Tuesday, July 31, 2012


So I've heard dozens of people say that they got dogs a preparation for children. I've always been somewhat skeptical of this statement, as even before I had a kid, I was fully aware that you can't put an annoying toddler in a crate for three hours while you go off for drinks. I was fully aware that the stakes with an animal are lower; there is almost no social stigma if, after getting a pet, you realize you can't hack it and give it up.

But, upon reflection, I can see some ways in which my dog has prepared me for being a parent. With the dog, I had to deal with biological messes much worse than anything the Bug produced in her early months. I've cleaned things out of my carpet that I would rather not think about, and that was before she was in the picture. Now my dog has never puked on me, let alone done it for every day for months on end.

But I did have, in HR parlance, previous experience dealing with hazardous biological situations before the Bug was born. In that sense, being a dog owner prepared me for dealing with one of the challenges of parenthood. It also gave me some practice with dealing with an unpredictable creature with a will of its own and a completely different sense of priorities than I might have.

But recently, I've been confronted with a situation that presents me with a question of what exactly dog ownership is preparing me for. On one hand, all of the above referenced stuff got me ready for being a parent, but now, my stupid dog has a Mast Cell tumor on his side. It is potentially quite serious, according to both the vet and the internet. It requires surgery that is expensive, painful, and not without risks. My dog is somewhere between 9 and 11 years old, and as he is a boxer mix, we can reasonably expect him to live another 5 years at the outside. The question becomes is treating this tumor worth it? At present, it isn't interfering with the dog's quality of life. It would extend his life somewhat, but it is also possible that a year after having this surgery, it is possible that he could develop some other health problem or just not wake up some morning.

This seems not entirely different not from a situation I might face with the Bug, but instead one that looms in the less-distant-than-I-probably-care-to-admit future with my parents if or when they become unable to make their own healthcare decisions. In a sense, my dog is more like an adult with some forms of dementia than he is like a toddler; he is nearing the end of his life, he is unable to fully comprehend the situation, and even if he is, he is unable to express what he might want done. Unlike my folks, he doesn't have a reasonably detailed advance directive that gives me guidance as to what I should do. He and I have never had a conversation about these sorts of issues-- but of course, these conversations with my parents are usually brought on by specific situations, and of course, we can't cover every single thing that could come up before it does. (I know this. My mother and I had a number of conversations about these issues, and I still didn't have a clear understanding of what to do when I was in a position to decide if her medical treatment should have been continued. It is the single most difficult decision I have ever made.)

With a child, the rewards of a curative but risky procedure would clearly outweigh the risks and costs. With this dog, at this age, it is not so clear. I'll probably get him the surgery, in the end. but it does seem to be practice at the sort of end-of-life issues I hopefully will never have to deal with with the Bug.

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