On a recent visit to the Dallas Zoo, we came across a very confusing and interesting exhibit. I am not talking about the dinosaur exhibit, although this was definitely rather strange, especially because the raptors were not fenced in. No the interesting exhibit was one where the sign on the outside said cheetah compound, yet the animal I could see on the inside was black and looked very much like a Labrador. Our first thought was this could be a 'sport', a genetic mix-up because cheetahs are brown spotted animals. We looked closer at the animal and realized it really was, a black Labrador, with his tail wagging and his tongue hanging out. We surprised how he got in there and what the cheetah's might think of him.

We checked the information on the exhibit windows and found a silhouette of a dog and a cheater. Obviously, the display was indeed of a cheetah and a Labrador. We asked the zoo staff and found they were brothers, having been brought up together since a few months old. Winspear, the cheetah, took off for a different part of the compound. He almost immediately stopped and through some method, invisible and soundless to us, called to the dog, Amani, who got up and ran after his brother. The dog's name, Amani, is Swahili for peace, an apt name for a friendly animal who job is to help a skittish big cat feel less shy.

These two very unlikely companions have been raised together since they were each 2 months old. There were originally two cheetahs. Winspear had a twin brother, Kamau. He died of a respiratory illness when he was about 6 months old. Winspear and Amani have remained close even after this loss.

You may wonder what a dog and a big cat being best friends has to do with fighting pain and finding joy. Things are not always what they seem on the surface. Cats and dogs do not normally make friends. For some reason, they spend their time fighting. Big cats generally view dogs as dinner. If black Labrador lived in Africa, cheetahs would hunt and eat them. Yet Dallas zoo has looked at things differently. Using the knowledge of other zoos, they tried putting a dog with the young cheetahs and make them brothers. Even after Kamau died, it works; Winspear is easier to deal with because Amani is there. The zoo keepers have been able to take both animals on trips to local schools to show how well the dog and cheetah work and play together

If this strange combination works, what else might work?

This strange use for things is celebrated in many places. Sites such as multiple uses for vinegar or baking soda etc. For those of us with severe pain, we find we have to look outside of the box for pain relief because what is in the box does not help. I suffer from all four type of pain, mental, physical, spiritual and emotional pain, and I have tried a huge raft of things in the hope of beating the pain. some have been somewhat odd and I have found that some have been really strange. Having tried each of them, I have frequently become depressed after finding almost none of them work. You may have missed that positive statement. I said that almost none of them work, meaning that a small number of them do. It's a bit like the humorous statement, “Sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.”

For me, the various medications my doctors have prescribed for me, have not worked very well. Over the years since the car accident that left me in constant pain, I have tried dozens of medications with little or no success. I have been to pain clinics and been told that there was nothing they could do for me, one hospital used courser language to describe their lack of help. Some treatments have actually made me feel worse. I have settled on 4 medications taken 4 times a day and have found that they do help me manage the pain to a level I can, at least have an almost bearable life but that's about it. Like Amani with Winspear, the medications I now take are all for medical conditions other than the reasons I am being prescribed them. Pain relief is a side effect and my doctors, unable to get me any relief with the normal pain pills, have suggested I try them. One is an antidepressant and if I Forget to take one in the morning, by 5pm, I am a total mess mentally as well as in a lot of pain.

These medications only give me a small amount of relief, they take the pain levels down from a 10 out of 10, to maybe a 7 or 8 out of 10. Like the cheetah's I am can not really function. All the things that have failed to help, as well as those I have had success with, involve the brain. Our brain is the part of us that controls everything. As I talk about in Fighting Pain, Finding Joy, there are two parts to our brains, the automated part and your spirit, the you inside of the body which actually pushes the buttons to do everything .. All self-help ideas target the spirit and this is where we can use the idea of ​​having our own Amani. Medications are designed to work on the parts of our bodies having problems. Sounds obvious, I know. If we have an upset stomach, we take anti acid tablets or liquid, which block the acid producers in our stomach. Anti histamines block the production of histamine in response to an irritant we are allergic to. Scientists have found that many medications work because we expect them both to work and not work for the same reason. In what is called double-blind testing where only the person running the test knows who is who and who is getting the real medicine or the fake one, people have reported positive results when given the fake ones.

Winspear uses a dog to distract him and everything is wonderful as long as Amani is around. My problem is pain. Can I live with the pain? It seems that I have no choice! So what do I do? I know one idea is to give up and stop trying, except the physical pain never goes away and the mental, spiritual and emotional pain increase when I give in and do nothing. I am not giving up, so what can I get to be my black Labrador? We have 5 adopted children at home and as strange as it may sound, being 60 and having a 5-year-old daughter as well as children aged 16,14,13 and 12 at home is the best medicine I could have, the best black Labrador in the world. I give all of my time and energy to them and find that I have very little or, as happens often, nothing left to use to beef and gripe about the pain I suffer. My wife would insist I am always giving it the old college try, but I would not agree! I know, especially when I do feel down and depressed, that I have a long long list of things to be depressed and even bitter about. I occasionally feel like writing them in my journal, but always realize that this is counter productive and would give me no solace and make me feel worse not better. I sometimes have to force myself to remember that I have a wife, 9 children and 9 grand children who I can give my time and efforts to do and that this will make me feel better spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

For this past school half term holiday, Ann and I took the children to the oddly named nine mile canyon. I say oddly named because it is 74 miles long. As with a lot of things geographical, even though it has only had it for about 150 years, no one knows exactly how it got its name. We stayed at Nine Mile Ranch which is named after the canyon and were able to get involved with the roundup of the cows and the separating of the calves from their mothers. The mothers made a huge amount of noise about, running up and down the roads trying to find their children.

I caused a major issue when we were trying to take a picture outside of the ranch with the children sitting on the entrance. They were all sitting nicely when I came to stand on the gate behind them and my excessive weight caused the gate to shake in fear and the children were all thrown off, into the weeds below.

Whatever the reason for its name, Nine Mile Canyon is a wonderful canyon especially if you like to view Indian pictographs. There are literally miles of miles of them scratched into the mountains by Indians sometimes in the past. Our youngest 5 children and 1 granddaughter loved climbing the mountains for a better look and I enjoyed walking along the trails, trying to decipher the pictures. In reality, a lot of them seem to me to be graffiti from several few hundred years ago, but they are neverless to look at.

We stayed in a rustic cabin with a wood burning cooker on which Ann cooked pancakes for the children. This was good because I managed to forget several items necessary to successfully cook our food. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, even though there were some down sides to it. We used the last of our savings taking the holiday, so that means that was / was the last break for the year. The other problem is purely personal, in that if I over extend myself; I always have to pay for it later. It took me two days to get over the four day weekend, but it was worth it because I now have the memories and pictures etc. I can ignore and forget the two days of pain and mind fog. This is, for me, the only way to have a happy life. Even on the days I am “paying” I do everything I can to distract myself, so that I do not concentrate on the pain.

The story of the dog and the cheetah teaches me that even something that would normally be used as food, ie the dog, can distract you from your problems and then become your friend. Pain is my constant companion and there seems to be nothing I can do about it. Not that I have not tried, I have. I know all the treatments that are available and none of them works for me. As I have already said, this includes some of the weirder sounding and looking possibilities. But then, what is weirder than a dog and a cheetah being brothers? One swipe from Winspear's claws and Amani would have seriously injured, possibly dead, but the cheetah never even considers doing it.

By distracting myself with my family I can make it through and almost beyond the pain. I can and do force myself to sound and seem happy and in control. I am! not, but it is important for my family and for me that I distract myself and appear to be OK .. Nine mile canyon is a wonderful place to distract yourself and if you ever get the chance to go there, I can recommend it. I can keep the memories of it, but it is much easier to use my family as my Black Labrador. We have pet dogs and some people can use their pets as a distraction. Even though we have 3 dogs, I personally do not like dogs and only have them in the house because my wife, Ann, and my children have expressed a need to have them. They do not provide me with sufficient, or in reality any, distraction possibly because relationship is generally a “backwards service” relationship. The dog is giving the service. Wit my family, I am the one providing the service and is looks that this is the secret to overcoming pain. Thinking outside of the box and distracting ourselves from the pain, whether it is physical, mental, spiritual or emotional, or any combination, requires us to think outside of ourselves and give service to others. In this way we forget about our own pain. Winspear and Amani are not that weird when you look at things in this light.

What is your Amani? What do you use to distract yourself from “life” when things are not going the way you feel you want it to? If the answer is nothing, that may be the problem! If your answer does not make you think outside of the box of having someone do or give things to you, you may want to re-evaluate and consider that what I have come to realize is that I am not Winspear looking for his Amani, I am Amani looking for Winspear.