Every end is a new beginning

Lexi sitting by Lake Elizabeth in Allegheny Commons Park.

Monday, June 4th, we said goodbye Lexi.

Her life was full of things she loved, and we strove to maintain her quality of life right to the end. With degenerative myelopathy, there’s not really a tipping point. It’s a slow, steady progression that robs the dog of her mobility and eventually her breath. Although the disease itself is not painful, in the final stages of respiratory failure and esophageal paralysis, the dog suffers and the chances for a life-threatening complication are high.

Over the past two weeks, we noticed that sometimes she would try to bark, and nothing would come out. We noticed that she got overheated even in the air conditioning when it was in the low 70s outside. She was too weak to walk in her harness anymore. She flipped over a few times and couldn’t right herself. Her eating slowed down. She was less comfortable, or it took a lot to make her comfortable.

I spoke with our veterinary neurologist. She said, “I know it’s hard because she’s still Lexi, but from this point, no time is the wrong time to say goodbye.”

I looked at Lexi, and Lexi looked at me. Dogs can’t speak, but in that moment we communicated. She was ready. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I called Lap of Love, an in-home veterinary hospice care and euthanasia provider. We scheduled the appointment. And then we went out and had fun.

D.J. came home, and we took Lexi and Jaina to Allegheny Commons Park. Lexi rode in my lap so that she could stick her nose out the window and smell the fresh air. It was a beautiful day–blue skies, not too hot, not too humid. Perfect weather for sniffing. Her body felt so warm against mine. She rested her head on my arm, and I wanted to stay like that forever. Lexi always sniffed with her whole nose, inhaling deeply and letting out big puffs of air–snorfing, as we called it.

We pulled her in the wagon around the Aviary and the dog park where she herded so many other dogs in her younger years. We walked around Lake Elizabeth. She sniffed the other dog smells, the duck and geese smells, and the green tree smells. We sat in the grass together, just sitting, just enjoying the presence of us as a family.

A selfie of the four of us.

Together, the four of us have hiked National Parks, climbed mountains, driven halfway across the country, explored the city, and so much more. We’ve cuddled in bed together, the four of us crammed into our queen bed, Jaina usually curled into a ball and Lexi usually spread out to her full length, taking up the most space of anyone even though she was the smallest. Lexi always knew when I was sick or hurting, and she would nudge me with her nose to distract me with her cuteness. She would also nudge us if she wanted pets or a treat–she was never shy about telling us what her demands were.

When an ambulance drove by the park, we all howled together, me and Lexi and Jaina. We took selfies and laughed. D.J. helped Lexi explore by supporting her so she could “walk”. Although she couldn’t pee on her own anymore, we expressed her bladder a little at a time so she could leave her scent around “her” territory, like she used to do during our daily park walks.

Lexi was too weak to use her harness anymore, but she could get around a little with more support from one of her human servants.

After the park, we drove to Starbucks and the dogs got extra-large pupaccinos. When we got home, we enjoyed a Feast of Cheese, and then we sat outside until the vet arrived.

Dr. Aspen was kind and gentle, and made Lexi’s transition peaceful and easy. We sat in her favorite spot by the table where I write, and I held her in my lap. I petted her ears and her head, stroked her fur, and kissed her nose. I told her how much I loved her, but of course she already knew.

Jaina smelled Lexi’s body at the end. We curled her up into a basket and wrapped her in a blanket, and the three of us walked her out to Dr. Aspen’s car. Jaina was sad, but she understood what had happened. She’s been a little mopey over the past week, but she’s not confused or distressed.

This week we picked up Lexi’s ashes. I still cry every day, usually many times every day. Jaina has been sticking to my side like glue. I suspect she is both sad herself and senses that I am sad, so we have been comforting each other.

The house feels so quiet and empty without Lexi. She may have been a short dog, but her personality was huge. She knew the sound of our car and would start barking her “welcome home” bark as soon as we shut the car doors. I set my watch by her–she was always on top of breakfast and dinner times, outside time, and bed time. Sometimes I think I hear her whining, but of course it’s a bird outside (perhaps a cat bird imitating her?).

Saying goodbye to someone you love is never easy. I don’t believe in heaven, and the Bible says animals don’t have souls anyway. I do believe that death is transition, that it is a beginning that comes after the end, but what form that beginning takes I can only guess at. If nothing else, Lexi helped me become who I am today, and my life would have been much different without her. I can feel her presence everywhere–not just in the physical spaces she inhabited, but in the deepest places of my soul.

I miss her. I miss her happy barks and the way she snored while she slept. I miss her corgi waddle and her perfect downward-facing dog stretches. I miss her grrs and her nudges. I miss the soft silkiness of her fur and holding her paw in my hand. I miss the cold wetness of her nose and the warmth of her eyes that saw me in a way no one else could.

I miss her, I miss her, I miss her. I know I always will. But she is my dog, and she will always be my dog. I wouldn’t change our life together for anything. I am full of joy and laughter and gratitude for the fourteen years we shared, even though I’m crying as I write this.

Every end is a new beginning.

Miss Migraine Runs: Part One

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. Help me raise $300 to support migraine research and awareness!

Okay, so. I’ve been talking about the Miles for Migraine June Virtual event for awhile now, but I haven’t given many details on what I’ve actually been doing to train for a 5k race in August. Well, here we go.

D.J., Jaina, and I began running using the Zen Labs Fitness C25K (Couch to 5k) app on May 21. The program includes three 30-minute workouts each week. You alternate running with walking to build up your cardio fitness level and leg/joint strength. The amount of time you spend running increases each week by a small amount. The program also focuses on time instead of distance to keep you motivated through the beginning. The distance aspect comes in later, when you’re closer to being able to run a full 5k without stopping.

We went camping last weekend, but we still got our Friday run in!

Since we began, we’ve only missed one run (for a good reason). Somehow, I’ve gone from a “OMG I HATE RUNNING” to an “OMG WHEN CAN WE RUN” person, despite persistent asthma attacks. Having a challenging but doable training plan really helps, as does having two running partners. Jaina views our 30-minute training runs as a good warmup. When we get home, she picks up her ball and asks us to throw it for her! I also got a new inhaler from my doctor, which I’m supposed to use before we run to prevent an attack. So far it seems to be working pretty well!

Unfortunately, I seem to have injured my right knee on our last run. I’m really set on running a race in August, so this week I’m icing my knee, wearing a brace, and doing low-impact cardio instead of running. I’m also going to try a few things for our runs to prevent re-occurrence in the future. I have flat feet, my ankles over-pronate like crazy, and I have plantar fasciitis in my right heel because of it, so right knee soreness seems inevitable, but also treatable. Of course, if my doesn’t get better in a few days, I may need to adjust my plans.

This is a huge bummer. I want to run! I feel like I need to run! I even want to run through the pain, but I know that’s a terrible idea, so I’m forcing myself to stick with the elliptical this week. If you want to encourage me, you could drop a little cash money on my Miles for Migraine fundraising page. That will definitely boost my morale. ;p

I understand that not everyone has a ton of disposable income, so there are a number of ways you can support me this month:

  1. Make a donation to Miles for Migraine through my fundraising page.
  2. Share my fundraising page with your social networks.
  3. Reach out to someone living with chronic migraine and let them know you care. If you’re able, offer to do something nice for them, or send an encouragement card or small token (just lay off smelly lotion or candles, as perfume can trigger migraines).
  4. Remind your friends and family that migraines aren’t just “bad headaches.” They’re part of a debilitating disease that has no cure, and they affect more than 30 million Americans.

Of all these things, number three is the most important, and the easiest.

#PhotoFriday: Happy 14th Birthday, Lexi!

Lexi was born on April 4, 2004. She’s my lucky 04/04/04 dog. On Wednesday, she turned 14. Maybe I’m being superstitious, but that, too, seems lucky.

My family adopted Lexi shortly after my childhood dog Maverick passed away. She was six weeks old, a little young but already weaned and spunky as anything. I’d taken Maverick’s death the hardest, I think, and was angry at my parents for not doing more to help him (as an adult I realize my anger was misplaced and that my parents did every reasonable thing they could and ultimately made the right decision). We had two young German shepherds, but my mom decided we’d adopt a Welsh corgi puppy for me–even though I’d be heading off to college soon.

Me holding Lexi as a puppy.

Me and Lexi in 2004, the summer before my senior year of high school. I demanded she be in my official photos.

Lexi has always been an adventurous dog. We went on lots of walks together, and when I did go off to college my mom took her to agility classes. When I graduated I found a place that would let me have pets, and Lexi moved to Pittsburgh with me.

Lexi, Kelly, D.J., and Ruby

Lexi and Ruby were ring bearers at my handfasting ceremony in 2010.

We’ve hiked and climbed mountains together in National Parks, gone on long road trips, and done a fair bit of just hanging out at various coffee shops in Pittsburgh. She knows me better than anyone—she can sense my moods before I even know what I’m feeling. She’s quick to draw my attention to her with a “grr” or a nudge when she knows I’m sad or distressed. I can (and do) set my clock by her.

Lexi

Lexi a few days before her 14th birthday.

Our time left together is getting short, but we’re celebrating every moment of it. Lexi is my girl, and I love her to the ends of the earth and back.