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What can we do to save our dogs? May 2, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I just received an e-mail update from our local paper, the Allentown PA Morning Call, with the pitiful headline “Bone cancer claims Allentown police dog ‘Sem’.” The first sentence: “[The] Allentown Police Department hoped its police dog Sem would officially retire during its annual commendations ceremony on May 16, but the German Shepherd’s health quickly deteriorated after being diagnosed last week with with bone cancer…” Sem was ten years old.

In an unrelated story, I read just this morning that cancer is the #1 disease-related killer of dogs. Our friend Ben and I don’t need convincing. Our first golden retriever, Annie, died a slow, agonizing death of bone cancer at just 2 1/2; our second, our beloved Molly, died of liver cancer, like Sem at age ten. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at our adored black German shepherd, Shiloh, just turned three, and pray that she isn’t also a victim of this dreadful fate. No dog—no person, no creature—should have to suffer as our Annie and Molly suffered.

Cancer is the terror of our times. Preeminent oncologist Dr. David Agus in his groundbreaking book The End of Illness points out that, of all major diseases, the only one whose death rate has held steady over the past 50 years is cancer. His graph shows precipitous drops in death from heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and every other major illness; the death rate from cancer is a straight line.

Dr. Agus’s prediction about how many of us will be stricken with cancer at some point during our lives is terrifying. I know that, as a woman, I live in constant terror of developing breast cancer. Relatives have been diagnosed with stomach, liver, colon, lung, and pancreatic cancer, melanoma, leukemia, and lymphoma.

As far as I can tell, treatments are barbaric, debilitating, and ineffective, only postponing death (often for a very short time) at the price of all quality of life. (This is not true in the case of a contained tumor that can simply be surgically removed without radiation or chemo. These lucky folks quickly regain vitality and quality of life, and often, like my Grandma, live full, long lives after their surgery.) 

I constantly read reports of how this is all our fault: Our horrific diets and sedentary but high-stress lifestyles are responsible for our cancer. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. As far as I can see, in dogs as in people, cancer turns a blind eye toward lifestyle, exercise, personality, and diet. Our Molly was a happy-go-lucky, stress-free dog with an active lifestyle and zero junk in her diet. Annie was a quiet, mellow dog who’d been given the best high-quality care all her life. I put the blame for cancer squarely where it belongs: on the corporations and agribusinesses who are spewing toxic chemicals all over us and our world.

It’s not us, but the good folks who’ve polluted our air, food, homes, and water that are killing us and our pets. The folks who build nuclear plants, cellphone towers, and electric lines near our homes. The folks who spend millions to put chemical “air fresheners” and industrial-strength chemical cleaners in our cars, schools, and houses. The folks who spray their fields (and our food) with tons of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, and convince us with beaucoup publicity dollars to do the same to our lawns and gardens. The folks who successfully market atrocities like Lucky Charms snack bars, Pop-Tarts, and KooKies cereal.

The ultimate horror is that, whatever we do, we can’t escape our toxic environment, and neither can our dogs. We can eat the most wholesome organic diet, drink the most pure spring water, and live the healthiest lifestyle possible, but we cannot avoid the toxic pollution that we breathe and bathe in and that surrounds us at work and, too often, at home, thanks to our modern building materials. (And not just modern, either: Remember lead paint, asbestos shingles, lead pipes, and coal stoves.) 

At least we can try to minimize our exposure, to live healthy lives, to eat healthy diets. And at least we can read up on the risks and make our own choices about how to counter them, giving us some sense of empowerment. Our poor dogs simply get sick. We try to give them good, healthy, loving lives. We try to do everything we can for them once they’re diagnosed. On their part, they try to hide their suffering from us as best they can to spare our suffering. (This is doubtless why a highly disciplined police dog like Sem was able to hide his bone cancer until a week before he died.) 

I have read that doctors, given a choice, overwhelmingly choose quality of life over radiation and chemotherapy when they themselves are diagnosed with cancer. They know how pointless the suffering caused by both treatments ultimately is. They opt for living however much life is left to them to the fullest rather than suffering endless, and ultimately pointless, agony. I honor them for that choice and wish they’d pass it on to the public rather than continuing to dose everyone with ineffective poisons because we’ve come to expect that doctors can cure us of everything, statistics to the contrary. 

It takes great bravery to face up to a cancer diagnosis. I’m a coward, and can’t even imagine how I’d react. But I’ve never seen such bravery, selflessness, and courage as I did when our Annie and Molly faced their final battles. All their thoughts were on us, on shielding us from their suffering, on sparing us from suffering. I have never before or since encountered such greatness of mind and heart.

I’m no activist, but I would rip my own heart out and eat it if it meant that not one other animal ever died of cancer. That not one pet, not one person, was attacked by cancer, the ultimate betrayal: the body turning against itself, literally consuming itself.

And believe me, I would love to see the executives of the Monsantos and the factory-farm-friendly McDonalds and the nuclear plants of this world be forced to consume the deadly products they create, to breathe them, to drink them, in memory of my Molly, my Annie, my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and nephews. In memory of Sem.

What can we do to save our dogs?

             ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

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