Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood

On the March afternoon that my dear cat, Casey, had undergone surgery to have an anal sac tumor removed, I breathed a sign of relief. I actually saw the tumor, and thought that now that it had been expertly excised from her body, it couldn't hurt her anymore. For the moment, I clung to the belief that she had been cured, and that we would live happily ever after.

That sense of relief was short-lived, however, and when the the pathology results revealed a more ominous prognosis, I was faced with a terrible choice: put Casey through chemotherapy, which might offer an eight-month reprieve with potentially gruesome side effects, or opt for a more holistic approach, which would support Casey's quality of life while giving her an uncertain number of days to enjoy it. I opted for the more natural, less proven course of treatment, and for nine months, Casey thrived on it, even as the cancer continued to spread through her body and eventually caused it to surrender.

Having so recently gone through this experience with Casey, I was magnetically drawn to Nadine M. Rosin's account of her transformative journey with her cancer-striken dog, Buttons, in The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood.

Long before holistic veterinary medicine had begun to take hold as a viable alternative to traditional allopathic techniques, Ms. Rosin bravely trusted her own instincts and intuition, in defiance of conventional wisdom, when her veterinarian prounounced that Buttons would be dead in a matter of weeks unless she adhered to the recommended "slash and burn" protocol. But rather than focus on destroying the virulent squamous cell carcinoma that was invading Buttons' tail, Nadine charted a roadmap to wholeness that would eventually not just stop the invasive march of the cancer, but would support Buttons through another 11 years of vibrant and joyful life.

Of course, Ms. Rosin's determination to forge a holistic path for Buttons was not born in a vacuum. Throughout her adult life, she had instinctively shunned artifice and artificiality, gravitating always toward a natural way of living, one that was in sync with the flowing rhythms of life. And so when she was confronted with the prospect of seeing Buttons's body maimed and her spirit mutilated, Nadine simply chose another way.

The surprise of the book, reflected in its title, is that this is a saga not just of Buttons' healing journey, but just as importantly, of Nadine's. She seesaws between periods of health and physical disintegration, all the while sustained by her love for her dog and Buttons' love for her.

At one point, when she had reached a particularly painful nadir of despair, she became convinced that even Buttons had forsaken her. But when she confided that fear to a friend, he laughingly but knowingly admonished her:

"'Your dog loves you more than most people are loved by anybody. And
that is not my opinion, that is fact.

'How do you know that?' I questioned.

'Because,' he stated emphatically, 'if she didn't love you and want to be
with you, she would just leave.'

'She couldn't. I watch her all the time. She never has the opportunity to
get away.'

As if he were explaining to a child, my friend then very slowly and
exactingly said, 'She absolutely could leave you easily. She would just
have the cancer come back and die.'"

In that instant, Nadine re-embraced Buttons' unconditional love for her, and it gave her the strength to soldier on, successfully battling many more personal crises and health challenges, buoyed by her bond with the dog whom she lovingly called, "her daughter."

And as for Buttons' cancer, it never returned.

I recently interviewed Nadine M. Rosin for the "Conversations with Animal Authors" teleconference series. You can listen to it here.


Mary A. Shafer said...

What a wonderful piece, and a wise one. Thanks for sharing this important example of an idea whose time has come: that we are all of a single, connected thread of life; that what happens to the least of us, happens to us all; and that in reaching out to help others, we ourselves are healed.

It's the central theme of another new book, Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them. I edited and wrote a piece in the book, which I'm proud to share with ten other talented authors. I hope our effort can be as potent and compelling as this one. Thanks again for supporting this crucial element of the world regaining some of its natural balance.

Mary A. Shafer, author and editor

Muffyjo said...

Beautiful Informative Post. Love the Stories even if it deals with a scary subject... Cancer... Thanks for the positive thrust ~ the message of hope, and blessings to you and your loved ones ~ be they human or fur friends... :)