Kindred Spirit, Kindred Care: Making Health Decisions on Behalf of Our Animal Companionsby Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya
Pets are now considered family members, and at the same time, profound changes are taking place in veterinary medicine. Procedures formerly available only for people are now also options for animals, giving rise to both tougher decisions and higher costs. To help the millions of pet owners in the United States navigate this new landscape, veterinarian Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya carefully lays out the issues people may face when confronted with a pet's health crisis and considering whether to pursue a particular treatment. She shows how each decision involves understanding the medical condition, treatment options, and potential outcomes - as well as one's own priorities and resources. The book explores the human-animal bond; healthy living and graceful aging; understanding diagnoses and options; managing needs and expectations; and more. Delivering much needed solace and guidance, it makes this uncharted territory more manageable for the many pet caretakers wanting to do the right thing for their loved ones.
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Kindred Spirit, Kindred Care
Making Health Decisions on Behalf of Our Animal Companions
By Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya
New World LibraryCopyright © 2005 Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya
All rights reserved.
Honoring the Human-Animal Bond
Perhaps writing about the human-animal bond in a book titled Kindred Spirit, Kindred Care is akin to preaching to the converted. Yet I have met many people who are embarrassed and/or feel compelled to justify and defend their attachment and commitment to an animal companion. Animals have been our partners, protectors, teachers, companions, and soul mates. Search-and-rescue dogs work tirelessly to find human survivors in the wake of disasters. Animals ranging from wild horses to docile bunnies have taught abused children and hardened convicts about nurturing and trust. Dogs, cats, horses, bunnies, birds — even canaries that weigh less than an ounce — have offered company, affection, entertainment, song, and cheer to many humans, including myself, demanding little in return.
Animals are for the most part nonjudgmental, honest, and loyal companions. Pets offer comfort to humans without hesitation, even when other humans shy away or alienate them. More than one client has confided to me that she or he could not have given up an addiction were it not for the pet who sat with them through the darkest hours of recovery. Why is it that society makes us feel compelled to do things for other humans even if we feel they are undeserving, and yet puts us in a position where we need to rationalize, justify, and defend our commitment to the animals who share our lives every day? These are companions who trust us; what does it say about us if we do not respond to them in their time of need?
Most people reading this book already want to do the right thing. But what is right will vary for different people and their different animal companions. Deciding what is right lies partly in the personality, temperament, and interests of the individual animal. Since our animal companions don't usually express themselves through spoken words and language (with the exception of some birds), we must learn to understand their body language, facial expressions, and behavior. Nonverbal communication is so natural that we tend to forget that we communicate nonverbally all the time. Infant children cannot speak, but most people recognize when they are happy, sad, frustrated, tired, or in need of attention. We often know someone's mood even before he or she says anything, especially if the person is someone with whom we are familiar.
Of course, misinterpretation is possible with nonverbal communication. Suppose your roommate returns home in a rotten mood. With words, you just ask what is up. But if you had to depend on nonverbal communication, you might have to observe for a while to see if the bad mood improves, persists, worsens, or conjoins with other cues that something is amiss. You might have to troubleshoot by offering various aids — food, a blanket, a walk, a game, a hug — and assessing the response. This process of observing and troubleshooting is basically the same whether your roommate is human or animal, and the more familiar you are with your companion, the less likely you are to misinterpret what he or she is communicating.
In some ways, this is even easier with animals because they rarely lie. For a variety of reasons, humans will tell white lies or otherwise hide their true feelings. They might be embarrassed by the truth, or they might be trying to spare your feelings, or they might be telling you what they think you want to hear in order to avoid conflict. So even with language, we sometimes must rely on nonverbal communication to diagnose what is really going on with another person. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and much to their credit, it is not in the nature of our animal companions to act independently of their feelings.
In academic circles, Dr. Jane Goodall was criticized for decades because of her observations of personality, temperament, intelligence, learning, social structure, allegiances, deception, aggression, nurturing, play, humor, and love in chimpanzees. Among many of the academic elite, it was preferable to criticize and dismiss Goodall's work rather than face her findings and conclusions. Critics claimed that Goodall anthropomorphized her subjects; as evidence, they cited the fact that she assigned the chimpanzees names while doing fieldwork. Of course, Goodall's critics also realized that humans historically justified their mistreatment of animals and animal environments by claiming that animals do not possess intelligence, emotion, or awareness, and Goodall's work undermined that claim. Goodall's findings not only linked humans and primates in evolutionary terms but also threatened the supposed human supremacy over all animals and ecosystems.
Since then, other researchers and authors have contributed to the ever-expanding volume of records documenting animal intelligence, creativity, emotion, and other characteristics traditionally ascribed to humans alone. Whether they are citing examples of chimpanzees hiding bananas when more dominant members of their group are present, of the mourning rituals of elephants, of a leopard soliciting help to save her offspring, of parrots putting sentences together, or of orcas grieving a miscarriage, the reports prove what most pet caretakers already know: animals can formulate opinions and act on them. Pets let us know when they are happy or unhappy, comfortable or uncomfortable, bored, in pain, frightened, anxious, or enraged. They let us know when they have a need and, often enough, the nature of that need.
Some animals are more emphatic about their opinions than others, and some humans are better at reading and interpreting nonverbal communications than others. Nevertheless, when humans simply pay attention to animals, animals prove to be undeniably sentient creatures. Even within a flock of parakeets, each one possesses its own levels of confidence, curiosity, vanity, bravery, perseverance, patience, passion, and seriousness. Being familiar with your animal companion Star means understanding that Star is one of a kind and irreplaceable. Cloning might replicate Star's DNA, but not Star. Pet caregivers know that Dr. Goodall's observations are correct.
Acknowledging that animals possess intelligence, awareness, and emotion is not to say that there are no differences between humans and animals. No one expects a dog to design the next space station, a cat to direct brain surgery, or a parrot to run for governor. Humans and animals are physically different, leading to significantly different aptitudes. The neocortex of the human brain is generally more developed than the neocortex of other species. On the other hand, canines generally have a better sense of smell than humans, which is why humans employ dogs to sniff out drugs, explosives, and missing persons. Felines have night vision, retractable claws, incredible athletic prowess, and speed. Most birds have a range of vision that spans almost 360 degrees and a brain that can process these images as they fly. Homing pigeons can navigate many thousands of miles; dolphins can echolocate; camels can store enough water to cross a desert; and vultures can digest substances that kill other species. Human "superiority" is a fabrication of egocentric minds.
Some have argued that human superiority is real due to the fact that we alone have invented ways to exceed the capacity of our physical bodies: we have designed airplanes, automobiles, electric lights, telephones, washing machines, computers, and central heating. This is true, and I admit that I like my mind, my opposable thumbs, and the conveniences of modern life. But we should still acknowledge and respect that all life-forms have desirable attributes, and that intelligence is not the end all. Intellect does not equate to goodness, kindness, generosity, or caring. Along with their intellect, humans are the most destructive creature the planet has ever known. A little humility on the part of the human species will not bring about our demise. Rather, it might lead us to become better stewards of the planet.
In fact, animals have much to teach us about ourselves as individuals and as a species. For one thing, animals teach us to look beyond the surface. My patients don't care what I look like or what I'm wearing; they don't care about my age, gender, race, religion, or sexual preference. They are mostly concerned with how I am going to treat them, and in turn I try to communicate kindness, familiarity, and a sincere desire to help and not harm them. In addition, animals have a natural comfort with their bodies in all of its various shapes, sizes, textures, and smells. Even amputees or patients who have undergone radical surgery are generally not stigmatized by their asymmetry. In turn, people accept, and often even come to adore, underbites, bulging eyes, crooked legs, asymmetric ears, sagging skin, and wrinkled faces.
Animals teach us to think about our actions. Many years ago, an extraordinary veterinary nurse, Hilary Doliber, taught me that when you treat patients with kindness and respect, earn their trust, and ask nicely, most patients cooperate. I have applied Doliber's approach for years, and it works. I never require that patients be separated from their caretakers (that's like kidnapping); I rarely feel the need for muzzles or restraining devices; and I almost never wrestle animals into submission (that's like assaulting a sick person). Veterinary medicine is a profession that requires ongoing thinking and creativity for each individual patient. I continually try to engineer ways of making procedures and treatments more tolerable for patients who don't feel right and might not fully comprehend the motives for our bizarre conduct and requests.
My favorite, however, is that animals teach us about living in the moment, letting go, and enjoying life. Pets diagnosed with cancer don't obsess over their mortality or what is to become of them. For their entire lives, animals carry on from moment to moment and day to day based on what each moment offers. Animals do not harbor regret, and resentments tend to be short-lived. Some humans insist that animals can only live in the moment because of their simple minds, but even if that were true, it wouldn't diminish the lesson. When our human lives become too complicated and burdensome, being able to put our troubles aside, even if only for a moment's reprieve, becomes pretty attractive. My canine companion regularly reminds me about the real joys in life — regular meals, walkabouts, cushy beds, and frequent doses of affection. Through recognizing and accommodating his joys, I maintain a more balanced perspective about the things that are really important in my own life.
There is much more that can be said about how animals enhance our lives. One of the best books ever written about human-animal relationships is Susan Chernak McElroy's Animals as Teachers and Healers. I unreservedly recommend this collection of stories and reflections from regular people, who are exceptional only in their appreciation and respect for animals and animal companions. McElroy eloquently brings together their stories, along with countless insights and pearls of wisdom. It is truly an honest and beautiful book about people and animals.
Respectful and thoughtful treatment of animals and animal environments should be a gesture of our own human goodness. Human-animal relationships are largely based on nonverbal communication. By developing our awareness of and capacity for nonverbal communication, we broaden our horizons: we increase our potential for relationships, and we increase our ability to make the right decisions on behalf of our animal companions.CHAPTER 2
Healthy Living and Graceful Aging
A lot of people don't like to think or talk about getting old — for themselves or their pets. Like it or not, from the time you're born, you start to age. Life is aging. Death will happen. It is how slowly and gracefully you get there that really matters. Healthy living and graceful aging is about maximizing the quantity and quality of our pets' lives. There are no guarantees. We are just trying to stack things as much in our favor as possible. Discussing how we can achieve healthy living and graceful aging has become central to how I manage my patients.
Enjoying What Each Day Has to Offer
Animal companions can teach us so much about enjoying the simple things in life. Imagine yourself and your pet in a few of the following scenarios: going for a walk, chasing a ball, taking a ride, sharing the couch, eating, reading the paper, tromping across the keyboard, coming home, shopping for toys, scratching, petting, preening, napping, playing, sharing, sniffing, staring into each other's eyes with unabashed love. Like humans, each animal is an individual with a unique blueprint of personality, temperament, talents, likes, and dislikes. Part of the joy of having a pet is discovering and nurturing the special features of that individual, creating an environment where that unique being can thrive, and appreciating how lucky you are to have your life enhanced by him or her.
If you have multiple pets, your relationship with each one will be unique. This makes each pet experience all the more precious. It is normal that you may connect more easily or more intensely with one than another. The important part is understanding and respecting each individual.
The flip side to enjoying the things that make your pet special is recognizing his or her particular needs and accommodating them. If your companion is an athletic, high-energy dog, for example, he or she is going to be much more manageable indoors if you take him or her outside to chase a ball for an hour every day. If your cat is shy and timid, she or he won't want to be dressed up and displayed in cat shows. You cannot expect a macaw or a cockatoo to be quiet and still all the time — they are by nature loud, emotional, demonstrative creatures, and it is not their fault that your apartment doesn't absorb sound as well as a rain forest.
If you adopt a pet when you are in between jobs and home all the time, accepting a position that has you gone for long hours and traveling a lot can mean a difficult transition for any pet. Admittedly, it is difficult to predict what life will deal us, but like most humans, animals prefer some degree of stability in their lives. Part of responsible guardianship is being there for your pet and being fair to your pet.
Education and Good Manners
We are all subject to various societal laws that define and enforce a minimum code of behavior; we might also abide by certain principles and ethics suggested by our religion, culture, or family. These rules allow humans to share home, community, country, and planet. If you take pet guardianship seriously, you might be committing fifteen or more years to a dog, twenty or more years to a cat, thirty years to a cockatiel, or seventy years to a parrot. You need to teach your pet the rules. The goal of pet education is to shape behavior so that your long-term relationship is a joy and not a burden. A proper education will also allow you and your animal companion to be safe and spend more time doing fun things together.
All my dog friends, for example, learn how to walk nicely on a leash. It is unpleasant and unsafe when an overexcited dog tries to chase an ambulance or dart in front of traffic to get to a squirrel on the other side of the road. All of my flighted parakeet friends can be easily "herded" back to their cage when something is happening that might startle or endanger them. Even cats, reputed to have minds of their own, can be encouraged to accept a few rules, such as not attacking their housemates or redesigning all of the furniture.
Once you define your "house rules," you must figure out a way to communicate them effectively to your pet. Sometimes it happens naturally. Your pet does something undesirable, you glare at your pet, he or she gives you a remorseful look, and it never happens again. At other times, when you and your pet are having a communication breakdown, trainers and behaviorists can be valuable resources. Even though I am a veterinarian, I have many times called my dog trainer for insights about my dog's behavior and for advice on what to do about it. I have similarly consulted with bird behaviorists and other behavior specialists for insights into other species. Some pets will really challenge us about a chosen rule. At times, we must pick our battles and do our best.
One thing I have learned is that there are as many ways of training an animal as there are of educating a child. There are training styles that incorporate discipline or negative reinforcement and those that use only positive reinforcement; there's the dominance approach and the bribery approach; and there are food motivators, clickers, gentle leaders, pinch collars, citronella collars, scat mats, spray bottles, noisemakers, whistles, and many other training devices to choose from. Some animals, like some children, figure out the rules no matter how they are presented. Some animals respond only to one approach and not at all to others. Equally important, if you are uncomfortable with a style, it will not work.
Excerpted from Kindred Spirit, Kindred Care by Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya. Copyright © 2005 Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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