Dr Makoto Kondo’s aged pet beagle was sinking. What to do? The poor beast had breast cancer. That’s something new in dogs. They’re living longer and longer, afflicted in old age by once unheard-of diseases.
Treatment was one option. It’s available. Pet aging has rejuvenated the veterinary business, as owners spare no expense to keep their beloved animal companions alive as long as possible. If you’ve heard of Dr Kondo – and you may have; he’s well-known – you’ll know he was having none of it. What, then? Euthanasia? As he mulled it over the dog solved the problem by dying quietly and naturally.
Kondo’s public notoriety rests on a number of bestsellers he’s written whose shared theme is, “Say ‘no’ to cancer treatment.” No surgery, no radiation, no chemotherapy. Even if these procedures extend the lives of cancer patients – and they don’t necessarily – they are so painful, debilitating and invasive, he says, as to make the cure worse than the disease. Cancer is not necessarily fatal; sometimes it can be lived with. If it can’t be, his advice is to come to terms with death and dying; medical intervention should be limited to making the passage as easy as possible.
The medical establishment excoriates him. The general public, judging by his books’ robust sales figures, is at least willing to give him a hearing.
His main concern of course is human cancer, but Josei Jishin (July 1) sounds him out on the spreading scourge of pet cancer. Once upon a time, the average pet dog lived five, six years; now it’s 15. Ditto for cats. Half of all pet dogs, and one-third of cats, end up with cancer. Kondo himself is an animal lover and understands what owners go through. He went through it himself. But treatment? Never, he says.
“I see what vets are offering in the way of cancer treatment, and it reads like a parody novel,” he says. “Parody” because it mimics human treatment – CT scans, MRIs, surgery – although “there is no evidence” any of this works on animals. Human treatment is at least subject to regulation. Pet treatment, he says, is not – neither the regime nor the costs, which easily run into the hundreds of thousands of yen.
“It’s all baseless and meaningless,” he tells Josei Jishin – “but many of the owners are elderly; they say, ‘It’s my last pet;’ they’re very attached to them.” Unscrupulous vets find them willing listeners to promises of cures. If they shrink from the expense they feel guilty.
Still, “Best do nothing,” Kondo advises. As for people, so for pets. He doesn’t use the phrase “death with dignity,” but it fits the point he’s making. “Whether for human cancer or pet cancer,” he says, “I wish society would learn to accept this as normal thinking.”© Japan Today