Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Still thinking about pets, and hospitals.
They say nearly a third of us live in what are now called "single family households" -- which is a kind way of saying, alone.
Lots of us who live alone are older. And for many of us, our dogs and cats (and birds and ferrets and whatever) are more than pets. They're our friends, our beloved companions during this last stage of our journey through life. I'm not ashamed to say I love Bao more than I love any living being on the face of the earth. Some people think that's sad. I think I'm blessed.
If Bao is still alive when I finally fall off my perch, I've made provisions for him. He has a Trust Fund. And I have friends who'll offer him a home.
But what if I don't actually fall off my perch? What if I end up stranded in a hospital bed, like my friend Morag?
Even though Service Dogs are allowed in hospitals, there's a big gap between what is theoretically permitted and what the people on the ground and in charge (who have sometimes never even heard of such a thing as a Service Dog) will let you do. (Regular readers, remember Stratford?)
And if I'm helpless, who's going to argue the point?
There's no Federal law against dogs in hospitals. And apparently, there's no state law against it -- at least, not in Arizona. It's simply a matter of hospital policy, and each hospital makes its own rules. But rules aren't cast in concrete, although many of the martinets who delight in enforcing them seem to think they are. Rules are made by people, and rules can be changed. On the other hand, there are thousands of hospitals, and persuading hospital administrations, one by one, to change their rules would take a lifetime of lobbying.
However, we are uniquely fortunate in that our Constitution gives us, as individuals, all of the rights that are not specifically arrogated to the state. So although we haven't got the right to make treaties with foreign countries, or to levy taxes, we do have the right to free speech, the right to free association, and so on. Although the Constitution doesn't say anything about dogs, Article Nine reads: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
Surely, this includes the right to have whoever you wish at your bedside, whether two-legged or four-legged, as long as you're not endangering anyone else.
Hospitals aren't prisons, and patients aren't criminals. Doctors, nurses and hospital administrators have no authority over us, other than the authority that we grant them. If criminals have rights guaranteed by State and Federal legislation, why can't patients have the same kinds of rights?
Perhaps, there needs to be State or Federal legislation, spelling out a hospitalized person's right to have their beloved companion at their side. The proposal of such a law would at least instigate discussion, and discussion is sorely needed, because this is one of those issues that you don't even think about, until it happens to you, and then it's too late.
I'm not arguing in favor of 101 dalmations romping freely through the ICUs of every hospital in America. But I don't want to find myself in a hospital bed, frightened and in pain, wanting my dear little dog snuggled up next to me and being told I can't have him, for no other reason than because it's "against the rules."
Anyone out there know a dog-loving Congressman, or Senator?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Cruise's Mommy is in hospital, in Intensive Care.
Cruise is a beagle. He's also Bao's best friend. His Mommy, Morag, is one of my best friends.
We met when I lived in Florida, where they still live. After I moved to Arizona, we kept in touch, talking on the phone a couple of times a week.
Morag and I have a lot in common. We're both feisty old birds, and we're both pretty much alone in the world -- no husband, no children, no grandchildren, no family at all, really. We used to walk Cruise and Bao together mornings and afternoons, and the four of us made it thorugh several hurricanes together, with laughter and doggie treats and plenty of Pinot Grigio. I was trying to talk her into moving to Arizona when she got sick.
Cruise is with a neighbor. They won't let him visit Morag in hospital, of course. Dogs aren't allowed in hospitals.
This is Morag's worst nightmare, and mine too.
Not being sick -- everyone gets sick. Not even dying. We agreed, We can handle dying. What we can't handle (and what we don't want to handle) is being separated from our beloved dogs. In fact, we even took out special insurance policies that provide for medical care at home, just to avoid a situation like this. Theoretically, we're supposed to get everything we need, delivered to our doorstep; round-the-clock nurses, equipment, the whole enchilada.
Trouble is, when you're lying there in hospital with nobody to speak up for you, who makes it happen?
Not the guy who sold you the insurance.
Not your friends.
Not even your lawyer.
Once they've got you, the doctors don't have to listen to anybody. They can do as they please and they can keep you there as long as they like. Even if you've legally designated someone to make medical decisions on your behalf , that person has got to be there, and that person has also got to be confident enough to stand up for you want, even when the doctors say that to comply with your wishes might kill you. (Which they will) In real life, up close and personal, not many of us are game to bite that particular bullet.
What does Morag want? I know she wants Cruise. (She probably also wants a glass of wine)
But she can't have either of those things. It doesn't seem fair, not at all. A convicted serial killer gets a last meal, anything his heart desires. Yet a desperately ill woman who never did anything bad to anyone is being denied the comfort of her beloved companion at her side, just because he happens to have four legs and a tail.
You know what? I think it stinks.