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Over a decade ago I became the caretaker of a lovely little Pekapoo. She was black and white, all sass and class, with a bit of a diva complex. She knew she was pretty and deserved to be doted upon. It was appropriate that her name was Sheba. She was five years old when we got her and very well trained. Not without her share of drama and issues…she often took a notion to finding ways to escape the yard and go for journeys. She also did not like to be bathed or groomed. She was fiercely protective of her home and her family but otherwise a very loving pup.

On some occasions, when she was “on guard”, she would throw her back out. Initially, we weren’t sure what was happening to her. We’d find her curled up on the sofa or the bed, shivering. She would accept a gentle massage, but yelp if you touched her muscles in a way that caused her pain. Then she would be careful and a bit slower walking and with stairs for a couple of days. Once she was better, it was like nothing had ever happened. Until it happened again. After about the second or third episode, we decided to consult our veterinarian.

Sidebar: I’ve generally been lucky with animals and the veterinarians I’ve done business with. My pets were low maintenance and their doctors matter-of-fact. Pretty much a good match. I trust veterinarians more than I do dentists but less than my general physician. As with most types of medicine, veterinary medicine is a bit of a racket in many cases. I am always on the lookout for one trying to take my money unnecessarily.

So, we take Sheba to the vet. He examines her. He can feel the heat in the area of her back that is causing her pain. He askes what our usual remedy is when this happens. We tell him that besides massage, we try to keep her from aggravating her back further and convince her to rest. Usually that works (in our view). He prescribes Percocet. Thirty pills at a cost of $1 per pill. We are suspicious, but we want to ease her pain.

On the way home we discuss this pharmaceutical option. We aren’t fully comfortable with it for a number of reasons. One: we had a cat we had to medicate. That was not fun. Tricking the cat into taking her pill was often an exercise in futility. Sheba was smarter than that cat. She loved a good treat, but she could usually find the pill. Sometimes it was several moments later before we realized the pill had not been consumed. When we succeeded in getting her to eat it, she didn’t realize she was “hurt” and ran around like nothing was wrong. We could tell when the meds wore off because the hot back would return, she’d be shivering and still again. This got us thinking.

If we didn’t give her the pills, she’d lay still and is better in about 36 hours or less. When we’d give her the pills, she’d be oblivious to her pain but would continue to re-injure her back. Which, in turn, would make the injury prolonged. This left us with a choice to make and a bit of a realization that we henceforth would apply to many of life’s “pains”.

It is better to feel the pain and get through it than to medicate yourself and ignore that pain while still doing whatever it is that caused it. Clearly the pills were not curing the dog. If they were, we certainly would have continued to give them to her. They only dulled the pain until the next time. Percocet in humans is a habit forming narcotic. It comes with lots of warnings and precautionary statements. Fortunately for Sheba, she did not cozy to pill popping and we did not encourage her to ignore her pain for the sake of feigned happiness.

We learned many valuable lessons from that dog and pets before and after. One of the greatest is the difference between coping skills and coping habits. Don’t ignore your body, take care of it as best you can. And, importantly, don’t salve the pain indefinitely. Pain is a way of nature to inform you that something is wrong. Something in most cases, that can be resoved with nutrition, rest and attention instead of an abundance of unneccesary medication.

And don’t misunderstand me. I keep a small bottle of ibuprofen for the rare occasion when we just can’t tolerate the interruption of physical pain. A bottle of 24 pills usually last beyond its expiration date. Maybe our tolerance is greater than most. A machine had to tell me I was in labor. For this, I am fortunate and grateful. May whatever pain life brings always be tolerable.