Dear friends of Inner Ocean,
Her name is Sparkle, she is a pit bull mix and we rescued her 4 years ago from a kill-shelter in Arkansas. When she
arrived, she was a hot mess. She had heart worms, staph infection all over her body, she had parasites, a limp, a half broken tail, 4 broken teeth that needed to be removed, 8 teeth that had been ground down to her gum line (probably from her many years spent chained to a post while forced to breed), and she needed 2 major eye surgeries or else she was going to go painfully blind. These were her profile pics from the rescue.
Not long after she arrived in Colorado, we discovered, “suspicious lumps” in her breast tissue that female breeder dogs apparently get after years and years of breeding. We fostered her for a year before we realized, who is gonna take this girl on?!?! We hadn’t received a single application for her.
And let me just tell you, she is one of the sweetest girls in the world. In fact, the reason the rescue reached out to me was because when I was working at the border in Burma and Thailand on an evening off, I was perusing the photos of dogs needing rescue (yes, that is what I do in my spare time) and I saw this dog who looked so rough around the edges…but she was at an elementary school and had these cute little kids hanging all over her and I commented, “What a total love bug.”
The rescue, having had ZERO interest in Sparkle replied on Facebook, “any interest? She is still available”
I replied, “I’m traveling and working outside of the country for another month, if she still hasn’t been adopted I will consider taking her when I return home.”
(Turns out the kindergarten class had a teacher who was committed to supporting animals in need and they had raised $400 to go towards Sparkle’s initial treatment costs!)
Sparkle’s Arrival In Colorado
March 11, I arrived home from 6 weeks of working abroad and they emailed me. Three days later she was on our doorstep, our hot mess we call, “Sparkle.” On the one hand, a completely ridiculous name for a dog in such disarray. On the other hand, an opportunity to create a new definition of Sparkle. The only information in her paperwork was from the farmer who found her wandering in the middle of nowhere, Arkansas and he wrote, “this dog has never known love.”
So, after a year of fostering her and taking her through all of her medical adventures we decided to adopt her and she instantly became a very important part of our family. She integrated seamlessly with our other rescued pit bull girl, Gemma Sue, despite what everyone warned us about.
Two years ago those supposedly benign lumps were biopsied and Sparkle was diagnosed with a slow growing
metastatic breast cancer that was deemed, “inoperable and untreatable”.
She hasn’t missed a beat since then. Granted, who is her momma? She gets acupuncture, massage, Chinese herbs, supplements, you name it. She has never given us any signs of pain and she has been plugging along just fine – of course the tumor still grows, silently in her mammary glands. The day before Christmas, she was bouncing around the house when it was dinner time (we should have never taught her, “Up!”), she was refusing to head home after an hour of walking,
she was playful and happy, her typical Sparkle-self.
Then Christmas Eve morning came and Sparkle knocked on death’s door (she could hardly walk, was in
severe abdominal pain, and panting like crazy). I was scared and sad and spent the day calling around to find a vet who would see her Christmas Eve. I finally found one who could see her around 4pm…she just had to make it there.
Christmas Eve I found myself in Broomfield at the emergency vet, having to suddenly consider putting my family member down. This was not what I had hoped for.
But then when I arrived at the vet, I saw I wasn’t the only one there with a sick family member. There were several others, just like me spending Christmas Eve at the ER vet. Many of these people were dressed so nicely, like they had been at a holiday party when they received the news of their pet. It was sad to be there and yet somewhat relieving to not be at home alone, fearing the worst. We shared conversations with tears, and grief, and joy.
You Are Not Alone
Despite my feeling sad for myself as I sat there in the waiting room with the TV blaring, and the cries of a woman whose cat just passed away, I was reminded of a story often told to reflect one of the Buddha’s teachings. It’s short and sweet and it goes like this:
A mother goes to the home where Siddhartha (the Buddha) is living, frantically knocking on the door and crying out. You see, she had heard that Siddhartha had magical healing powers and the woman’s only child was dying. She was frightened and desperate. She was now too old to have children and she was dependent on her son. He had fallen ill some days before and she had taken him to the doctor but the doctor couldn’t do anything for them.
One of Siddhartha’s student’s answers the door, “Yes, ma’am. How can we help you?”
“Please! Please help me! I need Siddhartha’s help! My only son, he is dying. I have spent all our money on the doctor and the doctor couldn’t save him. Please! I need your help!”
The student leaves the door to go find Siddhartha, meditating peacefully on his mat.
“Excuse me, sorry to bother you sir. We have a mother here from the village who is concerned about her son. She says he is dying. She wants to know if we can help her.”
Siddhartha makes his way up from the cushion and to the front door. The woman, crying hysterically explains to Siddhartha what has happened. She got down on her knees, grabbed Siddhartha’s robes, and begged him for help.
He says, “Ok, madam. No problem. We will help you. The first thing I will need in order to help you is for you to find someone in the village who has not seen death and bring them to me. As soon as you find them, please come back right away and we can work to save your son.”
“Ok, I will. Thank you so much! I will start now,” she says still sobbing. The woman then leaves and returns to the village to begin knocking on doors looking for the person who will ultimately save her son. She knocked on door after door only to find no one who has not seen death. The sun was setting. She was scared but still hopeful. She kept running from door to door, hungry but focused on saving her son.
“Excuse me, have you or anyone in your house seen death?” Each time, she sees everyone nod their heads. So she leaves, and goes to the next house. By the following morning, the woman had knocked on every door in the village, only to find that not a single person had not seen death. She was exhausted and losing hope. She sat under a tree, slumped, catching her breath, feeling the pangs of hunger in her belly, as the sun was coming up. Her face was red and her tears had all dried into salt on her skin. She was so tired.
As the sun creeped it’s way over the horizon the woman took a big, deep, long breath. Because in that moment, she had realized the purpose of Siddhartha’s instructions. She wasn’t going to find a single person, untouched by death. Because everyone has been touched by death. Her heart softened and the tears returned. This time, not because she was frightened and desperate, but because she felt more connected and more compassion than ever to the villagers she had lived with for so many years.
Lesson Learned, Heart is Open
You see, I was but one of many people, with their suffering pets sitting in the waiting room at the
emergency vet on Christmas Eve.
(Sparkle, helping us pack all of our medical supplies for our trip to Nepal…)
Of course it was not what I had hoped to be doing on Christmas. And yet, it was where we spent Christmas, along with several others who had their hearts torn open by the suffering of their four-legged family member. And while I wouldn’t wish any of this on any of our dear community, I know you have your own version of this story.
One of the biggest lessons I hear in the story of the mother is how we first feel like we are the only ones, and that there is no other suffering in the world like ours. Then we try to run from our painful feelings, even those we place on ourselves (like not appreciating our bodies, or the quirky things that are uniquely “us”). It’s instinctual to want to get out of pain and discomfort right away. But as you and I both know, it’s also impossible. “Wherever you go, there you are,” says Confucius.
A large part of our nonprofit’s work rests on this principle that we are all the same, and we are all suffering. And yet we can suffer less. The service we offer is to support the increase of our bandwidth of tolerance for pain and suffering, first and foremost for ourselves. Then as our bandwidth increases, we find that we have more and more room for those around us.
And just how do we increase our bandwidth, you ask? Stay tuned. You will be hearing a lot about this in the coming months.
If you are struggling this time of year for any reason at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Let my heart rest under yours and Happy New Year.
(This is our Sparkle, when she discovered she could jump the fence to get into the pristine flower garden! #nobarriers)
P.S. I didn’t end up having to put Sparkle down on Christmas Eve. But she has entered hospice, her days are numbered and we have been able to get her out of pain, at least for now