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Responsibility

by on November 22, 2019

Responsibility

by Marco M. Pardi

Today more than ever life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.” Dalai Lama A Cry From the Forest. 1987

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Last week I telephoned my dog’s favorite veterinarian and asked him to come to my home, prepared to administer the drugs to end my dog’s life. I will not recount the process which brought us to that point; everyone who has been through this has their own story to tell. I will simply say that he, “Plato”, was nearing fifteen years of age and had developed an incurable and certainly painful and fatal condition. On arrival, the veterinarian, who had cared for Plato for many years and was devoted to him, checked him over and said it was definitely time.

I was sixty three when I adopted Plato from a shelter. He was somewhere over one year old at the time. I knew that the conditions of my life gave greater likelihood to my passing than any accidents or unforeseen health problems would for him. I made arrangements for his care in such a case. But even having had to enact similar end of life scenes with previous dogs, the anticipated years of great companionship outshone that dark cloud I knew could be just over the horizon. He could go before me.

And so, as I sat with him while his breathing eventually stilled, I wondered, despite what my vet friend had told me, if I had done the right thing. If it was definitely time. That night, and the next few days in a cold and empty house I looked back over the years and wondered if I had given him a “full life”, as the trite saying goes. Those years happened to include my relentless advocacy for physician assisted suicide, “death with dignity”, a term many prefer. But I do not recall ever making the connection beyond the many humans I have seen in end of life distress, ever extending it to non-humans. After all, we’ve always had the “right” to end their lives, haven’t we?

When we accept responsibility for a member of a species that, barring other variables, will live a much shorter life than ours we accept the responsibility to ensure their passing is as comfortable as possible. After all, we accept that responsibility in anticipation of the years of companionship, fun, and affection that non-human animal will provide to us. The very least we can do is provide our devotion and commitment at the end.

Looking back, I remember that all my personal dogs were “rescues”, dogs in shelters, with adoption groups, or with people who had puppies to give away. I had no responsibility for them being brought into the world, but I accepted responsibility for them since they were here. I think that matters.

Each and every day about 4,100 dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters in the United States. That is the daily average. Multiply by 365. Some readers may say there are no-kill shelters. That’s true. But it is as often true that some or many of these shelters run out of space and “side door” some of the residents out to shelters with no such policy or to groups which are not well organized to find them homes, putting them back into public shelters where they are lucky to live 72 hours. Anyone experienced in problem management knows it is easy to get lost in dealing with the effects while completely losing sight of the cause or causes. And in this case it is easy to identify and address the causes:

Failure to spay or neuter one’s pets. With the exception of one Samoyed, for whom a litter was recommended before spaying, every one of my cats, dogs, and even horses was spayed or neutered or (in the case of the horses) kept isolated during “heat”. Far too many people project their own sexuality based feelings of “completeness and prowess” onto their companion animals and compound that error by letting them run loose. Contraception – sterilization, in this case – is readily and cheaply available. With millions of dogs and cats being killed yearly there is no need to ensure one’s own dog or cat must be able to reproduce.

Failure to crack down on “puppy mills”. It seems a month doesn’t go by without news coverage of a puppy mill being found in appalling condition, with young females kept in small wire cages awaiting their turn on the “rape stand”. It is not unusual to see a count of over 100 dogs in seriously debilitated condition, several dead or dying, being taken out of these concentration camps. Yet these “business people” pay a fine (a business cost) and are back at it in some other location under a different registration.

And now we are approaching the Christmas season. Television and print media advertisements are already showing young puppies, and some kittens, snuffling around the presents under the tree, even wearing a colorful bow. But the Christmas puppy turns into the Easter chore, and the summer boarding cost at vacation time, and the Thanksgiving nuisance around the laden table. And what will be the Christmas gift this time? These are sentient, feeling beings with as much right to be here as us. But watch what happens at the shelters after the Christmas joy wears off.

I know some people will be irritated by where this piece goes next. But I trust that thus far we, myself and the readers, have felt a certain moral resonance. I cannot contain that resonance; I cannot lay impermeable boundaries around it. My heart and my mind reach out to another Christmas venue: the homes where crawling infants are under foot, the orphanages where children of all ages are warehoused until “placed” – if ever, and the foster homes where children are often acquired simply for the financial benefit derived from State support. I’ve been in these places, especially the homes, countless times in four major metropolitan areas in the United States. I’ve talked with the aging, worn out grandmothers who informed me the mother of the children underfoot was “out runnin’ the streets”.

When I did talk with the mothers, as a federal health officer I was prohibited, under Republican administrations, from even mentioning contraception. But as an assignee to a particular State I was able to get around that, and even hand out condoms. I even had multi-colored condoms to brighten the mood. Sorry ladies, no “lo-cal” condoms.

But moments of humor do not balance lives of misery. Those children would themselves be out “runnin’ the streets”, aging out of orphanages or foster homes, joining gangs in search of the family they never knew. And who among us asks ourselves if we are doing the right thing?

Plato is home now. Actually, he never left. Oh, his body was taken for cremation and returned to me, in a beautiful hand carved rosewood urn. He’s probably figuring how to get out of this box.

His “mommy” is now home, back from her ten day vacation in Costa Rica. We haven’t talked about it.

I still glance at the lower right corner of my monitor to see if it’s time to take him for a walk or prepare his warm meals. I listen for his breathing from the corner of this room where he snoozes and coaches me on writing style.

On the day he was carried out I went through the house picking up his toys, cookies he had hidden for later, his parka and raincoat, leash and harness, and his dinner bowls. His parka is washed, and with everything else is in the basement, where his “mommy” never goes.

Some day I will go to the shelters and an older dog will recognize me. A dog who has been passed over many times. There will almost certainly be disagreement at home. But I probably don’t have very many years left. Loneliness kills. And that’s as true for a dog in a cage as it is for me. Not living by one’s morals, not being Responsible, is just as deadly.

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38 Comments
  1. From Ray:
    Marco – Really nice, if sad but also uplifting story. Just on the human dimension, you are right to talk about procreation and the population burden on this planet from the way we breed and live. We need a national conversation about the family and our responsibilities to the planet earth.

    When we were child bearing age we thought only replacement – today even that is too many. Instead of providing child tax benefits as an inducement for more children it has to be time for taxation on that extra carbon emitting sweetheart – poll taxes if you like – to help guide us in our stewardship of this planet. Somebody needs to take on the Catholic church and Islam with its pro-birth policies. I can’t think of a better champion for that that you…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Ray. I am utterly baffled by the legislators in this country who, while crafting egregiously harmful laws against abortion and restrictions on family planning and contraception seek at the same time to reduce or remove any and all social support such as Food Stamps, School Lunches, and medical care for the obvious outcomes of their laws. I imagine Margaret Atwood sits stunned at such dystopia. Marco

    Like

  3. From Alex;

    China had, the now abandoned, one child policy. Ray the other alternative you don’t much mention is a reduction in consumption by everybody, after basic needs are met.

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  4. Thanks, Alex. I doubt we are ready for a Draconian measure such as that policy. But in any context a decline in consumption should be called for. Unfortunately, our so-called Republican legislators are totally paid for by business, and business means consumption.

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  5. Sad truths indeed.

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    • Thank you, Rachel. I hope you are well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am, thank you. You too? These questions take on new weight as we and our friends get older and health is crucial.

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        • I’m about to get hip replacement. Probably because I was never very hip to begin with. Yes, now social small talk is all about health and doctors. I still don’t fit into that very well.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Hip hip hooray for the hip of the day! So begins a poem I wrote for my friend. Around here every hip op is a. Life changing success, I gather, so, enjoy… And do the post op exercises religiously.

            Like

  6. Julie permalink

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your precious Plato Marco, I had tears while reading this. The loss of a dear pet is very hard. I am sure, like you say the right dog at the right time will waiting for you, I’m a big believer in fate, things are how they are meant to be, the good and bad. Sending you much love and don’t hesitate to visit the shelters as soon as you get the inclination ❤ I also feel loneliness kills.

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    • Alex Matheson permalink

      I “enjoyed” this Marco. I am a bit puzzled about a Georgia dog needing a parka. alex

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      • Thanks, Alex. We live in the foothills of mountains and get temperatures in the teens, with icy rain and snow. Plato loved the snow. Icy rain, not so much.

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    • Thank you, Julie. I, too, sense a “plan” behind events, though I disavow a divinity of any sort. I will be looking for that doggie recognition I spoke of and will introduce him/her when the time comes.

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  7. Dana permalink

    Marco, this post has had tears flowing. I can’t imagine any dog having a better life and care than with you. As you know, I would implicitly trust you with my own life and the life of any human and non-human I care about.

    I never was able to meet Plato in person, but still felt I knew him a little bit. Imagining you in your kitchen, adding warm steamed vegetable water to his food has been a comforting thought. Those little things about your life and his life have been meaningful to me. I’m also grateful for your example and your advice as a caregiver and companion to non-humans.

    There’s never enough time with those we love. With non-human partners, everything about their lives rules our day. Having a furry friend is the best way for me to live. But it’s beyond difficult when life drastically changes after they physically leave. All of their affection, care, exercise, and fun are so woven into our own lives that I imagine very little difference in the grief felt. It some ways it might be might even be more difficult than death of a human loved one.

    As you know, Billie, our canine family member and my best friend for nine years died in 2017. I was forced to go to work and plaster on a smile for the public eighteen hours later. No easy task. When pets die, most of the world moves on seemingly in minutes. Advice to “Go get a new dog/puppy!” can be well-intended but hurtful nonetheless. It should be removed from the list of “condolences.”

    There are still fleeting moments I think I’ve heard water lapped from a bowl, or nails going “tick tick tick” across the floor. For some of us, a pet might be our only physical affection for days, weeks, even months at a time. Some days I suddenly realize how long it’s been since I’ve had a hug. Violet was great for that – the most physically affectionate dog I’ve ever had the gift of knowing. I have little doubt she would still choose a warm hug and cuddling over a delicious food treat. And I hope her new family gives her all the hugs she needs. She had a really tough life in the years before me, and deserves the best future possible.

    There are countless dogs and cats who need loving, safe homes. Sadly, current circumstances can often prevent us from moving forward even when we feel ready to do so. When the time is right, I’m looking forward to at least four of us sharing stories about our new non-human family members.

    There’s a song written and sung by Amy Grant (another teen idol of mine) about loneliness. I loved and sang it when I was twelve, and equally love it today.

    “But I have found a comfort here
    Solitude can be so dear
    Loneliness is not so blue
    When it puts my mind on you.”

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    • Thank you, Dana. Your constant and true companionship, even from a distance, has been and is a deep comfort to me and to Plato. You portray the realities of the “afterward” so accurately I can sense them with you.

      There will be a time, for each of us, when we have that furry companion again.

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  8. Dana permalink

    Marco, one of the many things I can never forgive myself for is leaving Billie the evening before he died. The death of loved ones and non-human animals is traumatic for me because of things I was forced to experience and happened to see in my childhood.

    I only wish I’d given him a fraction of what he gave to me, and I wish I had that evening again. I’ve probably punished myself enough since that time Still, there are moments I feel I don’t deserve to know the unconditional love of a dog. No one has ever cared for me like Billie did. He was truly my guardian angel when it should have always been the reverse.

    Plato was with you when you wrote this. He might even be nudging me to stop crying. He was so fortunate to have you, and you him.

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    • Thank you, Dana. As you well know, we are plagued with What Ifs and I Should Have long after the event. I guess that’s part of the human mind. The best I can say when those moments arise is that they will guide me in how I form my next non-human relationship.

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      • Dana permalink

        Marco, that’s a perfect outlook. I could go around and around with the What Ifs, but that is counter-productive.

        I’m not sure why I no longer receive notifications for responses to comments, but I’ll continue to check for them. I don’t mind; I like being here.

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  9. Dana permalink

    alex, my dog Violet sometimes shivered when the temperature dropped below 20°C She was clothed indoors the winter she spent with me. It can get really cold here in the winter, especially in January.

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    • Yes, Dana. And, Plato suffered a dramatic weight loss in the weeks before his passing. On one of our last short walks the temperature was 24 degrees.

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      • Dana permalink

        Marco, I remember that day, the coldest one on record since last March. I didn’t leave the house, but would have bundled up for a dog’s needs. Billie never minded the cold outdoors, and would linger, finding more reasons to keep us outside. Maybe he sensed we both needed to step out and change the energy around us.

        I’m so glad Plato had you – someone who is diligent, observant, and caring. Every non-human animal companion should be so fortunate. And I have no doubt every one of your horses, dogs, and cats received the same loving, humane treatment.

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        • Thank you, Dana. Everyone we met was always taken with Plato’s Kodiak parka. I think he was kinda proud, too.

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          • Dana permalink

            Marco, I wish I could have seen Plato in his parka. I wonder if his soft coat fluffed out around the edges. I bet he was so cute hiding cookies for later.

            When Billie first began gnawing Nylabones after his dinners, he would hide them. His favorite spot was between a door and a wall. I’d often find them in the corner behind the door.
            He could always make me laugh without trying. If an antic did bring laughter, he would repeat it.

            We were so fortunate to have had their companionship and affection.

            Dana

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            • Thank you, Dana. When my granddaughter first saw him in his parka she said he looked like a detective. All he needed was a Deerstalker hat to complete his Sherlock Holmes look. Or maybe Columbo. He sure loved the coat.

              He also hid cookies behind the doors. Yes, we were fortunate.

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              • Dana permalink

                Marco, for some reason I’m no longer receiving responses to my comments through email, so for now I’ll be checking them by reading them all on the site. I’m not sure what’s going on, because I always check the box to “Notify me of new comments via email.” Hopefully I haven’t missed too many.

                That’s a really cute mental image of Plato. I’m amazed he had the willpower to hide cookies for later. I certainly don’t. If they’re available, they’re soon devoured. But, I imagine him to be very wise as you are.

                You once gave me a doggie coat that I think belonged to Ursa. I often wish I still had it, ever the sentimental collector. It was too big for Violet, although the raincoat was a perfect fit and she definitely used that. As for the other jacket, it went to a needy dog. I have no recollection of who the caregiver was, or even the dog for that matter. Isn’t that strange? Trying to practice mindfulness at all times is crucial for me, but it would seem that would stand out. I continue to search my memory, but nothing happens. It was around the time I was losing my home. I do hope it provided some comfort to a dog who needed it, though.

                Dana

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                • Thank you, Dana. This site has been going through some revisions and some things work differently. I don’t know how to address the problem you cite but will look into it.

                  I’m glad other dogs benefited from Ursa’s clothes. I had a large assortment of food and cookies left this time – Plato did not eat anything over the last 6 days of his life – so I gave all the material to a neighbor who has a dog who loves me and loved Plato.

                  But all the rest of Plato’s gear is in the basement, cleaned and waiting for “the dog who recognizes me”.

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  10. mkdohle permalink

    The human situation and its problems can be overwhelming, and in reality, impossible to deal with. You mentioned China. the more you read about how they achieved their one-child policy is not easy reading. The rights of the citizens were completely taken away from them. Women were forced to have an abortion, even dragged into clinics to have it done. Parents would often kill their daughters so that they could have a son as their only child. so to force one-child families does not work.

    I am catholic, and I do believe that the church is actually a voice of sanity in a crazy world. Is sex really a sport, only for pleasure, and does each human have the right to have sex with as many people as possible, with no regard for the life that is brought forth by it? People are not objects, they are sacred, and sex for humans, is not just for mating, it is also based on commitment and taking responsibility for one’s children. Today children are a commodity. Women brag about getting abortions as if it was something to be proud of. The situation of many women is horrible, they are used and then forced by circumstance to abort. I have spoken to many women who have had abortions, even those who have no belief in God or have any spiritual path that they follow, yet every year when they come to the ‘date’ of the abortion, they mourn the loss.

    We keep getting more and more liberal when it comes to how people ‘should’ live our their sexuality, and then wonder why there is so much suffering connected to it. I do know from experience, as well as speaking with people who live out their faith path, which often means a disciplined sexual life, are happier, with much less suffering in their lives.

    People are sacred, so is the life in the womb. If the life in the womb has no rights but can be taken away by the mother up to the time of birth, then life is not that important. People are expendable for some ‘common good’ that does not exists.

    We have souls, when that is forgotten, then we seek to find something to fill that inner void. When we seek solutions apart from our deep, inner, true selves, we will only suffer. I do not see our society getting happier, or better in any way. We spout ideals, but they are not lived.

    I am speaking of people of my own faith as well. The reality of sin, is real, wherein we objectify reality as some ‘thing’ to be manipulated. Be it people, animals, and yes when we reduce the fetus as a thing, then that too becomes a mere object, a function. We can’t really believe when we think that the ending of human life is a good thing, that in the end it will not turn on us and in the end, no one will be safe. When we are reduced to just being ‘meat’, then we will be treated like ‘meat’, and treat others the same.

    Greed, food, drugs, alcohol, and sex, and the will-to-power are ways that we try to medicate ourselves. The fact that the church holds to her moral teaching (though by the scandals in the church, not often lived) is at least something that we can think about. The population problems in the world are not caused by church reaching, but by people, Christians included, who do not live up to its teaching.

    I know this group, I am the only one who thinks this way, but sometimes I believe that liberals, as well as conservatives, are turning into ghettos where everyone only talks to those who agree with them.

    The solution can’t be improved by governments, or even by religious teaching if we do not learn to love ourselves. Yes, lit sounds too simple, but self-love is something more difficult than supposed. It takes deep healing that can, I believe, come from a deep loving relationship with what is called “God”. Our cities show us what our inner lives are like, our cultural’s are created by us, the mess we are in is created by us, there is no them.

    I am unashamed of my faith in Christ Jesus, and also, not ashamed of my Catholic faith, though it is often poorly lived out. The problem is, it has not truly been tried, and when one gets into power, within any group, well, it does corrupt. Jesus said that to lead, is to in reality to become the servant of all, this is not lived out for the most part. Not sure I would want that kind of power, for I have no doubt I would be corrupted as well. I am not throwing stones. I am part of the problem as well, for I do live in a glass house 🙂

    Peace
    Mark

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  11. mkdohle permalink
  12. mkdohle permalink

    Oh yes, thank you for sharing the deep love you had for Plato, very touching, like I said above, you are a loving, compassionate man.

    Peace
    mark

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    • Thank you, Mark. Your insights are always invaluable, as is evidenced by your large following elsewhere and by the respect you rightfully merit from this group.

      I think you were responding to Alex in your China reference. I thought the One Child policy was Draconian and doomed to failure through exactly the problems you described. Yet, while there may be places where abortion can legally be performed “up until birth” I know of no such practices for the simple reason that this would then be infanticide, not abortion.

      I quite agree that loving one’s self is key, but one must understand the nature of that love. It is not what we have popularly made it, especially in the West. I think it is best captured in two words: Know Thyself.

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      • mkdohle permalink

        Yes “Know Thyself”, is a good way to look at it. In monastic life we have a vow called “conversion-of-manners”, which in order to live out, it has to be based on the ability to look at oneself, and to accept oneself unflinchingly.

        I do believe that as a people, not just the USA, but our species, wants to look for leader to solve problems. When in fact, at least in countries where we can vote, we get leaders that actually reflect where our country is at. We get what we deserve. Trump is a symptom, he is not the cause. He is supported by one half of the problem, the other half is in reality not much different if they move to far in either direction to the left or to the right.

        How are cycles broken? By speaking truth in gentleness and not in in an aggressive manner; which is not communication at all.

        I do believe that unless people start to actually think about their lives, and where their lives are going, (I of course include myself in this), then we simply end up as individuals, and a country that simply chases it’s tail, but the chaos gets worse.

        I guess we have to ride this to the end……hold on, one day it will settle down one way or another. It is the ‘another’ that I worry about sometimes, but it is out of my hands.

        Peace
        Mark

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        • Thank you, Mark. I really like that conversion of manners vow. I was unaware of that. And I certainly agree that Trump is a symptom, not a cause. But I do feel compelled to fight to the end, even if I sometimes wonder if doing so is an expression of my ego needing to win.

          Like

          • mkdohle permalink

            LOL A man has to do, what a man has to do. You have made me look at my animal brothers and sisters differently, that is for sure.

            peace
            mark

            Like

  13. I was so saddened to learn that your dear Plato had passed. We lost our Shadow a few weeks ago; life seems filled with the tragic right now. I offered you my ear before, and that still stands. Rose

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    • Thank you, Rose. In the context of all you are going through now your kindness yet shines through. Please extend my thoughts to Shadow.

      Like

    • Dana permalink

      Rose, I’m so sorry to hear about Shadow. My heart is with you.
      Dana

      Like

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