Work and FamilyPosted by Nicole Pallotta, ALDF's Animal Law Program Student Liaison on April 15, 2010
I was not able to attend last weekend’s sold-out Future of Animal Law Conference, despite having planned on it for months. I was especially looking forward the SALDF Leadership Breakfast and to meeting in person several of our wonderful student members, some of whom I have exchanged so many emails with that it’s hard to believe we have never actually met in person! Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. Unfortunately, my dog Alec suddenly became very ill last week. When I took him to the emergency hospital, they discovered he was bleeding internally from a mass on his spleen that had ruptured. The only option was surgery to remove his spleen and then, assuming he lived through surgery, to biopsy it to see if it was cancer. Spleen cancer is nasty and aggressive and common in German shepherds (the ER doc informed me as tears of shock slid down my cheeks). Now, Alec has been through a lot in the past two years and while of course I realize life is not fair, I just could not believe this was happening to him (he is only 9 – officially a “senior” but really not that old).
To make a long story short, Alec made it through surgery. They kept him for observation for two days and I was finally able to bring him home the Sunday before the conference. He had a long, jagged incision in his abdomen that was held together by a bunch of staples, and some minor cuts from where the IV and heart monitor were connected (oh yeah – and no spleen!), but Alec seemed to be doing well all things considered. However, he needed to be watched closely in case there were any complications following such a major surgery. There is simply never a good time for these things to happen, but a week before I have to go out of town for a huge work event…well that is truly awful timing!
I am so fortunate (in many ways!) to be at ALDF, where I have the privilege of working with a great group of like-minded people who also consider their companion animals to be legitimate members of the family. I don’t take that for granted for one second. When my late dog Kobi was diagnosed with cancer and needed regular chemotherapy treatments, I was able to adjust my work hours to accommodate our frequent trips to the specialty veterinary hospital. When Alec became paralyzed two years ago, I could not bring him home to my second-floor apartment in San Francisco because of the stairs. We had nowhere else to go, so we lived in the ALDF office for almost two months while he recuperated from spinal surgery. My colleagues helped us tremendously during this difficult time. How many employers would allow you to live at the office while you were nursing your injured dog back to health? How many employers would understand missing a hugely important work event at the last minute – not to take care of a sick child, but a sick dog? Unfortunately, workplaces that recognize the important place of companion animals in many families are in the minority…at least for now.
With our mission being to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals, you might imagine ALDF would be squarely in this progressive minority, and you would be right. My boss did not hesitate to tell me I could stay home and take care of Alec while he recovered, and, as much as I hated to miss our conference, I was so relieved. I needed to be with him. I am happy to report that Alec is recovering well and the best news of all is that I got his biopsy results a few days ago, and it was good news…despite the horrible odds, the mass was benign! I thought I might never stop crying tears of relief when I heard this incredible news.
So while I was sad to miss the conference, I was appreciative beyond belief that I could be with my boy when he needed me. And I am so grateful to work for an organization that walks its talk. One of ALDF’s goals is to encourage the courts recognize the special bond that can exist between people and their companion animals. We believe that all animals are unique individuals who deserve to have their best interests not only taken into account (sadly, this is not commonplace), but also honored. Second-wave women’s rights advocates taught us that the personal is political, and so it is with the animal protection movement. From what (or whom) we choose to eat (or not) to how we conduct our relationships with our animal companions, we reshape our personal lives to be a microcosm of our ideal vision for the wider society. While we may treat the animals with whom we share our homes like cherished members of the family, the sad fact is there has historically been very little cultural support for this special bond from our social institutions – including the legal system. This view is changing and I am proud to work for an organization that is at the vanguard of what is in my opinion the most important social justice movement of our time.
So I missed the conference. I traded the future of animal law for the future of one animal – mine (and I use that word with all awareness of its property connotations, but intending it to reflect a metaphysical reality: in a very tangible sense, I am his even more than Alec is mine). While I regret having missed it, I have heard great things about the conference, and I am thrilled to know so many students attended. Our wonderful and dedicated SALDF members truly represent “the future of animal law!” I hope to meet many more of them the next time around…barring any unexpected family emergencies.