Stop telling me to euthanize my dog

picture of Lexi

This is Lexi. She’s a 13-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and she’s been with me since she was six weeks old. We’ve done everything together, from climb mountains in Maine to just hanging out at coffee shops in Pittsburgh.

People keep telling me I should euthanize her, and this is not okay.

About a year ago Lexi was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a progressive spinal cord disease that works similarly to ALS in people. She no longer has any function of her hind legs, and her bladder and bowl control continue to weaken.

As you can imagine, this is a frustrating and upsetting prospect. Watching your best friend deteriorate from an active, mobile, sprightly 11 to being forced to drag herself around at 13 is not fun or pleasant in any way. These days I clean up a lot of messes, and have to wipe Lexi down frequently to avoid urine scald. She doesn’t always make it through the night without having to go outside anymore, and since D.J. is a lighter sleeper than I am, he’s usually the one to take her out at 2 a.m.

This, apparently, is enough of a reason to end a dog’s life. And in some cases, yes, it probably is. But if you are not there, if you do not see what goes on, if you’ve never even met my dog, it is not appropriate for you to suggest end of life decisions.

Her body is failing her, but she’s still my Lexi. She still chomps merrily on elk antlers, viciously attacks the Chuck-it, tries to sneakily eat All the Food, barks at everything that moves and many things that do not, and nudges me when she wants my attention. She can’t jump up on the couch anymore, but that’s okay because I can just put her up there until she wants to get down. She whines to let me know she needs to go out or to tell me she’s thirsty. Most importantly, she’s not in pain, at least not beyond the normal old lady aches.

I see her get frustrated often, but she knows that D.J. and I will be there to help her with whatever she needs. Storms and loud noises make her anxious now when they never used to, but calms down if I hold her or sit with her on the couch. We’ve all adapted to this new normal, as crappy as it may be. We’re under no delusions that Lexi will get better or that she at least won’t get worse. We know she will. We see it, day to day. It’s a gradual process, but its effects are undeniable and heartbreaking.

But what’s worse than dealing with Lexi’s DM is the constant comments about euthanizing her. “Why don’t you just…?” or “Well she’s lived a full life, maybe it’s time?” or “Have you ever thought about putting her out of her misery?”

Yes, watching her struggle is frustrating and upsetting. But she is not miserable. It’s true that DM has given us a count down: We’ve got roughly a year before she can no longer move her front legs. At that point we’ll start running into health complications like bed sores and pneumonia.

This isn’t a matter of convenience to me. This is my dog, my companion, my best friend. I’m not going to euthanize her because I have to clean pee up every day, or even twice a day. When her quality of life deteriorates, when she can no longer drag herself around or switch positions, when she is no longer happy a majority of the time–that’s when we’ll have to make that decision.

That knowledge, the inevitability of it, looms large in my mind every day. We know the end is coming. I reckon with it nightly as I’m drifting off to sleep. But the end isn’t here, not yet. This corgi still has joie de vivre, and I will treasure every day we have together from now until the day I do have to make that decision.

So please, stop telling me I should euthanize my dog. It’s not helpful. It’s exactly the opposite of helpful. D.J. and I are here with her, every day, making sure her final years are as happy and joyful as they can be. You aren’t. You don’t get to decide.

On home and being homesick

Pittsburgh has been my adopted city for more than a decade now—for basically my entire adult life. I love the city’s geography, the number and quality of parks and cultural attractions, my job at the library, and the comfort that comes with extreme familiarity.

But I still get homesick.

My family is from Coatesville, a little steel town across the state from Pittsburgh, about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. Coatesville shares many similarities with Pittsburgh, and that’s probably why I’m so comfortable here. Both are steel towns that suffered greatly when the steel industry crashed. Both have pockets of poverty that stand in sharp contrast to wealthier areas. Both have a working class feel, even though Pittsburgh’s economy has moved to healthcare and tech.

A Wawa coffee mug

Nothing says “home” to me like Wawa.

Pittsburgh, however, doesn’t have an operating steel mill, though there’s one nearby in Braddock (I know it’s strange to feel nostalgic for a mill–and yet, I do). Pittsburgh does not have cream chipped beef or shoo-fly pie or Philly cheese steaks (don’t be fooled by the poor imitations you find at otherwise very good hoagie shops). Until fairly recently you couldn’t get Tasty Kakes in Pittsburgh food stores. Pittsburgh still doesn’t have a Wawa—think Sheetz, but so, so much better.

When I was kid, my family did a lot of day trips to air shows, NASCAR races, and gun ranges. Each of those trips began with a stop at Wawa, where we’d stock up on Gatorade, foot-long hoagies, and various kinds of Tasty Kakes for the day. My mom would often pick up Wawa hoagies on her way home from work if she didn’t feel like cooking or there just wasn’t time. (As I type this I’m drinking coffee from a Wawa mug in a bagel shop near my work.)

And while there are a few Dairy Queens around, they aren’t the old-fashioned kind where you order ice cream through a window and eat it on a picnic table outside. You have to go inside to order, and the only seating is also indoors. That always feels strange to me—eating ice cream in a heavily air-conditioned room instead of outside, where you have to eat fast, before it melts all over your hand.

In the summer we’d ride our bikes to DQ, get ice cream, and ride home. That same DQ was where my grandparents would take us after dinner when were little, and we’d sit by the train tracks to watch the SEPTA trains fly by.

Coatesville is right next to Lancaster, which has a large Amish population. My family itself is part Pennsylvania Dutch, and those foods are a large part of what home means to me: shoo-fly pie, pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day for luck, and creamed chipped beef over toast. Recently I’ve discovered a source of shoo-fly pie at a local farmer’s market, but it’s not quite the same.

But even if Pittsburgh did have all these things, it wouldn’t matter, because the biggest thing Pittsburgh is missing is my family. Lukens Steel, Wawa, Dairy Queen, Tasty Kakes—these all have meaning to me because I shared them with people I love, and who love me.

I love Pittsburgh and my life here, but I will always think of Coatesville as home.

“You’re too young for [fill in the blank]!”

People tend to read me as younger (sometimes much, much younger) than I actually am. So, while I am a 30-year old who has been working since the age of 15, has 1.25 master’s degrees, and owns her home, a lot of people think I’m 22, have just graduated college, and have no idea how the world works. On a few recent occasions, people have assumed I’m still in high school.

“Oh, you’ll be grateful for that when you’re older,” I hear all the time from middle-aged women.

And sure. If people were just telling me that I look 22 instead of 30 all the time, great. But at least half of the time, they’re not. They’re making an assumption about my age, and then using that assumption as grounds to treat me like a child. Or they’re just being condescending assholes. Spoiler alert, it’s usually men doing this, though women aren’t immune.

(The other half are usually people like one of my library patrons who, for example, asked me excitedly if the 2016 election was going to be my first presidential election. It wasn’t—with one exception, I have voted in every election in which I’ve been eligible to vote, including primaries, since I turned 18 in 2004.)

Last summer, a door-to-door salesman for some power company came up to my house while I was outside with my dogs. He introduced himself and made some small talk, then asked, “Are your parents home?” in a very serious, I-have-real-business-to-conduct-now tone. I cracked up because he looked rather young himself and was trying very hard to appear older and (I guess?) more respectable, and it was obvious the possibility of me being the homeowner had never, not once, crossed his mind.

Then there are people who say things like, “Aren’t you too young to have carpal tunnel?” when I’m wearing a wrist brace for an injury that resulted from extreme gardening, not computer usage. This question (and others like it) are always asked in a condescending tone and with the assumption that youth equals health (it doesn’t, in case that was unclear, and it’s downright rude to ask a complete stranger about their health issues anyway).

Now back to the “You’ll appreciate that when you’re older” nonsense. This response is problematic for several reasons:

  1. The underlying assumption that age and beauty are somehow related, and that being young equals being more beautiful. Let me just call bullshit on that right now. Older people are beautiful, too, and anyone who tells you otherwise can be damned to a hell in which their every flaw is constantly compared against airbrushed magazine models.
  2. The underlying assumption that my self-esteem is based on my appearance, and that I need external validation to feel good about myself. Of course, this one isn’t about me at all—it’s about the person saying it. More than likely, they feel insecure about their age and appearance, and they’re projecting that insecurity onto me. I’d much rather have people’s respect than their compliments on how pretty I am.

You know what I’ll really, truly appreciate when I’m older? Hearing that one of my stories, or essays, or novels had an impact on a young person the same way books like Sandman and The Chronicles of Narnia had an impact on me.

No one is going to look at me, makeupless, in jeans and a Star Wars t-shirt, with muddy sneakers and messy hair, and think, “Damn, I’m going to spend my whole life trying to look like her!” And they shouldn’t. They should want to look like themselves. So why should I care what people think I look like? Answer: There is no reason. As long as I’m clean and dressed appropriately for work, it does not matter.

In the same vein, age alone does not determine anyone’s capabilities. I’ve met completely incompetent 50-year-olds and brilliant, wise 20-year-olds. The next time someone asks you if you’re “too young for x,” you can respond with, “Aren’t you old enough to know better than to ask inappropriate questions like that?”