Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It is never okay to point and laugh

I apologize in advance as this post may be all over the place.  Things for the Shoups have been pretty emotional (and expensive) lately.  It doesn't help that with Bean in the oven (one of many nicknames for the baby still cooking in mah belly), my hormone levels are higher than normal.  Just ask Brent.  ;-)

Our dog Sunshine, whom we dearly love, adore and cherish, is like a little old lady for many reasons.  As she ages (she turns 13 in January), so, sadly, does her body.  We have been managing diabetes for her for over five years now.  It coincided nicely with the birth of KIC.  "Hey, Shoups, I know that having a kid is an expensive endeavor, but let's throw in a ton of required veterinary care over the next five years to add to the fun!"  We have seen more specialists for our dog than most people see in in a lifetime.  We are dedicated to responsible pet ownership and would do it no matter what.  It's part of the package for us and always has been.  Is it an obligation?  Absolutely.  But is it done with love and respect?  100%. 


Sunshine's mobility had been failing for about 8 months or so. We noticed weakness in her hind legs and sought both traditional medication as well as homeopathic remedies.  She was diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy.  The vet could bend her rear paw completely underneath Sunshine's foot with no recognition or correction on Sunshine's part at all.  With the medications, we were able to buy a ton of time always knowing that the progress we gained was fragile.  In August, we had a huge scare.  And by scare, our worlds were rocked.  Sunshine's energy level had gradually been going down, but one night, it was clear through her coughing that Sunshine couldn't get enough oxygen.  At 1 am, B rushed her to the emergency vet.  We spent the next 14 hours wondering how long our girl would be with us.  The cost of a used beater car later, Sunshine was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent home with meds.  The oxygen and fluids had done wonders for her system, we knew what we were up against and we added another tool to our arsenal against her aging body.  We had a follow up with our regular vet the next morning, which gave us all peace of mind.  When Sunshine came home from the emergency vet, she was tired from not sleeping or eating much, but her mobility was much the same as it was before. 

The next morning was one of the scariest moments of my life.  I brought Sunshine downstairs, as we always do, since her neuropathy made stair navigation extremely scary for her.  When I put her down, she could no longer support her weight.  When I went to pick her up, I discovered she had defecated on herself.  Overnight, she lost almost all muscle control and seemingly, her bowel control.  I rushed her to the vet and carried her in myself, with KIC trailing behind.  The news from the vet was not good and she braced us to expect the worst.  Brent and I spent much of the day in tears thinking we would soon be saying goodbye to our girl. 

Inexplicably, Sunshine, as she is wont to do, defied the odds.  Her appetite started to increase, though her mobility was clearly lost.  We were sling walking her so she could relieve herself, prompting one very nice gentleman to stop and tell Brent that he had much respect for what Brent was doing and hoped that if his dogs got to the state Sunshine was in, he would do the same thing.  When B came home and shared, we both broke down and cried.  It was an extremely emotional time. 

We started to see that the sling could only be a temporary solution.  At five months pregnant, I couldn't physically support her during her sling walking.  We bought a cart, the cheapest on the market, because we weren't sure if she would accept walking in a cart.  Our reasoning was that if Sunshine didn't take to it, we could always donate it to a dog rescue that could use it. 

It took awhile, but as you can see, she eventually accepted it.  It didn't hurt that to goad her into walking in it, I would take another dog with us to provide competition.  ;-)  Nope, not a one of us Shoups is competitive.  The booties on her feet are from when she was at her weakest and dragging her feet as she walked.  If you look closely at the farthest paw, you can see how the weakness would allow her toes to bend under her foot.
To reach this milestone with Sunshine was huge!  HUGE!  We were all extremely proud of her and her accomplishment.  I was excited to be able to walk with Sunshine again, without having to worry about her falling and taking me with her.  We walked around in a bubble of pride, praising Sunshine with each accomplishment.  If rewarding her with an M&M every time she peed or pooped was appropriate for a dog, a diabetic dog at that, I would have done it!  Go Sunshine!  Even KIC would walk behind Sunshine chanting "Go Sunshine, Go Sunshine!"  It was a family effort.
And then, I started noticing the stares.  And the children outright pointing and laughing.  Some people even looked at us in disbelief and disgust.  I think the perception is that we were prolonging Sunshine's life for our own perverse satisfaction.  I actually began to welcome the folks who asked why she was in the cart.  Nobody knew what we went through to get to that point, nor was I going to give them the full run down, but the number of people who had their own perceived notions about our intentions or how "funny looking that dog is" was incredible.  Sunshine didn't and doesn't care so long as she gets to check her "pee mail" and do her thing, but I could see KIC start to take it in, especially when it was a peer who was doing the pointing and laughing.  It bothered me, more than I can say, and made me so sad.  The bubble of pride had shrunk and had become a bubble of protection.
Since school has started, Brent has started taking Sunshine to the bus stop in the mornings.  In a rare move of efficiency for him (cuz he's a boy), he walks KIC to the bus and then walks Sunshine afterwards.  Remember me saying we bought the cheapest cart we could find?  Well, it has come back to bite us in the butt.  The cart bit the dust for good and we are waiting for her custom cart (which was actually not that much more expensive) to come in for her.  In the meantime, the time she had in the cart gave the swelling around her disc compression enough rest that she can walk a block under her own power - albeit like a drunken sailor.  Those kids who were pointing and laughing have been able to see up close and personal the phenom that is Sunshine and KIC is proud to have Sunshine at the bus stop with her. 
I know that our society generally looks away from people with disabilities.  The fact that pointing and laughing is acceptable for an animal with a disability is interesting.  If we didn't frown on such behavior when a human being is involved, would we see a lot more laughing and pointing at humans?  Perhaps I am oversimplifying, but a smile always goes a lot further than ridicule.  Maybe people don't want the explanation and maybe I don't want to give it, but before they pass judgement, they should consider that they don't know all the facts and sometimes they really aren't all that important anyway.  Kindness is what counts.
The face of misery?  Not a chance.
In the meantime, we continue embrace each day with Sunshine, now with joy instead of grim determination.  Havoc has taken it upon himself to be her boon companion, her instigator and her general pain in the rear.  We see her happy grin more and more, and each walk seem to be a point of pride for her.  Instead of thinking we have weeks, we now hope we get another couple of years.  No matter the outcome, she'll always be our Sunshine. 

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