My mother tells me that as people get older, their visits to doctors increase exponentially. I'm getting older, but the doctors I'm visiting on a regular basis are the dogs'. There are biannual trips to the veterinary ophthalmologist to check Theo's remaining eye. There are his recurrent ear infections that I pride myself on having "totally under control" when in fact I do not. There is his Cushing's disease, which requires periodic blood work; and there are dental cleanings and vaccinations and well dog check-ups in between.
Lately, Theo has started wandering, getting stuck in odd spots in the house and going to the front door to find me when I'm standing behind him. So we went back to the vet about his mental condition. He is now on a medication to help him regain some of his cognitive footing. In response, I seem to have lost some of my own.
It happened in increments, like weight gain, or an addiction to "Shark Tank." First I was fighting (aloud) with my computer over updating to High Sierra. Next I was sending out Word files devoid of content. This wouldn't be such a big deal if I didn't have assignments due or if, as a friend suggested, "Everyone expects to get a few files that are senseless and corrupt."
What? No they don't. When I get a file that is senseless and corrupt, I do not think, "Oh, well, that's Microsoft Word for you." I think the person using it might need medication for cognitive footing.
Following my loss of control over the tools of my trade, I attempted to hang a shelf in my home office, a feat which first required that I find the electric drill (an hour to "discover" it in plain sight in my husband's office) and then required that I remove the battery from the drill in order to charge it (half a day, two broken fingernails, two YouTube tutorials).
When the screws literally fell out of the wall, I decided anchoring them was the answer (two more YouTube tutorials). The first anchor broke inside the wall, and the second one, like the screws before it, also fell out of the wall. There are now a multitude of dark, gaping holes in the Sheetrock that, in my imagination, mirror my broken, porous mind.
Hungry, I set a pan of beautifully quartered and oiled Brussels sprouts in the oven and returned to my office to once again confront my Word program, because as everyone knows, the antidote to every failed construction project is a deep, uneducated dive into the world of technology. It was there, having resumed the argument with the friend about whether dummy files are really the best anyone can expect, that the smell of a Brussels sprouts fire wafted up the steps to my nose. The next day, I left the water running in the garden for four hours and almost forgot to go to work.
All of which is both amusing and not. Because as it turns out, sometimes our pets' health reflects something about ours and vice versa.
Just this morning, I came across an article in The Washington Post titled, "A new meaning for 'sick as a dog'? Your pet's health may tell you something about your own," by Daphne Miller. According to Joseph Bartges, professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia, veterinarians " often see pets who have the same health issues as their human companions or who are sentinels for a human health problem." It isn't magic or coincidence: Bartges attributes the phenomenon to the fact that pets and owners share the same environment.
" ... Everything that occurs with industrialization" — here Bartges specifically cites processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle — "is making [both us and our pets] sick."
Another veterinarian, Kate Hodgson of the University of Toronto, takes things a step further, suggesting a "One Health" approach: in such a scenario, primary-care physicians would "routinely ask about family pets and consider collaborating with the family veterinarian" to be certain all bases are covered.
Loads of years ago, when I used to complain to my husband that the dogs were bored and lonely, my husband would suggest I was the one who was bored and lonely. Now I know we might both have been right.
So pay close attention to your pet's symptoms. We are bound together in sickness and in health.
Dana Shavin is a national award-winning columnist. Connect with her at email@example.com and on Facebook at Dana Shavin Writes.