Point of View

A dying dog gives lessons on life's dynamics

March 3, 2014 

Sadie

COURTESY OF MACK PAUL

My family faced a difficult decision. Our dog Sadie was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer. The vet told us she would not live much longer. As friends and family members learned of Sadie’s condition, a network lit up as words of concern and encouragement arrived. The architecture of her life became apparent as an interwoven set of relationships emerged.

My wife and I worried that she might experience a painful end. We debated whether to avoid that risk by scheduling an appointment to put her down. This discussion caused me to reflect on the value of her life.

How important was it that she live another week, a month, six months? Would she really comprehend the difference? I realized the answer to that question was not about her but about me. I did not want to lose her. A week or month to her probably mattered little, but it mattered a lot to me.

We had our issues with Sadie. She struggled mightily against certain impulses. One Halloween we dressed her as a devil with cape and horns. She managed to escape from our house and terrorize the neighborhood before we corralled her home. At Thanksgiving another year, she grabbed the turkey off the counter before dinner. That did not go over well with our guests.

Escape and jumping up on the counter were repeated themes for Sadie. Of course, she felt tremendous remorse for these acts. She knew that she had let us down and would try to do better.

Despite these foibles, Sadie performed a valuable role. She greeted us each day with love and affection. She bonded with anyone perceived as a family friend. Her presence at my side said that no worry was worth the effort. As I encountered the typical conflicts in life, she helped sustain me. In other words, her efforts lifted me and thereby my family, colleagues and others tethered together through a variety of networks.

Numerous studies underscore the important role that relationships play in health, happiness and longevity. A dog can deepen and extend these important relationships. Animals offer a unique personal bond that transports us beyond the mundane stress that can envelope our lives. Just as importantly, a dog facilitates connections with others. Nothing breaks down barriers better than an encounter with someone else’s dog.

An elected official recently told me that if board members could take their dogs to meetings, the incessant infighting would decrease dramatically. Just imagine what might happen if Congress dropped its “no pets” policy.

After her diagnosis, Sadie rallied. For two weeks, the pain receded, and I was able to put the illness out of mind. We treasured each day, spoiling her with treats. We even laughed when she grabbed my brother-in-law’s sandwich off the railing before he left on a long journey back to DC.

When the time came to end her life, we knew it was the right thing to do. We faced an unbearable void and would feel her absence acutely. However, Sadie left the network of relationships that comprised her life stronger through her love, service and toil.

Is our own charge in life that different?

We are here to love family and friends, serve our community and toil in order to sustain our material existence. We struggle against impulses that impede our capacity to perform these acts. This dynamic forms the basis of our life’s narrative and ultimately affects a much larger world.

Thankfully, we have friends who can help us on this journey.

Mack Paul is an attorney in Raleigh.

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