With Dog as My Co-Pilot: Between Death and Life [sic]
Reverend Steven A. Bailey, ND
My life has been blessed with many great teachers. I count Nature as a whole university of teachers, with its departments of plants, animals, moon, and stars. Within my world, dogs have counted among the most important teachers and friends. Between my recent article “Transitions,” about where we go when we discard our physical shells, and my upcoming article “On Living,” the health of one of my two 15-year dog-friends plummeted. I had the privilege of staying by her side for her last 2 weeks. Naima was her name, and the lesson she imparted was deep, frustrating, and possibly served as a tremendous metaphor in our own human school of learning.
Before sharing the song of Naima, I will touch on my earlier canine teachers… There was Fang, who came into my life during my junior year of high school. As my companion and teacher, he shared the lesson of unconditional love for 14 years, passing on the day the Oregon board issued my naturopathic license. Fang stood by me through some of my darkest days, revealing a loyalty and love that few humans had revealed before.
Shortly after Fang left, I adopted a dog from the pound, and he earned the name Shadow because he silently hid in the shadows for about 2 weeks. He went completely blind by age 3, and at age 5 an X-ray revealed arthritis in his hips equal to the worst films I saw in med school. I had helped my vet with a tenacious sports injury, and he offered 2 free fusion surgeries out of gratitude for my simple naturopathy. He recommended aspirin for the pain (Shadow had not shown any signs of pain). I tried the aspirin for 2 days only, because every time the aspirin cleared, Shadow began moaning – the only sign of pain in his 15 years with me. Endorphins trump OTC and opiate pain relief many, many-fold, and the use of pain meds is linked with reduced endorphin production. Shadow never had the surgery, lived a very long life, and showed me courage under fire, living with pain, while still living a life worth living.
Shortly after Shadow, I bought a hound from a pet store – a beautiful half-Springer, half-Samoyed puppy – and named her Gina. She passed 1 month shy of 16 years of age, and I shared her last moments at the vets office. Gina taught me the lesson of play. Many who know me, know me as a pretty serious sort of chap, and I continue to work on this lesson in practice. I think fondly of my old friend, Bill Mitchell, the first time the AANP reserved the Biltmore for a conference; for hours, Bill climbed to the top of the water slide as he and others tried to maximize velocity by minimizing friction and drag. Goodbye again, Bill.
Taking a few months off after Gina’s departure, my wife Susan, daughter Shayla, and I began the search for a new dog, companion, and teacher. I was at work one Saturday when Susan called saying she’d found our perfect dog. I agreed to come to the pound, and here is where Naima entered our lives.
Shayla and I are clearly dog people, but Susan is not as universally appreciative of all dogs. Naima had impressed Susan with her pretty eyes, her quiet nature, and the fact that in a pound full of barking dogs, Naima remained calm and silent. Naima was the name that this dog came with, also the name of a river in Africa (“calm waters”), the first wife of John Coltrane, and the first jazz piece I ever learned in my early music studies. For me, adoption was clearly the correct choice. We took Naima, who had remained unadopted at a pound in Eastern Oregon and had been transferred to Portland for a second chance. We drove to a park, got out of the car, and as soon as I got 8 feet away, Naima began frantic barking, which continued non-stop until I returned. This behavior lasted for almost a year, her fear of abandonment remaining strong in spite of my constant attention and love. Slowly, she allowed me to go into my co-op for a quick trip, then a coffee shop, and over a few years time, I could enter a business without imparting a non-stop barking gift to the neighborhood.
When we got home from the pound on that first day, Naima came upstairs, smelled the food, and hopped right on top of the kitchen table to help herself. My intervention paralyzed her, as she would drop limp and play dead. She had clearly been abused and then abandoned. When I would leave home, she would often wait outside for hours for my return even though Susan and Shayla might have been inside. For 12 ½ years I gave her love, I applied the most patience I could muster, and attended to her special needs.
Naima began to age rather quickly this past year and, as summer hit, she had 2 grand mal seizures while I was home alone. I’ve been present for about 30 human grand mal seizures in my life, and I was impressed with the variations in the canine expression, but I knew that her health was on the decline. I began EFAs, lecithin, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and administered even more care and compassion. We warded off any additional seizures until November, when Susan, Shayla, and I were preparing to travel to NYC to sing Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall. When 2 additional seizures occurred, I cancelled my trip, began adding OTC CBD (cannabidiol) oil from my co-op, and she had no further seizures. I stayed at her side for the last week of her life, comforting her, and with her not showing any pain. I was able to be there with Naima at 5 AM, December 2nd, when she took her last breath. The sound of gurgling in the GI tract, created by the emptying of the jejunum (which means “empty”, derived from the observed emptiness of that organ on the battlefields of ancient Greece).
What did Naima bring to the table as a teacher? More lessons may unfold, but for now, it is the very important aspects of human/dog psychology that she taught me. The trauma/abuse in her puppy years left a permanent stain on her personality. Twelve and a half years of my best effort at love and patience, and she was still not secure and whole at death. This serves as a reminder to young parents about the weight of their actions, and it gives us all a reminder of the extreme delicacy of our youth. May we all take time to pause before we become the cause of someone’s painful life journey.
Today I am left with 15-year-old Lucy, an 80-pound yellow lab who thinks she is 3. Her depression from losing Naima has softened, and I hope that I am none too soon to say goodbye to yet another teacher. Next article – what is life, what is the purpose, what is the meaning?
Reverend Steven Bailey, ND, received his doctorate in naturopathy in 1983 from NCNM in Portland, OR; he has since maintained a full-time practice there. He is also an ordained pastor with Celebration Tabernacle Church in Portland. Dr Bailey’s practice ranges from well-baby exams to end-of-life conditions; fasting and juice therapies, botanical medicine, homeopathy, physical medicine, and nutrition are his primary tools of practice. Dr Bailey has a long history of public service, media contributions, and teaching, including instruction at NCNM, the publication of more than 250 articles, thebaileynews blog, cable access shows, and public speaking. He has served on numerous public and non-profit boards, as well as in the Albina Ministerial Alliance Teen Parent Program. He has also served nationally as a speaker of the House of Delegates for the AANP, in OR as a legislative chair for the OANP, and locally as director for the non-profit, Fresh Start for Restorative Health. Married 18 years to Susan LeMaster, they have 1 child, Shayla, now in high school.