Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lessons learned from GiGi...

GiGi is my 10-year-old Belgian Malinois and constant companion. She is my "significant other" and a daily life lesson in how to be happy.

About a year and a half ago, it became clear GiGi was having trouble with her back left leg. We went to UC Davis and it was decided that GiGi has Degenerative Myelopathy - an incurable condition. The good news is that it does not hurt her - her butt has gone numb. The bad news is that it will eventually kill her. We both live just happy she is here and still very much her willful, wayward, opinionated, joyous, spirited self. 

In GiGi's mind, there is nothing "wrong", just something is different and she adjusts her movements to compensate. She has no sadness about what she can no longer do - she is too busy causing trouble with what she has. At this point, GiGi cannot use her back legs at all and uses her front legs to pull her body along... my little mermaid.

GiGi is still very much as she has always been: she still chases cats and squirrels. The other day, she chased a little girl in a battery-operated Barbie Jeep. GiGi scooted along as fast as she could to try to bite the tires of the alien thing making the same annoying sound as the much-hated vacuum cleaner.

GiGi's condition has brought a funny change: she talks a lot more. Gently woofing her opinion on almost every subject... we hold conversations now. She uses her "inside voice" which is quieter than the loud alarm bark she still has.

GiGi still loves to swim, but I am afraid I am the problem here. There are few places we have found where I  have the stamina to haul her butt to the water so she can swim. We went to Highland Park in Ben Lomond. Getting to the water was hard, about half a mile, all downhill. Getting back to the car was another story and we won't be going again any time soon.

We tried a couple of different doggie wheelchairs and neither really worked for GiGi. She knocked it sideways and then laughed at me. You can't dig for gophers while in a wheelchair and we are all about digging for gophers. So I carry her butt in a sling to get where we are going, then let her go on her own if there is a slick surface or grass. Keeping her active will slow the progression of the disease.

It is GiGi's spirit that prompts me to ask people not to say "poor dog" or make sad faces around her. Do not wince when she scoots along. She is happy and has no need of pity or sadness.

A couple of weeks ago, we had three different strangers approach us and say that GiGi is suffering and should be put down. I'm afraid I don't have GiGi's ability to ignore them and I ended up yelling at them because I was minding my own business and did not ask for their opinion. They all initiated the conversation by saying I should put GiGi down because she could not walk and was suffering.

You would not kill your child because they got polio, would you? I guess President Franklin D. Roosevelt should have been euthanized? I am appalled at the audacity of people who think they know anything about GiGi's condition. One of them was a vet tech at Petsmart/Banfield who suggested I put GiGi down, then asked me if GiGi had a vet. I said yes, she has three vets: one for general issues, one for her condition, and one for acupuncture. Ignorance and mis-placed compassion. You cannot put your own pre-conceived ideas on this.

Someone suggested that we are an educational opportunity for people. We did not ask to be a learning experience and it is sometimes hard enough for me to handle what is happening with GiGi without having to help some stranger grasp the concepts.

This does point out the recent change in attitudes about our pets. There was a time that GiGi would have already been "put down" because she was not 100% healthy. I've always had big dogs and a couple of them had dysplasia or arthritis in the hips. It is painful and eventually they could not walk. I wish I could go back - there was one 120-pound German Shepherd named Tattoo that was not ready to go even though he was incontinent and in pain. Now I wish I would have given him a bit more time, but I was ignorant back then. So I guess if we can help change someone's mind about putting down their disabled pet, then we will have to continue to be an educational opportunity.

GiGi and I are in this together and I believe that GiGi will let me know when she is done and tired of being here... and she is nowhere near that. Her attitude is the same as it has always been: joyous and willful. She is fully present in her life and not in any pain... I am very grateful that she has no pain.

At one point, I had a months-long period of "pre-grief" – daily crying and mourning GiGi's passing just because she has this disease. It left me grateful for every single day I get to share life with her, but also hyper-aware of every subtle change in her condition. At this moment, it is only effecting her back legs, but eventually she will be incontinent. We are ready for that time: a water-resistant crib mattress and pee pee pads. GiGi has taught me that if I don't act like incontinence is "wrong", it will be okay. Also, I learned how to help her by "expressing" her functions - just push the right "buttons" on her body and out it comes.

I am learning from GiGi that nothing is "wrong", it's just different now. Accept the current situation and move on. She has always shown me the lessons to love everyone and forgive them in an instant... and forgive myself as well. Live in the moment... be happy you are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment