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.

A misunderstanding

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on July 26, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

I began experiencing constant, crippling migraines in 2008. But it wasn’t until four years later that I realized the extent of my problem.

I was reading stories online about other people’s pain, thankful I rarely have to deal with the nausea that affects so many. It struck me that nausea wasn’t the only other commonly-reported migraine symptom aside from head pain, aura, and sensitivity to light, sound, and smell. Well, it at least felt like it struck me, because my head was throbbing a little.

Sometimes my world looks like this. Photo by Kelly Lynn Thomas (Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, PA, January 2006)

I thought my neck pain might be caused by sleeping on my stomach, though I’ve slept that way all my life. Nope. Neck pain is a symptom of migraine.

I thought my constant fatigue might be caused by stress, or possibly sleeping too much, or possibly just pain. Nope. Fatigue is a symptom of migraine.

I thought my eyesight might be deteriorating from too much reading in too little light, like my mother always said. Nope. Blurry vision is a symptom of migraine (and okay, yes, I also found out a few years later I have mild astigmatism—thanks, Dad!).

I thought I might be bipolar. Nope. Mood swings are a symptom of migraine.

I thought I was messed up for sleeping too much. Nope. Not sleeping well is a symptom of migraine.

I thought I must be dehydrated, despite all the water I drink. Nope. Light headedness is a symptom of migraine.

I thought my problems concentrating, my foggy head, might be from the fatigue. Nope, just another symptom.

On one hand, I felt like an idiot for not putting the pieces together sooner. On the other hand, not thinking clearly is yet another symptom of migraine.

Maybe I should cut myself a break.

Friday night at the bookstore

Barnes and Noble

Some people like to spend their weekends bar hopping, or going out to the movies, or shopping for new clothes. I like to go to the bookstore. I don’t necessarily go to buy anything, though it’s hard to resist the pull of a new book, the weight of it in my hands, the smell of paper and ink and glue.

I go, especially when things get stressful, because this is my happy place. It’s true that I spend most of my days surrounded by books in the public library where I work, but therein lies the problem. I’m working. At bookstores, I can relax. I don’t have to force a smile if I don’t feel happy. I don’t have to grit my teeth and explain to the same person for the millionth time that no, I am not going to fill out their job application for them. I am beholden to no one but myself and the books.

Growing up, my favorite bookstore was the Chester County Book and Music Company, a massive store in West Chester, PA. A solid half of my Star Wars book collection came from that store. I always had to beg my parents to take me, because they knew once they got me there it was going to be hours before I was ready to leave. That store is closed now, but I can still tell you exactly which books I bought there.

Now I’m somewhat embarrassed to say I spend most of my bookstore time in Barnes & Noble. This is more out of habit and routine than anything else. In high school a new development in a wealthier part of town brought in a Barnes & Noble, which was perhaps one of the most exciting events of my young life (this is not because my life wasn’t exciting; that just goes to show you how much I love bookstores). My best friend and I would spend entire afternoons there, giggling at trashy romance books and eyeing up new editions of Lord of the Rings. I accompanied friends to midnight releases for Harry Potter books, mostly because I wanted to be in a bookstore at midnight.

I generally follow a routine for my weekend BN visits. First, I look at the journals. Then, if I’m in the mood, I’ll stop in the cafe and get something to drink. Next comes the bargain section. From there I visit the science fiction books, first checking out what’s new and then finding my favorite authors on the shelf. Even if I have all of an author’s books, I’m not immune to the draw of a new edition. Plus, stopping by Neil Gaiman’s and Ursula Le Guin’s sections feels a lot like visiting old friends.

After sci-fi I peruse the manga and comics and contemplate whether or not I should buy the next volume in whatever series I’m working on (currently the omnibus editions of Fruits Basket and Elf Quest). Then I head over to the reference section to visit the writing books. I don’t buy many writing books, but I will borrow them from the library and buy the ones I really love.

This routine, the familiarity of it, the faint smell of books permeating the air, the warm drink in my hand, lets me relax. It gives me time and space to think, to figure things out and work through whatever problem I’m stuck on. In many ways, my bookstore visits are a kind of meditation. Sometimes I even say “I’m going to church” when I’m headed to a bookstore, and it isn’t a joke. There’s truth in that. To me, bookstores are a sacred space. They hold knowledge and mystery, power and wisdom. And that’s what keeps me coming back, week after week.