Which is a long way of saying I’m comfortable with Debrae. I trust her. She’s excellent at her work. She has a loving, open heart. And she’s funny.

It was a no-brainer for me to turn to her for support as Murphy journeyed toward death.

Here’s why you should trust an intuitive when you’re on that journey (if not before).

By choice, determination, and innate talent, intuitives can help us get outside the trappings of modern civilization and into our hearts and souls. Then can help us see and understand things we don’t see as well on our own—because they’ve developed their skill, like we’ve developed our own, whatever our skill is.

They can help us see the living world around us on its own level—without the arrogant bullshit of modern science, with the humility of knowing our place as equals with all life, whatever that life is. As humans in a world that is bigger and stranger than anything we could imagine or want.

It’s wonderful to work with an intuitive for any life event, from personal to business situations.

When your soul mate is dying, it’s not just wonderful: it’s necessary.

Losing a loved one, whether human or animal, is painful and confusing and exhausting. You can and must be rational, and organized, and sometimes shut off from your feelings so you can function. You can and must grieve your dying loved one.

It helps if you can talk with them. And share your feelings. And hear theirs.

With an intuitive, you can.

Debrae helped me talk with Murphy, in the weeks before she died and in the days afterwards. It allowed me to step back and be not just the client but the grieving soul mate who needed to understand and share this last journey, to make careful decisions, to explore the mystery of death. To cry.

It allowed me and Murphy to hear each other, to share our deepest fears and secret thoughts, to wrap love around us more securely and deeply than would have ever been possible if we could not hear each other.

I have lost many loved ones over the years. This is the first one I lost that I could talk to about the process mind to mind, heart to heart. And have another human there to hear it correctly, clearly. With compassion, warmth, and humility.

To be there for me, and for Murphy, as we decided how we would make this last journey together. As we said goodbye.

Yes, you can say goodbye to a dying animal companion without an intuitive by your side.

But don’t.

You’ll miss the opportunity to learn what your animal wants in its last days: how it wants it to look, and why.

You’ll miss the chance to tell it what is going on, and why.

You’ll miss the chance to grieve together, to say the things we would say to a human who could hear and understand and tell us what they’re feeling.

You’ll miss the chance to say goodbye on a level so intensely personal it will brighten all the days of your life, and your family’s.

You’ll miss some of the mystery of life, some of the grace and glory of being fully present in your life, and in the life of those you love.

And your animals will miss that with you.

When we love animals, we know that our life with them will probably end much sooner than it does with other humans. It makes us wonder why we continue to open ourselves to the pain of loss by bringing other animals into our lives. To lose.

When you work with an intuitive, you’ll know why you do it—because love is worth it.

And you’ll be able to hear your animal tell you the same thing.

Love is worth it.

Hear it for yourself.

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 17

my dying dogWhere does choice take us when we live multi-species family lives?

When I learned my beloved dog, Murphy, most likely had splenic cancer, I knew that our long journey together was ending.

You don’t beat splenic cancer, you just delay the inevitable, and not usually for very long.

The problem is, when you find it early, like we did, you don’t have many symptoms: what took us to the vet that day, Dec. 26, 2011, was a cough that turned out to be bronchitis complicated by anemia and an infection. An X-ray revealed a splenic tumor.

The problem is, you don’t know if these tumors are cancer until you take them out. If it was cancer, it wouldn’t matter, because that cancer was aggressive and insidious: all you get is a bit of time, and then only if your dog survives the surgery and you add chemo to the mix.

What I did know is that the tumor was most likely growing, so if it wasn’t cancer, I was killing her by not removing it.

We talked to four vets: all believed it was cancer. Two vets were telling me to operate. The surgeon was leaving it to me, calling a person who refused surgery for their beloved animal “compassionate.” Our vet of choice was hesitant, insisting she was not an immediate candidate for surgery because of underlying bronchitis, complicated by arthritis, age, and heart issues.

Most important, Murphy was telling me not to operate.

Murphy and I had walked a long, sometimes difficult journey together: we both had health issues, we’d both largely recovered from them, and we were both nearly 14 years older than when we first met.

We’d had a lot of fun, met a lot of challenges, lived a great life together.

A life that was clearly ending.

We were at a crossroads. How would that life end?

I talked with Murphy about choice. Our life together had always been one of choice. I made particularly sure about this one: we hired Debrae FireHawk to talk with us. A loving, sharp intuitive, she knew us both quite well and was brave enough to walk this road with us.

So we talked with Debrae, and we talked alone together. The answers were the same. Murphy did not want surgery. I’d saved her life already, which was true, she’d had a few illnesses that resulted in major surgical bills, but they were all things that could be fixed.

I saw to it that they were. I knew very well that most people would not have done the things I did for Murphy. I did not understand why, only that the human-animal bond meant something else to them.

But this thing that was wrong wasn’t fixable. We could only delay the inevitable. If it was cancer.

Murphy was clear about what she thought, both when we talked with Debrae and when we talked alone. Murphy believed that she was simply at the end of her life: her body was slowly breaking down, getting weaker with age. She believed we would have more time together if we did not operate on her: she believed the surgery would most likely kill her, or cause her pain and suffering for some of the few weeks she had left.

I was very comfortable honoring her decision to not have surgery.

Until I started to doubt.

It seemed too easy: she didn’t want surgery, so we wouldn’t do it, but was that really the right thing?

What about fear? Major surgery scares all of us, and Murphy had been through a number of them.

Was she just afraid? Was she being fatalistic?

Was I passing the buck?

Here’s the thing. I am a professional intuitive. I talk with things: with animals, with dead people and animals, with buildings and volcanoes and, well, with just about anything. I can do that because I look at all life as being equal, and equality means free choice and responsibility, soul and consciousness.

I believed that Murphy could and should choose how she wanted her life to end.

But then I started thinking.

Was she making the right decision? Was I? When she was gone, would I regret not trying to save her?

If she didn’t have cancer, I was killing her by not removing a benign tumor that would absolutely grow and rupture and kill her.

What was I going to do?

Murphy and I talked about that. Her answer was profound, loving, right.

She said I had to decide for myself whether she was having surgery.

Her concern was what would happen to me afterwards. She knew how deeply I regretted losing my beloved English Cocker, Maggie. I know I euthanized Maggie too early, before she was ready, before we really knew what was wrong with her. I grieved that decision so deeply I couldn’t bear the thought of having another dog for 10 years.

Murphy said I had work to do, and she didn’t want it complicated by my grieving over making the wrong decision for her.

She was right. I had to think through what was happening. Figure out how I could live with the decision I made for the end of Murphy’s life. The decision we’d make together.

Free choice is essential to our growth as citizens of the planet. It’s also essential to family lives. And in the case of family lives, it comes down to what is best for the family after we consider what is best for the family member who is dying.

In this situation we didn’t have much time to spare. There just isn’t time when you’re dealing with this kind of tumor. So we set a date with Debrae, and I had 48 hours to decide what the right choice was for me.

For us.

I had two days to decide how Murphy was going to die.

I spent a lot of time in the bathtub those two days. Soaking. Thinking. Crying. Being rational and being angry. Being grateful I’d had such a wonderful life with Murphy. Grieving its coming end. Fearing my life without my soul mate. Resigning myself to whatever was the right choice.

And then I knew what the answer was.

When it was time to talk with Debrae I was calm and clear. I knew exactly where I was coming from: pain and disability.

My life has not been ordinary, not because as an intuitive I talk with things that most people don’t think can speak, but because I have lived most of my adult life handicapped and in pain. For over 15 years I was too ill to work at all, and lived mostly as a hermit. That is, in fact, how I learned to talk with things: I simply stepped out of normal human time.

I know how much pain and disability made my life uncomfortable, and often downright miserable. I have been disabled so long I don’t even comprehend life without pain. It’s exhausting and frustrating. I’m lucky I have a sense of humor.

I know that if I had splenic cancer my answer would be no surgery. I would want to feel as well as I could, and be as mobile and fun-loving as I could, for as long as possible.

That precluded surgery.

So when we sat down with Debrae, I saw Murphy waiting patiently for my answer: would we operate or not? Waiting with her were her guides, and my guides, those invisible beings some people call spiritual guides. And Grey, my planetary guide. And Alki, my second dog, and Grace the Cat. And Mount St. Helens, and my car.  And the dragons, yes, real dragons, the king and queen of the dragon kingdom, for whom Murphy was an honored ambassador. Yes, ambassador.

I told Murphy how much I loved her. How a hundred million years with her would not be enough. How much I appreciated her sharing her life with me. How sorry I was that she was dying. How much I would miss her.

We cried together, again.

And then I asked her about the arthritis she’d suffered with for 2-1/2 years. Yes, it was controlled by that wonderful drug, Rimadyl, so she was getting along quite well, although she was slower and stiffer and always a bit uncomfortable. Yes, she’d chase her brother around the garage, but her life was definitely compromised by pain and disability. She was happy and fun-loving. And hurting.

I asked her, “Murphy, tell me how much the Rimadyl is helping with the arthritis pain?”

She said, “It takes about 50 percent of the pain away.”

That was kind of what I suspected, watching her.

I said, “Murphy, I love you so much, and that’s our answer. I won’t ask you to do surgery, to have more pain and disability, because it’s already enough. It’s the arthritis I’m saying ‘No’ to. It’s enough. I don’t want you to hurt any more. You want to walk the mystery, to be fully in the moment with death, and I will walk it with you. We won’t complicate that with surgery. Is that okay with you?”

And what did she say?

“Yes. Thank you. Thank you for making sure I wasn’t handicapped during my life.”

That stunned me. Murphy thanked me for making sure she led a comfortable life.

“You saved my life a long time ago,” she said.

Yes I had, and she had saved mine.

With that we were both comfortable with our decision. We had each come to our own conclusion about what the end of her life would look like. We would see it through together, with her as fit and strong as we could make her.

Without surgery. With love. As bravely as possible. Not afraid to cry or grieve.

And not afraid to live.

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 16

my dying dogHow do we walk that last mystery of life with our beloved animal companions? How does the human-animal bond end?

I write this as our mystery is over: I lost my dying dog, my beloved Murphy, on March 8, 2012. I continue with our diary because her life ran out before our story did, and our story matters. We lived it passionately and clearly: it is helping others deal with their own impending mysteries.

Murphy had splenic cancer: at least we’re pretty sure she did. On Dec. 26, 2011, I took her to the vet for a slight cough: that led to a diagnosis of bronchitis and anemia and infection, and finally to splenic cancer. A radiologist confirmed it on ultrasound, and on January 12, 2012, a surgical specialist in Seattle told me she was pretty certain it was cancer.

Splenic cancer. You don’t beat this cancer. Ever. You can only delay it. The specialist figured it had only been there a month (about the time I noticed a subtle difference in what I thought was progressing arthritis). It is unusual to find it before a crisis develops, but the end result is the same.

If it was cancer, Murphy would live six months with surgery and chemo, three months without.

If it wasn’t cancer (and three vets were now sure it was), it was still growing and would kill her if it wasn’t removed. The surgery itself might kill her.

How do you make these choices?

What in hell do you do?

Get the Facts

Some people say they don’t want to know if their beloved animal is dying.

I say my definition of a multi-species family is you’re lucky if you get to know what you’re dealing with. In Murphy’s case, the vets were pretty sure it was cancer, an aggressive cancer you never beat.

Our best advice here: sit down, write a list of questions, and fill in the blanks. Take it all to a trusted vet and go over it in detail.

I looked at the X-ray, read the report, participated in the actual ultrasound, had Murphy examined by a surgical specialist who had a lot of experience with it.

We looked hard at Murphy: at 13-1/2 she was old and arthritic, although mostly comfortable on Rimadyl. She had bronchitis, heart arrhythmia, and a mild heart murmur.

Surgery was possible but risky. She’d need several days in intensive care and about 10 days recovering before she could walk comfortably. We had stairs to negotiate and I am handicapped: I would simply not be able to provide her the level of care she’d need, so we’d have to hire help.

All possible, but was it necessary? Should we do it? Why or why not?

Murphy and I had a years-old deal: we’d come together in this lifetime, in a safe place, to heal. We’d done that. I’d promised her I wouldn’t ask her to do any more. This seemed like too much: for her and for us. But I’d go with her decision.

It wasn’t that easy, of course, because her decision was this: she believed her body was gradually breaking down, that she was dying anyway, and she believed she’d have more time if we did not operate.

What did the vets think?

Well, that’s part of the blessing, and the curse, isn’t it?

Get the Vet

We parted ways with our long-time vet because she insisted we do things her way.

“You tell the vet you want as much time with her as possible,” she said. Operate and remove it and do chemo.

What I heard: “Torture your dog to keep her with you a few months longer.”

What was really meant: “We force them to stay for our sake, disregarding the quality of their lives, and I the vet am the boss and you do what I say.”

So, bottom line: make sure you and your vet are on the same page. We hadn’t seen the vet we ended up with in years. He was there for us: calm, precise, balanced. He didn’t tell me what to do. He told me what it would look like, and left the decision to us: to me and Murphy. Where it belonged.

What do you do? Make sure you have a vet whose mindset matches yours. Stay informed. Run from anyone who insists that you should do what they want. It’s not their family: it’s yours.

Paternalism should die before we do.

Grace the Cat guards her sister's dreams

Get Support

Tell your friends and family what’s going on. You will end up making new friends and losing old ones. Both are fine. Death is part of living: if anyone in your circle can’t handle it, they can’t handle life. You don’t need them.

Ask for help. I knew there might be problems if Murphy went into crisis in the middle of the night and we needed help to get to the ER. Asking someone to be available to drive you is a big deal: emotionally and physically. Think about who in your circle could possibly help. Ask, but be clear that it’s strictly up to them, and make no judgments on who agrees, who ignores you, and who says no. And why. It’s a growth process all around.

Backup helps. I wouldn’t leave Murphy for more than a few hours those last 2-1/2 months: with a splenic tumor, a crisis could occur in an hour (ultimately, it did). Some people called and wanted to stay with the kids for a few hours, to give me a break. Excellent.

Remember: people are grieving with you, in their own way. Let them help. Let them bow out. Keep the lines open.

I am grateful for everyone who did or did not show up for us. I found a new level of community in the process.

How will you find yours?

Chart Your Course

I knew what we were facing. I focused on comfort and care. We used acupuncture and herbs (thank you, Darla Rewers, DVM, for greeting Murphy so cheerfully, picking up where we’d dropped off a few years before, and helping us with acupuncture, holistic remedies, and loving advice) and the good food and medications we were already using.

I looked at dying naturally and at euthanasia, and what the cancer would actually do to her.

I looked at hospice alternatives for animals and created my own: after all, I was not a stranger to death.

I was grateful that I’d spent so much time over the years learning about veterinary medicine and thinking about creating families with animals: I knew what I wanted my family life to look like, and I knew what my animals wanted it to be like.

I discussed this all with Murphy. And the rest of the family: Alki, my Cavalier boy, and Grace the Cat.

And then we lived our lives together: we walked the mystery, step by step.

We loved.

So here’s what you do: if you’re lucky enough to know the end is coming, find out as much as you can about what it will look like, and figure out how you can live through it so the only regret you have at the end is that you ran out of time. You’re the only one who knows what that will look like to you.

If you don’t know it’s happening, here’s what you do: you stop right now and make sure each day is one you’re grateful for. Live a full life with your animal family. There is no other way.

Hire an Intuitive

I am an intuitive: people pay me and my crystal partner, Fallon, to talk to things with them.

I was smart enough to hire someone else to talk with us.

That means I had someone talk with Murphy and with me regularly throughout the process. I could sit back and be the client: I could hear what Murphy thought and felt, and she could hear me, and a compassionate, objective, loving intuitive could be the bridge between us.

That intuitive is Debrae FireHawk. In the process she relived the loss of her own dog, which helped her as well.

With that support Murphy and I said goodbye to each other. We grieved losing each other. We cried. We accepted. At some point, she became excited about the new life she was moving towards, a bittersweet moment for me.

And then she died.

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 15

my dying dogHow civilized are we, really?

As things stand in our society, grief is a reality largely reserved for humans. By humans.

My grief is not. Neither is my family’s.

I was at an expo last weekend in Portland, a place where people come together to celebrate and explore metaphysics, from crystals to healing arts to intuitive consultations. I met people who don’t put the kinds of limits on mindset that a large part of our society does. People whose minds are open to the possibility that there is more out there than human.

And that it is worthwhile.

I was there with my crystal partner, Fallon, doing intuitive consultations and teaching a workshop on space clearing, what I call Space CooperatingSM.

In my work I talk about how we bridge paradigms by acknowledging that the world isn’t all about humans, but about all life together. The mindset that really works is the mindset that acknowledges that humans and all life are equals: that everything on our planet is alive, has a soul, is conscious, and has responsibility and free choice.

All life. From humans to animals to trees and rocks and volcanoes and weather systems.

Something happened at the expo last weekend.

Someone who works professionally as an intuitive, as I do, looked over at me, met my eyes, and immediately came over to me. Her face changed in the moment our eyes met. Simple human curiosity changed to loving compassion.

She came up to me and said. “You’ve recently lost your soul mate. I’m sorry for you.”

I felt my grief well up. Yes, I had just lost my soul mate, my beloved dog, Murphy. A complete stranger, an intuitive, had seen the loss written on me and offered condolences. When told, it didn’t matter to her that it was my dog I’d lost: what she acknowledged was how profound the loss was to me. Her understanding and compassion were based on a love of all life.

Somehow we humans are growing as a species. When I lost my beloved dog, Maggie, so many years ago, my family ridiculed my grief. I had to get on a plane and go visit friends who loved and honored her.

This time, love and support have come from everywhere: from long-time friends to new ones, from clients to strangers, in phone calls and emails and cards and gifts and visits. Complete strangers who find my blog and who are living the human-animal bond with animals as family members. Some of them are people who are struggling with their own loss, and finding community in grief.

This time, people understand.

Somewhat.

Truth is, some of the response have bewildered me. People who are long-time friends who haven’t bothered to call. People who are new friends who have, whose simple acceptance has given my grieving heart, and my family’s, space to try to find a new rhythm.

There are people who don’t understand and don’t try. The people I was with the day that I took Murphy to the vet and watched as a radiologist carefully examined her and showed me, on the ultrasound, what was going to kill my beloved. The day I learned that the mass they’d seen on an x-ray was most likely splenic cancer. The day I learned our days were numbered.

That was the day I was going through the motions of being a supportive friend and businesswoman, listening to two people bemoan their difficulties and annoyances and wondering what I was doing there. The day I was thinking of my family’s future, and trying to think plain thoughts about how I’d find someone to drive me and my dog to the ER in the middle of the night if Murphy went into crisis and had to be euthanized, and I might not be able to drive us.

The day both women turned to me and shouted, “Don’t call me for a dog.”

Truth is, it never occurred to me to consider either of them as potential help. I was simply brainstorming out loud.

The vehement response is still with me. What were they so afraid of that they had to shout it at me? What was lacking in them that they couldn’t simply say, “I’m sorry for you”?

Yes, in many ways we’ve matured as a society. Today, a perfect stranger can see grief on a stranger’s face and understand that losing an animal soul mate is every bit as devastating as losing a human one.

It’s just not always as socially acceptable.

I already knew that, as it did not occur to me to ask either of these people to help me, but respected their cool business heads enough to see what logical ideas would come to them as I grappled with the sure knowledge, only hours old, that my last days with Murphy were upon me. Nevertheless, their cold hostility shocked me, and still does.

I am grateful that this story shocks others who hear it. That what resonates with others is that, as advanced as our society supposedly is, we still aren’t really there.

We still don’t see all life as equal to humans.

Or that grief is not reserved for humans.

My surviving dog, Alki, and Grace the Cat grieve. I grieve. Others grieve with us. And some absolutely do not.

I wonder what that means. The people who refused to help when help wasn’t requested: were they just not ‘animal people,’ or were they just afraid to acknowledge grief?

Maybe they thought death would rub off on them.

Maybe animals aren’t good enough. After all, I’m expected to care about their children and spouses, and I do. I care about all life. I care about their families. They just did not care about mine.

Some few others do care.

We are the ones who will make a difference in the world. We live compassion. We live love. We can see what life with a soul mate can be like, whatever body it is in.

And what death does to us.

Grief is universal. It should unite us. Civilize us. Beyond species.

Will it?

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

Daily Rituals with Our Animals: Saving the World One Family at a Time, Update 3-2012

I first published this article on January 17, 2011. On March 8, 2012, the story changed: that was the day I lost my beloved Cavalier, Murphy. In the coming days and weeks I will have much to say about grief, dying, death, and loss, but for now, perhaps this says it best. Twice a day I miss Murphy the most: the times when it’s achingly clear that our daily family ritual is over, because Murphy is gone. The bed is now bigger, my heart is emptier, Alki is a depressed single dog and Grace the Cat prowls restlessly. Several weeks later we are still feeling our way through new rituals: Alki is beginning to like getting his ears rubbed, but he doesn’t snuggle as long or deeply as Murphy did; when he’s ready to get up he’s ready, although he’ll wait patiently for me to move. Grace the Cat comes up several times, early in the morning, both seeking and giving comfort, always in search of a gentle pet and a warm snuggle.

We are grieving, yet one part of me is watching this process and wondering: when will we know when a new ritual is in place? What will our new daily life look like when a new routine spreads itself across our morning greetings, and our evening good nights? How does grief change our landscape? How does it enrich our lives? We’re learning. We’re patient. We’re waiting. We’re wondering: how do you grieve, and what does it teach you about compassion, community, rebuilding a shattered family, daring to love again?

For now, this is what I know: Murphy’s ashes sit in a tin can from the crematory. I’ve covered it in her favorite blue fleece jacket, the jacket she would wear six months out of the year, inside and out. On top of that is her favorite harness: the blue harness she chose and that she hasn’t worn in two years because she needed a neoprene harness to make life with arthritis more comfortable for her. She loved both the jacket and the harness, and it is a bit of comfort to see them so close to her. Each morning I place my hand gently on her jacket, remembering. Each night I do the same. Does it feel better? No, but it does feel right. For now. The one thing we can do for our beloved animals in death is to remember and honor them in simple ways. I wonder, though, who will remember us when we’re gone?

We start and end the day at our house the same way: in a big pile on the bed while I tell my kids, one by one, with many hugs, how much I love them. And why. Every day. Every night. And I get lots of hugs and kisses in return.

What astounds me is that this astounds other people, who say they don’t even do this with their human families, let alone their animals.

Let alone their animals?

No daily rituals?

I have the world’s best family. They are two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Murphy and Alki, and Grace the Cat. I am the only human here (honestly, I can’t imagine a man I could put up with for 20 minutes who could put up with me for 10). I have extended family and friends I cherish, but the day-to-day life at our house comes down to us (and my crystal partner, Fallon, and the rest of the Alchemy West Committee, but I digress).

In the morning, when we’re finally awake, I roll over on my back and call my kids. We start with the eldest and work down. Murphy flops down beside me, her face snuggled into my neck, while I gently massage her back, and rub her ears, which makes her grunt appreciatively. When she’s ready, she gets up and Alki takes her place.

Alki, my tricolor Cavalier, snuggles up, but what he really likes is a neck and chest rub. As quickly as he deems appropriate he will sit up, turn sideways so his butt is planted at my hip, tuck his front paws to his chest, and flop over backwards across my abdomen (where my bladder also resides). Somehow he’s always perfectly aligned, so I don’t even have to move my arm, just scratch.

Our Beloved Murphy: July 16, 1998 - March 8, 2012

I make sure I tell each of them how much I love them, how great the morning is, and what we have planned for the day. Then it’s up and at ‘em.

At night everyone gets a treat before our evening gathering. Then Murphy cuddles in my lap while I pet her and tell her how much I adore her, how happy I am that we’re together, how she’s the best girl dog in the universe, and we review the day and tomorrow’s plans.

Alki’s turn is usually a deep massage, which he loves. Everything else is the same, except he’s the best boy dog in the universe.

It’s then Grace the Cat’s turn. She purrs while getting petted, then paws me and climbs on my shoulder to lick my head (I assume this is a cat thing). She hears the same things, except she’s the best cat in the universe (because she’s the only cat we don’t have to divide it by sex).

I have very little time to read in bed.

Every morning I greet the day and my kids with a smile and words of praise. Every night we end the day with praise and thanks for the day just ended. They greet me back.

The truth? Some days I adore my kids more than other days, which is exactly how they feel about me. Some days I adore more than other days. But I have my kids, and they have me. And we have our days, and nights.

Grace the Cat guards her sister’s dreams

We are a family. In its simplicity and routine we have found our way to love, and we use these rituals to deepen it. If we somehow skip them I feel incomplete, and by the looks of them, so do my kids.

When I hear that other families don’t do this, I wonder how their days, and family lives, really work. Do they just zip by, without remark, or appreciation? Does it matter?

I think it does. Could we change the world by doing this one simple thing—by beginning and ending our days with love and peace and respect for our families, regardless of the bodies they live in?

I say yes. I say we save the world, one family at a time, by honoring our families, day and night.

Simple daily rituals. It’s a start.

What are your rituals? What do they mean to you?

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 14

Murphy Brown Fritz
July 16, 1998 – March 8, 2012
 
Beloved companion
Devoted sister
Terror of squeaky toys
Friend to the universe

AMBASSADOR TO THE DRAGON KINGDOM

 

Our hearts are broken. We have lost our beloved Murphy. Our thanks to the wonderful people who have both honored Murphy and tried to ease our grief with kind thoughts, emails, phone calls, visits, cards, gifts, hugs, food, and loving support that last day. When we needed community, it was there, and continues to be. My friend, Sue: thank you for being there those last two months, for sitting with my beautiful family when I had to be out, knowing we might have to meet at the ER. My particular thanks to Debrae FireHawk, the intuitive I turn to: Debrae was there for us for two months, and in the days that followed. I’m a writer, and I have only two words for the blessing of our wonderful community: thank you.

Murphy taught me how to be a human, and I taught her how to be a dog. We just never did anything the normal way. Somehow, that worked for us: we journeyed to wellness together and stepped into our work in the world. Our relationship helped me to create and write about a new way of living the human-animal bond: as a multi-species family. And it helped me forge new ways of connecting with all life as an intuitive. It helped Murphy step into her role as ambassador to the dragon kingdom, a job no one knew existed, and that has enriched the planet.

Grace the Cat guards her sister's dreams

I’m glad I knew she was dying: we had two months to grieve together, to tell each other how sad we were, to get excited about her upcoming new work in the dimensional realms. She thanked me for saving her life so many years ago, for making sure she wasn’t handicapped, and had a long, healthy, fun life. I thanked her for loving me, and Alki, and Grace the Cat, and gleefully sharing her brilliant life with us.

After years of working on it, I can at last say that her book is almost done. Murphy’s Tales: How Saving My Dog’s Life Saved Mine, will be ready this summer.

In the coming weeks I’ll have more to say: about the great gifts that nature brought us on Murphy’s last day; about euthanasia; about our responsibility to our animal companions; about choice and life and death in a multi-species family; about why we absolutely must re-examine long-held animal care beliefs like early spay/neuter and the role of animal welfare agencies. While the title, ”My Dog Is Dying,” no longer fits, the story isn’t over, because I literally ran out of time to tell it while Murphy was with us. However, I’ve realized that multi-species families need and want to discuss the dying process, to share their grief, to participate in community even if it’s painful. I also believe that talking about choice, about how we come to the choices we made in our community, and what happens and how we grieve, and why, will help others go through this process, or complete the one they’re in.

I will finish the series because stories matter: love matters. It will have to wait a bit, though. For now grief has overwhelmed me and my family, and we are simply together, as we should be.

My work in and view of the world, my sense of humor and awe at the universe, my business and my life, my openly loving and grieving heart, were, and are, enriched by this amazing dog.

I am grateful. And undone.

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 13

my dying dogSo here we are, at Part 4 of a four-part series on dying dogs and veterinarians. Like life, the series hasn’t been quite linear, so you can find the other parts in this diary here: Entry 6, #1, where we lose our long-time vet; Entry 8, #2, where we meet up again with a former vet; and Entry 10, #3, where we meet the radiologist.

Today, we’re at diagnosis and solutions, with a consult with a veterinary surgeon.

The Vet and the Radiologist

I’d taken Murphy straight to Dr. Glenn Johnson at the West Seattle Animal Hospital on Monday, Dec. 26, 2011. I know most people wouldn’t have taken their dog in for coughing four times in the morning and at night, but I admit to being overprotective and proactive, and I’m proud of it (it is, however, expensive). Blood tests and a U/A revealed an infection, and we put her on antibiotics. On Wednesday, I was still convinced she needed an x-ray because I’m an intuitive, right, and I was convinced it was her heart (and I didn’t look any deeper than that, since we’d discovered a mild heart murmur in October).

Dr. Johnson humored me, partly, he admits, because of my stories of Cavaliers suddenly presenting with serious heart disease that started with a mild cough. But I was wrong: Murphy had a splenic tumor. A follow-up discussion with him and a look at an x-ray convinced me to order an ultrasound to be completely certain, so Murphy and I could figure out what to do.

I admit, I had lost my beloved English Cocker, Maggie, to a sudden illness and to exhaustion: mine. I had felt guilty for years about what I decided was a precipitated death: I believed I had given up on her without trying very hard to help, even though it was back in 1986 and veterinary care in the backwoods wasn’t anything like it is today. Still. I was determined to do right by Murphy.

We would figure it out step by step, I decided.

The radiologist made a special trip to the clinic to do Murphy’s ultrasound. He was determined to save her, convinced from the x-ray that it was cancer and determined to give her the best chance of surviving.

Except our dogs do not survive hemangiosarcoma. Ever.

I appreciated the irony. I had left the West Seattle Animal Hospital when Murphy was a young dog because of an issue over an ultrasound, and now we were back, and a radiologist and the clinic were turning Murphy’s care into a mission.

Awesome.

They were very clear. The radiologist, Lee Yannik, DVM, was sure she had a splenic tumor that was cancer, but everything else, including her heart, was fine. He wanted me to operate on her to give her the longest life possible. Dr. Johnson hesitated because of her age and underlying health issues: arthritis, bronchitis, her heart murmur, and the strong possibility it was cancer and couldn’t be cured. If she had surgery it had to be in a specialty clinic where she would be in intensive care 24/7.

It was clear I got some information, but not enough. I needed to talk with the people who saw these tumors all the time, so Dr. Johnson consulted with Jennifer Weh at ACCES in Seattle, and then I took Murphy to see her.

The Veterinary Surgeon

I had been to that clinic before, with a dear friend who lost her beloved dog to the same cancer they suggested Murphy had. What I noticed this time is that half their hospital, and half the reception area, was for cancer care. The waiting room was busy.

I quailed to see that. Would that be our future, waiting for cancer care?

Jennifer Weh DVM, was matter-of-fact, cordial, and, something I’ve seen a lot of in recent years: younger than me. I took an instant liking to her when she walked in the room and I explained that I wanted to explore Murphy’s options while understanding that as a surgeon she was predisposed to surgery.

“Now, don’t judge me,” she gently chided.

I liked that, gently reassuring me that she was not only capable of looking at the options but of also being open-minded. I figured we were going to get straight answers, whether I liked them or not.

And we did. She had discussed the case with Dr. Johnson and reviewed all the file notes from the radiologist. She also carefully examined Murphy, paying particular attention to the weakness in her hind legs that I had first noticed on occasion in early December.

Here’s the thing. They can’t ever be sure what they’re dealing with in these splenic tumors until they operate and take them out. Sometimes they look like cancer on x-ray and ultrasound, sometimes they look benign and only pathology on removed tumors reveals the cancer.

Most of the time, Dr. Weh explained, the tumors abruptly bleed and the animals go into crisis, when they had appeared perfectly healthy the day before. It happens, but it isn’t as common to find it early like we did, before there were obvious signs of a problem, like a bleeding episode or swollen belly.

Except we had a clear indication following blood tests on Dec. 26 that indicated anemia and an infection, and the x-ray on Dec. 28, which indicated the anemia could be from the tumor, which had bled and then sealed itself off.

It was possible it could be a benign tumor, meaning it was still on her spleen but it wasn’t cancer. In that case, not operating and removing was essentially a death sentence, because it would eventually rupture and Murphy would bleed out.

I asked about the possibility that her inherited blood disorder, a macroplatelet condition, had caused a problem with the spleen. It seemed logical: the spleen filters platelets, and since macroplatelets confuse it, what if the tumor was her body’s way of compensating for this condition? Then removing the tumor could kill her. An interesting theory, Dr. Weh said, but there were no studies, so no one knew. What they had been doing more recently, she said, was removing the spleens of these dogs. I have no idea when that therapy arrived, if I could have saved Murphy by removing her spleen as a young dog. I will investigate that at some point, so I can talk intelligently about it, but it was a moot issue for us: we had a spleen with a serious problem.

The Decision

What were we going to do about it?

Obviously we had to look at Murphy’s current condition. She had developed a heart arrhythmia, which occurs in dogs under distress, particularly old dogs with existing murmurs, and she had two murmurs: a mild mitral valve murmur, common to Cavaliers, and a moderate tricuspid valve murmur. She had arthritis, which was painful and slowing her down, although she was still pretty vibrant for her age. She had bronchitis, which was being treated.

Surgery would be complicated but not impossible, Dr. Weh assured me. They would compensate for the heart, and she would need to be in intensive care for several days. She would be down for a week or so, and probably not be able to do stairs for about 10 days. That was assuming everything went well. The actual removal of the spleen isn’t as hard as getting all the blood vessels properly tied off: that was a difficulty in older dogs.

It was daunting enough. I am handicapped, and we live one flight up in a condo. Getting Murphy up and down the stairs was hard enough with arthritis. It would be impossible with surgery: we would have to get help, but we could do it. But could I ask her to go through another surgery, to be uncomfortable and in pain from surgery, when I’d promised her I’d never ask her to do something like that again?

And what about cost? The initial surgery and stay alone would be about $3000, barring complications. Frankly, I couldn’t afford it, I just couldn’t. But I’d find a way if I could help her, because that’s just what you did. Everything we’ve faced together as a family had been to beat something that we could beat, to give Murphy a healthy, happy life, to give her the chance to make her contribution to the family and to the world. To do the right thing.

What was the right thing? That’s what we were trying to find out. That’s why we went to see the surgeon, Dr. Weh, to the people who saw tumors like this every day, to understand what we could about what we faced.

Dr. Weh proved invaluable for that. She said people usually bring in their dogs who’ve presented in crisis, and the people are shocked, because they had been well, and they insisted on surgery to save them. To get more time to process the shock, to say goodbye, because it was usually cancer. In our case, we knew before a serious crisis presented itself.

The question was: if it was cancer, she was going to die anyway, because I’d already heard that you couldn’t beat it. The problem is: if it wasn’t cancer, simply a benign tumor, then Murphy would still die if I didn’t remove it, because it was still growing and would rupture and Murphy would bleed out.

What a hideous decision: unless I operated Murphy would die, but if it was cancer, she would die anyway, and with her age and underlying health issues, it wouldn’t be easy and might be impossible. The problem being: it might be impossible.

So what did Dr. Weh think it was?

Dr. Weh emphasized that the only way to know whether Murphy had cancer was to operate. Her best guess: she was more than 90 percent certain that it was cancer. The word ‘cavitated’ is very bad in medical terms, and a pretty good clue.

“This cancer is insidious,” she said. Even if you remove the tumor, it hides, and a single cell means doom. It’s aggressive and it’s fast. In fact, the early signs were on us in mid-December: the weakness in her hind legs was the tumor, she said, not the arthritis. I thought about that: the weakness I’d noticed, that I thought was different than her arthritis, actually was: it was the tumor.

We couldn’t beat the cancer. No one ever does. All you can do is buy time.

Murphy’s odds: six months with surgery and chemotherapy. Three months without.

I blinked back tears as I petted Murphy. I had wanted straight answers, and I got them.

I could operate on her, put her through surgery and the debilitation that comes with recovery and old age, complicated by arthritis and a weakening heart. Adding chemo to the mix, which could make her ill. All knowing that she was going to die anyway.

Or I could spend as much time with her as I could, keep her comfortable and happy. Keep the family happy.

I had a lot to think about. A lot to talk with Murphy about.

We had to make decisions on the bargains we’d made with each other: that we came together to get well, to heal, that we had done that, and that I had promised not to ask anything more of her.

Surgery was asking a lot. A lot to suffer through, for all of us, not just Murphy in recovery, and me being handicapped and in pain trying to carry her and care for her, but Alki and Grace the Cat suffering with us as our lives were disrupted.

I stood there and stared at this surgeon, this young woman, so matter-of-fact and so passionate about her work. So aware of the intimacy of the human-animal bond. So clear that what we were facing was a family decision, something for me and Murphy to decide together, and that her role as the veterinarian was to give her us the benefit of her knowledge and experience.

I was stunned and grief-stricken again, because I knew that either way I was most likely going to lose Murphy: she was spry for her age, but she was old for the breed, and she was starting to show it.

But another part of me was looking at this woman and wondering about what made her tick. What people choose to do with their lives is fascinating. How they live them. What they stand for. I admired her decency and integrity. Her smarts.

It was not the normal veterinary model: she was not playing the role of “I know best, you do what I say,” which is why we’d left our long-time vet. Here was a vet like Dr. Johnson and Dr. Yannik: people who cared, who were realistic, who knew their role was to relate their experience and opinion and let you choose your own course, even if, like Dr. Yannik, their choice was clear.

So I wondered what Dr. Weh thought, and decided to ask.

Biting back tears, I asked her, “So what do you call people who say ‘no’ to surgery?”

She stopped and looked me straight in the eye, a slight smile on her face.

In a soft voice she said: “Compassionate.”

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz