July was Disability Pride Month. Here at the blog we got so caught up with fish, snakes, gorillas and crocodiles that suddenly it’s August and we haven’t talked about our favorite pets – those with something visibly missing on the outside and something bigger going on inside.
My dictionary app defines “disability” thus: “lack of adequate power, strength or physical or mental ability; Incapacity.
Hmmmm. No, that’s not it. What else? “A physical or mental handicap, especially one that hinders or prevents a person from performing tasks of daily living, carrying out work or household responsibilities, or engaging in leisure and social activities.”
And then there’s this: “anything that disables or puts one at a disadvantage.”
Okay, so maybe the pets I’m thinking of, those who are blind, one-eyed, deaf, three-legged, or have lost control of their back ends are not actually disabled because – at the least all the pets I know – they aren’t at a disadvantage of any kind. In fact, they are role models for how to get over yourself and live life the way it’s meant to be lived, unencumbered by self awareness and facades.
Lulu is our current “special needs” pet with only one cataract plagued eye, making her almost (but not quite) blind. Nothing slows Lu down. If anything her world view, based on phenomenal hearing and smell, is more fully realized than mine. She is bullet-proof with all humans – adults, children and babies alike – and is easily one of the most intrepid dogs I have ever met. She bangs into walls that are right in front of her (but she can see a dog who is a block and a half away), shakes herself off and keeps on trucking. The other day I deflated an air mattress and as soon as the “whooooooo” sound of the electric mechanism started up, our guest dog, Molly, was out of the room like a shot. What in the heck was THAT?!!! “Danger, Will Robinson, danger, danger!” But not Lulu. She cocked her head, climbed aboard the mattress and rode it all the way to the ground trying to figure out just what was happening, while clearly not feeling very threatened by it. Man, I wish I could do that!
Lulu was our foster dog. One of our very few medical fosters. We usually foster shy, shut down or otherwise skittish smaller dogs who generally need some quiet time in a real home in order to relax and be themselves. Often “themselves” still want to bite people they don’t know. See my blog about Spicy Fosters. We love each and every one of them and cheer them on, but prefer not to live with that kind of special need. Just by chance we were asked to foster Lulu while she awaited eye removal surgery. Her left eye was bulging due to a form of glaucoma, so it was deemed necessary to remove it for Lulu’s well being as it was likely very painful to her. A canine ophthalmologist recommended removing both eyes for prophylactic reasons, the theory being the same plight would befall Lulu’s remaining eye, which already had a cataract. Dave and I were devastated to think that our darling little Lu would lose any semblance of sight she might have and then go live with strangers in a strange, new environment. We knew full well that a dog with Lulu’s sterling disposition had a great chance of finding a new home, even with no eyes. The fine folks at Muttville adopt out senior dogs without eyes and limbs all the time. Humans aren’t as awful as we sometimes paint ourselves to be and there are scores of wonderful people who happily adopt dogs with less than perfect bodies all the time. THAT wasn’t the problem. The problem was we adore her and our human egos couldn’t imagine her without at least one eye. To quote Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness.” What if we could save her remaining “good eye”?
I spoke with Dr. Evans at Marin Humane and she was graciously very candid with me. It’s one thing to find an adopter for a dog like Lulu. It’s another to have the faith that should she retain her compromised eye they would put drops in her eye every day, have her checked by an ophthalmologist every six months and be prepared to remove the eye should it actually become necessary. Hence the prophylactic removal of her right eye, too. “But,” Dr. Evans said to me confidentially, “if she were my dog, I’d just remove her left eye and continue to treat and monitor her right eye.” ‘Nuf said. When I relayed this to Dave we both concluded in that moment that we could be the adopters who would religiously monitor Lulu’s remaining eye. Of course MH also knows we are those people and so now Lulu lives with us. And I’m happy to report her ophthalmologist feels strongly that her right eye does not have the same problem as her long-gone left eye had and that she will likely keep it for her natural life.
Prior to Lulu we adopted a three-legged Border Collie (or possibly a McNab) named Beebee. Again, with an amazingly gentle and mellow demeanor. And so plucky! Bee couldn’t hike ten miles, but she could walk two. Not every day, that wouldn’t have been a good idea, but she took daily walks with us and once or twice a week covered some serious ground. I have a lot soft tissue problems and about once a year find myself in a walking boot, so we were perfectly matched. Beebee died suddenly and way too soon, likely from hemangioma, but she was never slowed down, nor was she at any kind of disadvantage because she had three legs.
While Beebee was still living with us we fostered a spicy Chihuahua named Kya. Kya wanted to bite everyone she didn’t know, but she was a most excellent dog in every other respect. Highly treat motivated, Kya learned new things with breathtaking speed and accuracy. She was actually easy to manage because she developed an impeccable “leave it” and “watch me” in no time and was a champion crate dog. In addition to her reactivity to humans (she was fine with other dogs and our boss cat, Lorenzo) she was wild with a capital W. Our first clue should have been the time she hurled herself down the stairs and banged into the wall at the bottom. Soon after, she flung herself into the hot tub when we were enjoying a cold January evening. She had no sense of the world’s limitations and flung herself headlong into everything she did.
So one January late afternoon when the sun was going down at 5pm and Dave was out of town, I sat on the patio pruning roses when I heard screaming on the hillside below. I knew instantly it was Kya. I ran to the deck railing and saw her lying in the culvert below screaming. Something had apparently caught her eye (a squirrel? A bird?) and she flung herself through the deck railing to pursue it. Without taking stock of my resources I climbed over the railing on the short side of the deck, scrambled down the hillside and came to rest in the culvert next to Kya. Now what?, I thought. I had no material to create a muzzle and surely she would bite me out of fear and pain. Sure enough, a small glance at her sideways body confirmed her leg was broken. What could I use for a sling? While I was pondering my next move and speaking to her in quiet, comforting tones, she, trooper that she is, found the wherewithal to crawl into my lap, looking at me with big, brown, pleading eyes. Trust. We at least had that going for us.
I’m not as spry and agile as I once was. Thank God for adrenaline. I managed to cradle her as she lay in my left arm, stand and slowly make my way up the hillside. Somehow I got her up and over the deck railing, into the house and subsequently into the car, in which I drove, one handed, to the Pet Emergency Hospital. Cutting to the chase, as Kya certainly would, her front left leg was amputated and she did her recovery at our house. The day after she came home she gamboled like a baby lamb down the sidewalk on our morning walk. It was nothing to her. She continued to move so fast that, unlike Beebee, whose gait was clearly altered by her missing right leg, you couldn’t even tell there were only three legs spinning in their sockets. Kya’s lesson in resilience is perhaps my most profound to date. I cannot imagine any human taking the loss of a limb in such stride. Pun intended.
Kya found the most perfect adaptor ever: a woman who was very familiar with spicy Chihuahuas and much preferred them over less entertaining companions. For a long time she kindly texted me photos and updates and it was clear that Kyan had, once again, landed on her feet.
I’ve known dogs who lost the use of their back legs and continued to be champion ball dogs with the aid of harness wheels; three legged cats whose climbing-the-drapes routines outshone their four-legged colleagues; deaf dogs with better recall than their hearing mates; and on it goes. So maybe there is no such thing as a disability when it comes to our four legged companions. Maybe the disability is in us, unable to adjust our world view or our image of “what we are.” I have learned so much from these strong and vibrant friends and I hope they continue to teach me what it means to truly live life to its fullest. And I can tell you one other thing: thanks to Lulu I learned to spell ophthalmologist without looking it up. ; )