The Language Of Emotion
I took this photograph when Red lay hooked up to an IV at the Cambridge Valley Vet, I put my arm out and he lay on it and looked directly into my eyes. I was well aware that just a few days earlier I had published my new book "Talking To Animals," and I had deliberately stopped mentioning it or writing about.
This is bad publishing, but good humanity. I didn't want to seem to tie the book to Red's illness or to use the sickness to manipulate people into buying it. Still, I knew this experience would be a personal test of my ideas, and right out into the open where lots of people would be waiting to jeer at it.
In contemporary publishing, it often happens that the only promotion there will be is done by the author him or herself. But it would have been creepy to promote the book this week, with Red so sick. But my book needs my support, so I need to return to it, and the experience with Red came right out of its pages.
At the moment this photo was taken with my Iphone – I wanted to have a record of it in case it was our last time together.
This seemed a growing possibility that day, and the photo showed Red's emotions and his soulfulness. Maria took a Polaroid photo of me trying unsuccessfully to feed Red a hot dog a few days later, she said to her the photo captured my relationship with Red, what she called the language of emotion.
This is a wonderful term for the way in which we can communicate with animals. It is not a literal language, it is not in words, it is in images and emotion and instincts and it works.
Red and I communicated in this way two times during this unnerving week (It is not simple to deal with a gravelly ill dog out in the open, but it is important), the first was Tuesday when he made it clear to me with those eyes that he was not going to die and leave this world with his work with me (and with others) unfinished.
He was not ready to go.
It was just as clear as a statement as one living creature could make to another, and it was not wishful thinking. Until then, I did not think he would survive the day, I texted Maria that he was sinking and she came rushing over to join us. But then I talked with Red, and I never again thought for a second that he was going to die, my focus shifted to helping him heal, eat and rest.
I have never had a more distinct and emotional message from an animal that, and came right out of my book.
Maria is right of course, Red and I communicate in the language of emotion all the time, she sees it all the time, even when I can't, and it is a remarkable thing. Many people have this gift with their dogs, especially when they open up to it.
My second communication in this language came this evening.
We have been concerned about Red's high and stubborn fever, and his continuing nausea, dehydration and refusal to eat. All of those things spelled something more malignant than is normal for most Lyme disease or tick-borne disease episodes, they suggested a cancerous growth, bone marrow cancer or a disease that had ravaged the kidney or the liver.
One by one, with great clarity and skill, through tests and technology, Dr. Suzanne Fariello eliminated the worst of these fears, and extensive advanced blood work revealed Friday that Red was suffering from four different tick-borne diseases. That was enough to kill him if we couldn't stop the fever and get him to eat.
Veterinary medicine has changed, and not always for the better.
Vets have mostly given up on instinct, just as human doctors have, and rely increasingly on data and expensive new technologies. Veterinary care is losing its simple and relatively inexpensive patina, the old stereotype of the family vet calling it from his or her gut is over.
Anyone who has a dog or cat with a serious illness should expect to spend thousands of dollars to treat him or her. Health care costs are skyrocketing for animals just as they are for people.
As I have often written, it is critical to have an honest and open relationship with the vet, and to have established financial and emotional and humane boundaries spelled out in advance, and before people end up in the clinic having to make life-and-death decisions with your dog lying on the floor staring at you.
Red is very important to me, but I was scrambling to define those boundaries as the days passed, the equipment bills mounted and his condition seemed almost impervious to treatment. It is so important to have these conversations in advance, and Maria and I did. And Dr. Fariello knows me well, I will not permit my dogs to suffer from endless and invasive and expensive procedures and treatments.
These boundaries are individual, there is no one way to define them, we all have to face that moral and practical choice and look inside of ourselves, no one can decide it for you, and the dog certainly cannot make that decision, contrary to popular belief. Red can tell me many things, but he cannot tell me how far to take his illness. That is my decision.
Communication is not about avoidance of responsibility, or sliding off the hook, at least not for me.
We were not near, or really, nearly there, when it comes to those decisions. But the reality needs to be faced before raw emotions make the decision for vulnerable people.
I know one woman who has spent $17,000 on numerous kidney surgeries for her aging cat, and she is proud of this, she believes this proves her love.I do not measure love by money.
Dr. Fariello had her data in hand by Friday and made her decision to move aggressively against the tick-borne diseases. If it didn't work by tomorrow, Monday, then we had some serious talking to do and more decisions to make.
The anti-biotics Dr. Fariello prescribed began to work after a nerve-wracking 48 hours, and this morning Red wolfed down his meatloaf, some dog food, and some cheese with pills embedded. He ate again tonight, in much the same way he usually eats, without much fussing or hesitation.
That is what we have been waiting for because he wouldn't be eating like that if he still had a fever, and the nutrition will help him fend off the fever. We go to the vet tomorrow morning for what should be a final visit, and an end to his ordeal, and ours. He will be resting and taking pills for months.
I am averse to drama, I just hate it and I want Red and me to get back to our normal lives, and me to get back to my writing, blogging and book.
After dinner, I took him outside for a short walk, and I had my second talk, the second experience this week with the language of emotion. Again, this was not a message sent or received in words or our language, it was an exchange of emotions. Once again, Red was just as clear as he was last Tuesday. It's over, I'm fine, let's get back to work. I'm tired and need rest, but I need some work too. It's who I am, it's part of my healing. Let's do some therapy work tomorrow.
Oh, and here's this. My book "Talking To Animals: How we Can Understand Them And They Can Understand Us" is now available for sale everywhere books are sold. The reviews have been very nice, and I am proud of the book. I just put it aside last week.
If you order it through Battenkill Books (518-677 2515), I will sign and personalize it and Connie Brooks of Battenkill will send you a lovely literary dog tote-bag. It says "Sit. Stay.Read."
I want to get the book sales coming in again, the blog is the only promotion there will be for the book. We are off to a great start, we are hoping for at least 1,000 orders to Battenkill,
We are about 200 books away. Plenty of tote-bags left. The very lovely independent book store takes Paypal and major credit cards.
I'm not sure, but I think Red's last exchange with me had a message. You get back to work too. You can order the book here and learn just how I learned to talk to Red and listen to him. It is more important than even I realized.