Many more times than I can count, I have tried in my way to save various creatures in dire circumstances. Baby mice when mom was poisoned somewhere. Baby birds after a cat knocked their nest to the ground. Cats hit by cars. Dogs hit by cars. Birds of all sizes careening into windows. Even a porcupine who fell forty feet out of a hemlock tree. Raptors I’ve taken to wildlife rehab centers.
It’s tough putting a good friend down after a long and eventful life. But I’m not into prolonging suffering in animals just to delay my own grief. I’d rather they exit this life feeling the wind in their noses rather than in a state of drug-induced confusion. I’d rather death be coupled with dignity, and that extends to my human brothers and sisters as well. That being said, I long ago made a pact with heaven and earth to face what the gods put in my path as open-eyed as possible so I could always say, “Well met.” Win, lose or draw, I would do my best to confront life on its terms rather than to always insist the ground rules be mine.
It has been five years since a bike ride brought me Lucy, our little foundling dog left by the side of the highway to suffer after being sideswiped by a car. Lifting her head into my cupped hands and gazing into her eyes told me she wanted to live, and I’ve come to trust the wisdom in animals’ eyes. They do give up when they sense they’re done for. Fears, regrets and unresolved issues do not cloud their thinking. That first month demanded absolute immobility. X-rays confirmed a triple fracture in her last large vertebra prior to the smaller discs of the tail. A sharp piece of bone was poised to sever the spinal cord. Over that month, I massaged her and manipulated her body to align the spine to a natural curve. I covered a thick foam mat with plastic and bedding. Every day to her great distress, the bedding was wet and feces-stained. On the advice of the vet and to my own daily dismay, I scooped poop out of her with gloved fingers. After the second week, she could lie in the sun and the other bigger dogs did not bother her. She usually relieved her bladder in this way. After a month, she would scoot along the ground and defecate. Then she stood. Then she walked. Yet with each milestone, we recommitted to detachment from outcome. This little dog would live or she would die, but we would give her the most even chance we were able. Then another x-ray revealed that sharp bone fragment being resorbed by the body. “Miracle!” the vet exclaimed, and miracle it was.
What do we do when time and again we are faced with adversity? It’s tempting to move away from probable defeat in order to avoid pain and disappointment. Expectations can bring so much misery, they make cowards out of the most noble hearted among us. In the end it may seem easier to simply give up. But I look at life like this: if I confront what it brings me rather than floundering in fruitless manipulations, it seems to enrich my experience while deepening my interactions with others. It bolsters my courage in moving forward.
Lucy Milagro is indeed a lucky dog and we are blessed to count her among the living. She runs, plays and roughhouses with only occasional discomfort. And she healed much better and more completely than any of us could have imagined. It was a little messy in the beginning, but what in life isn’t? We experience birth in a slime of mucus and blood, shower to shed our daily detritus and then one day return to the earth as compost for the living. Meanwhile someone or something else is being born.