Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Dog provides insight to end of life care
Lorne Greene provided my first insight to canine aging with his ALPO commercials. That makes our lovable, geriatric, anxious, co-dependent chocolate lab somewhere around 86 years old. He has a little trouble moving around, he doesn't hear or see as well as in younger days, his appetite is fading and he's covered in benign tumors. He's still glad to see us and likes to go for short walks. He still seems happy enough for living, though he would mask any sadness because he would never want to disappoint anyone in our household.
The big problem is his skin. We're adding about every possible supplement and using high quality food to improve the massive flakes that come off his skin daily. We have to bathe him several times per week (4-5)--which doesn't sound like much, but when it takes longer to bathe the dog than to get ourselves ready, the time adds up. But I look at him, and I don't want him to be miserable, so my dear wife and I take turns with bathing and sometimes tag team to get it done, so that he can suffer a little less. We look how happy he is in general and think it can't be his last days just because of a SKIN condition. He's been such a low maintenance dog for years and doesn't do annoying things much beyond crotch sniffing and shedding. I've been humbled a bit and try to give him as much love as possible. He doesn't demand much, just a little attention every day (unlike our children). This slow dying process has made me wonder what the end of my life will entail. I ponder how much of a burden I will be and how much frustration I may cause my loved ones. I look at my dog's eyes and wonder what's going through his mind (I know what goes on in his dreams, it usually involves running).
I think he knows I have been frustrated with his care giving--but he's forced me to think about what compassion is supposed to look like. The circumstances are different as a pastor when I have to be compassionate for my work. Some days I feel genuine compassion in pastoral care, but sometimes compassion can be a function of the job description, and I figure it's important to proclaim God's compassion in what I do, even if I don't feel it. God is infinitely more compassionate than me--so I don't carry that burden.
My chocolate lab is sitting in the tub, with medicated soap clinging to his skin and offering him a few extra hours of relief. I know I'm not the first one to have these insights of death, life and wonder. However, I also know we each face the reality of what the end of life will be like whether it's from our pets, our parents, with a friend, or serving the dying in some other way. It can last an instant, or over several days and years. Time to attend to my dog, though he may worry about disappointing me, I don't want to disappoint him today.