Milo and the Meaning of Life

 

It is more important to prevent animal suffering,
rather than sit to contemplate
the evils of the universe
praying in the company of priests.

Buddha

We tend to think that we humans are the only ones here, Masters of the Universe, trying to pave our way through the chaos of “lower forms of life”. We forget that we were born from nature and are part of it. 
We forget about the other sentient beings we share this planet with live with and depend upon. We live amongst all sorts of creatures and beings. Our focus on our selves makes most of them subordinate at best and irrelevant at worst. 

So how do we relate to and communicate with other sentient beings in our world? I watch the hummingbirds hum to each other. I see the squirrels chirp. And our dogs have always checked in with other. What are they saying? We might interpret what they’re doing. We impose our emotions and our feelings on them. We think little of it.

The world around us is abuzz with connections and communications if we paid attention. 

A friend of mine, who’s much smarter than me, says that in our lifetime, we will have direct communication with animals. Our pets will be affixed with a neural transplant that will interpret their feelings and their thoughts that will be converted into words. That will be a game changer! 

In the meantime, we must rely on our emotional intelligence.

We may see our pets differently. 

I grew up with big dogs that never came inside. They had a free and wild life outside in nature.  We had a relationship with our pets but it was limited by our walls and the time of the day.  We never spent that much time with them, to get to know them and for them to get to know us. I thought that was the way you were supposed to have pets. Bringing pets inside besides a goldfish 😊 was not proper. But life changes and you evolve. 

Like many of you, we have dogs. Indoor dogs that live with us inside. And like most families they became part of our family. They live with us. They eat and play with us. We love them and they love us back. And during COVID our dogs became more anxious and stressed, just like us, and could not be without us.

For more than 13 years we had Milo, a pure bred Havanese that was hypo-allergenic, playful, and obedient. Milo had a regal-ness about him. He was proud of his good looks. He loved to be groomed. He would sit atop the couch and pose. He liked fine things. When he reached his late 80’s in dog years, the aging process began to show. He was slower, his eyesight started to slip. Last year he was diagnosed with cancer, and we made the tough decision to not have surgery, chemo, radiation etc. Our experience with my parents, my wife’s parents and other elderly people in our lives was to move to palliative care. Pain management and support. That invasive procedures could be iatrogenic—worse than the disease.

For 7 months Milo was living his best life (according to us) he was eating well, taking hikes, and happy. But as the cancer progressed his tumor was growing very fast and interfering with his bodily functions. His appearance began to deteriorate, he lost his appetite and his energy and 40% of his body weight.

Yet throughout the progression of his suffering, he always was present for us. To comfort us. To protect us. That was his instinct. 

During the last few weeks, he struggled with his pain. He was sleeping 9-10 hours during the day. He occasionally moaned and yelped between serene moments of loving attentiveness. We had to increase his pain meds. We felt his time with us was fading. Last week, in consultation with our veterinarian, we made the very difficult decision to humanely “put him down” to relieve him of his pain. Words can’t describe this impossible decision that many families must make without understanding our pet’s wishes.

Our Vet said, “Better 2 days early than one day late.”

Were we doing this to end our suffering or Milo’s? 

What did Milo want?

What would he advise us if we could communicate?

Yet we knew Milo. We learned what Milo wanted and we attended to those needs.

The process of ending Milo’s life seemed humane to us. It was loving experience, surrounded by his family. It was pain-free and fast.  When he passed his tense face instantly became peaceful even puppy-like, free of the stress that had occupied his facial muscles and his body for the last couple of months.

Unlike Milo, we can speak, write, and communicate to the human world. We can help each other understand our suffering. What we want, what we need. How we want to live and how we want to die. Most people don’t make their wishes known. How they want the end of their lives to go. What their wishes are? Yes, advanced health directives. Wills. What to do with your body. I am always amazed how many people have not written these things down and without them I have seen the chaos and nonsense that ensues. What a strange thing to leave families and loved ones—to solve the mystery of what you wanted? 

As I have discussed on these pages, human compassion is never unspoken. It is the action of support. It is communicated. How do you feel? What can I do to help, to alleviate your suffering? That’s our job as fellow beings to relieve the suffering of others.

I have been at the bedside of a number of people who were at the end of their lives. They all want to be with loved ones. They all want to be without pain, and they all don’t want to leave too much pain behind. Sometimes it is too late. Often great reconciliation is achieved. 

Milo was unconditional with his love, his faithfulness. He loved everyone. He showed us how much he loved us and we tried to reciprocate. We shared an open and constant love. In the end, there was no need for reconciliation. We had no regrets. We all felt his pain and his suffering. We can only hope Milo agreed. 

Let’s not wait until the end. Until we are on our death beds. We are dying a little bit every day.  We are losing time and opportunity to love each other, to listen to one another, to come to the aid of each other’s suffering.

Milo was our dog. But he was a member of our family, the family of living things.

Some of you may not relate to pets or dogs or animals. Milo reminded me that other beings have deep feelings, emotional connections, care about others, and experience real pain and pleasure. He taught me how to be a better human. To try and be attentive to the non-verbal cues. To see other humans and other sentient beings. To let them see us.

Milo reminded me that we humans, we are just a part of nature, not to conquer it, not to separate ourselves from it, but to embrace our inter-being. Our interconnectedness. Our interdependence. 

If we pay attention and open our minds and hearts to the world around us, we will see and hear the amazing life we are embedded in. Nature, people, animals, the living breathing world. It is wonderous and filled with clues about our humanity and purpose.

How do we express our compassion and communicate what we want and to seek to find out what others need?

Milo taught us about the courage to be faithful and love unconditionally through sickness and in health and until the very end. Something for me and perhaps all of us to aspire to. 

Thanks for reading. John

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