Irish wolfhounds are incredible. To be amongst them is to be transported into a Dr. Suess-ian realm of impossible creatures. Sitting on the lawn surrounded by sprawling sighthounds I half-expect to see star-bellied sneetches in the distance. Haphazard hair, soggy beards, legs as thick as trees; I burry my face in the heaving ribs of this king of dogs and breathe in the earthy, oily scent of a dog as big as myself. The UPS truck barrels down the country road and the hounds gallop like mustangs bellowing an ancient song. The truck passes us by and they settle again, satisfied. Their eyes tell a story of Irish forests full of fairies, banshees, and changelings. I settle in the grass, flanked by dogs with bodies as long as mine and rest, safe.
I have felt truly safe so few times in my life that these golden moments are wedged in my mind. Resting on my friend’s lawn at her farmhouse in the company of at least 400 pounds of wild-haired beasts is one I cherish. Even as a child I was wrought with irrational fear; worries most children don’t have. Safety is a basic need in all creatures; a need we must fulfill if they are in our care.
Last week I walked along the beach, the cold Puget Sound crashing on the rocks, a light misty rain falling around my little dog and me. She had been scheduled for an elective surgery that morning and due to circumstances outside of my control, it was cancelled last minute. We had been sitting in the treatment area of the hospital, I had insisted on being with her while she waited. I knew if I put her in a kennel and left, she’d feel unsafe. When we were told the surgery wouldn’t be happening, I did what I always do when I’m overcome with emotion; I took my dog and we went outside. I sat on a slippery log of driftwood and Idgie settled in next to me. We gazed out over the foggy sound and decided the surgery could wait; it didn’t feel right anymore.
Putting a dog through elective surgery is something people do all the time in this country. We remove organs, sometimes before those organs have had a chance to do their part in the growth of the dog. We cut off body parts to make our dogs more aesthetically pleasing. We even cut out vocal chords when dogs are too loud.
I’ve had surgery a few times. Each time it was terrifying and painful, and I had the best care you could imagine. My anxious personality coupled with my overwhelming empathy for dogs might be what sheds a different light on these things for me. In any case, I think it behooves us all to think a little harder about what we put our dogs through. Be it elective surgery, transglobal flights, or heavy competition schedules; we should all continue to ask ourselves: am I doing the best I can? Does my dog feel as safe as he should? And if surgery or airplanes or dog shows or road trips are going to contribute enough to your dog’s quality of life that they’re worth the discomfort they inevitably bring, then do those things. Just be sure you are considering their experience when you make your decisions.
One by one the wolfhounds I knew and loved died. Each of them struck down by disease, none of them allowed to suffer. Big surgeries, chemotherapy, and experimental procedures are right for some dogs and some people. They are not right all the time, and now my fantastical friends lope through the forests in my dreams on four unhindered limbs, carrying bodies clear of cancers or afflictions. The UPS man delivers more packages, and the lawn is naked and green.