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Say "No" To Drugs

I am not sure who created the management doctrine but there is a principle of “unintended consequences” which holds that in trying to do good things bad things may happen.  This event falls squarely within the ambit of this doctrine.

Very early in our relationship, I needed to take Angel with me on her first airplane ride.  Angel was certified as a “Service Dog”, and this permitted her to fly in the main cabin of the aircraft and occupy a seat beside me, or, as she preferred, to stretch out on the floor in front of her assigned (and purchased) seat.

Prior to this airborne excursion, Angel had to be examined by a veterinarian and certified as “fit to fly”.  I thought that given the trust we had been developing between us, she would feel comfortable with me and Paula, who had by now become Angel’s best friend.  However, the vet, to be safe, gave us some Xanax.  Yes, this is the same drug used by humans for anxiety, suggesting still another bond between man and dog.  The medication could be given, I was informed by the vet, should Angel become anxious in flight (something I should have known by now would be a given).  The recommended dosage was up to 2 pills for a 3 hour trip.

Angel was fine for the first half hour, but, as the airplane gained altitude, she began to shake.  We gave her one half of the pill.  No visible change.  We waited about a half hour; the shaking got worse.  We gave her the second half of the pill.  And, after another half hour, with no abatement of the shaking, we gave her the last pill.

The shaking stopped and Angel, on the floor near the seat, slept peacefully – one might say like an angel, although, on reflection, I can’t say I’ve ever actually seen a sleeping angel, even in the abundant depictions of them in Renaissance art.

And there on the floor, throughout the remainder of flight, Angel stayed, all 71 pounds of her ( I guess I’ve let the “dog” out of the bag, so to speak, but we accepted a 25% weight gain as a measure of our success and her happiness, in spite of Angel becoming ever closer to resembling a small keg rather than a large canine).

As we neared the end of the flight, we decided that the time had arrived to awaken Angel, so we might leave the aircraft.  No movement.  No response to her name.  Nothing.  The airplane began it’s decent.  We got a bottle of water and with a cloth dampened her face.  Nothing.  Angel was dreaming the kind of dreams only dogs can love, and from which no dog wishes to be interrupted.

The airplane landed.  No movement from Angel, who gave all the indications of having become embedded in the aircraft.  The plane emptied.  We were the only passengers on board. 

The Captain of the airplane came back to evaluate the situation.  Seeing the snoozing Angel, and being trained in enterprising maneuvers, he sent for a wheelchair.  The chair rolled down the aisle and came to a stop at Angel, who had become a testimonial to the marvels of modern pharmacology, undeniably anxiety-free – but also still unconscious..  With not a small amount of effort, the three of us managed to pick up this snoring huge animal ( her owners had allowed her to balloon to 71 pounds!).  We carried her to the exit door and loaded her on to the wheel chair.  Angel, still sleeping, slipped about in the wheel chair as an airline employee pushed it along, her front paws hanging off one side, hind legs off the other side, head drooping off the seat, Paula standing by to make certain Angel; did not totally dislodge from the rolling handicap apparatus.

Did I mention that Angel was in her full “service-dog” regalia – wearing a large white bib with a giant red cross on it so there would be no doubt that she was fully-certified to provide a full range of assistance to her disabled owner?  Probably not.

However, as we walked through the airport, people did stop now and then to take in the sight of a giant Golden Retriever, a well-decorated service dog, being rolled through the airport on a wheelchair, accompanied by a lady dashing from side to side to avoid “slippage”, keeping the dog from tumbling to the ground and being, in essence, run over by her own non-ambulatory device, behind which trudged an old guy, who might very well have been the owner of the dog, laden with several heavy bags and attempting to keep up with his dormant aide. 

We finally loaded Angel, still sleeping, into our car for the ride to our home in Sarasota, stopping en route to a Pet Smart to have the vet on duty exam her.   He pronounced her fit (I believe the word he used was “alive”) and said Angel would, “in due time”, though he was no more specific than this, sleep it off.

Our excursion was, however, not yet finished.  We still needed to get Angel, who was laid out on the back seat of our car like one of those bear rugs one finds in hunting lodges, out of the vehicle and up and into my sixth floor apartment.

Fortunately, there was a luggage cart available on the first floor.  Angel, still out cold in a way known, I suspect, only to those who have had the misfortune of getting into the ring with Muhammad Ali, , was finally rolled on to the luggage cart, and, as heads of residents poked from balconies above and looked down at this animal with a giant red cross bib sprawled on the luggage cart, we wheeled Angel into the building, rode up the elevator, finally entered my apartment, and, by tilting the baggage cart, deposited Angel on the floor next to my bed.

About four hours after we landed, Angel awoke, still groggy, and she made it known that she had the need to go outside and relieve herself.

Heads reappeared on the balconies (word spreads fast in my condo complex when something as worthy of attention as this occurs) to watch and speculate about an old guy accompanying a “service” dog who looked staggeringly drunk, and who alternately peed and collapsed, was pulled to an upright position, peed some more, collapsed some more, was uprighted again, and so on, until her business was at last accomplished.

The next morning, as though the events of the previous day had never occurred, Angel was herself, ready with her usual “O What a Wonderful Morning” energy, perhaps even more than  usual, as she seemed extraordinarily well-rested for an animal of her age and girth.

Angel has been on an airplane many times since.  According to expert opinion, she probably does not remember the episode.  The same can, obviously, not be said about her owner, his chief of staff, and, perhaps, a significant number of others who witnessed various portions of this event.  However, we no longer medicate.  We count on the respect and trust she has for us.  Sometimes she shakes, but she knows that all be well.  A lesson learned by us both.

In a management context getting good advice from an expert when facing a new experience is very sound.  However, in dealing with unknowns such as tolerance levels, the manager uses his best judgment, and should be ready to accept the unpredictable consequences.  The resourceful manager should be able to deal with an uncomfortable result and place the event in the “do not repeat” file.  The expert should not be faulted because this event  was out of his control.  He did however limit the medication to a dose that in the end could not cause any serious harm.  There is a message here for both the consultant and the actor.