Monday, May 19, 2008

The Dilemma of Maggie

Maggie and Chloe have adapted quickly to a Cape Cod existence. Chloe, with her unerring instinct for comfort, quickly found the softest cushions, the plushest throw rugs, and the most luxurious pieces of furniture. Maggie discovered the best windows from which to watch the world at large. And both dogs figured out the prime spots in the kitchen for retrieving dropped bits of food.

On Sunday morning we walked to a bakery on Main Street, where we got muffins (dry, indifferent) and then hiked over to the pier. Unfortunately, the fishmonger at that location doesn't open yet for a few days, but we took the dogs out onto the beach that runs beneath the pier. They cavorted in the sand, gleefully running into the water but stopping short of outright swimming.

After an hour, we headed back, worried about Maggie. She tires easily and her bladder problem has not resolved. Some days she squats almost compulsively, and today seemed especially bad. Inside she wears a diaper; outside she relieves herself every block or so. It's difficult to watch and even more difficult to know what to do. Our oncologist professes never to have encountered ongoing urinary tract problems, claiming that in other dogs the symptoms abate after a week or two. An ultrasound scan showed thickening of Maggie's bladder, but tests revealed no infection, nor have antibiotics made an iota of difference.  I fear that Cytoxan has damaged her bladder or urethra permanently.

Rod wavers between putting Maggie down when we return to Annapolis and letting her finish out what's left of her life. We've stopped chemotherapy, and unless her condition improves, we will not resume. Since Maggie didn't have the full course of treatment, I'm assuming the lymphoma will return before too long. I too vacillate between euthanasia and life, and I am increasingly aware of burnout. The interrupted sleep; the endless medications; the frequent trips outside have exacted a toll. And Maggie has never been an easy dog, even under better circumstances than these. Stubborn to the point of mulishness, she resisted our various attempts at training. Her first year with us, we trudged dutifully from one expert to another. The third (and most expensive) trainer, a specialist in Portuguese Water Dogs, pronounced Maggie one of the most difficult dogs she had ever encountered, ranking her third out of a hundred, a number that gave us both pause. Rod, though, loved this wayward creature, and I didn't have the heart to put my foot down.  And so she stayed, assured of a loving home to the very end.

As Maggie matured, she either became more tractable or we simply yielded to her obstreperous (but essentially sweet) nature--I'm not sure which.  If she were a more accommodating dog, her illness might be less trying. Selfishly, I sometimes think of putting her down when it just seems too damn much, between the exasperating behavior and the grueling regimen. When I'm in a nobler frame of mind, I worry that we're sustaining her suffering. Most horrible is listening to Maggie groan when she empties her bladder, but these moments are thankfully infrequent. Whenever Rod and I discuss euthanasia, she invariably rebounds for several days, swaggering around the house, blithely indifferent to our commands, and then I'm relieved to see a return to her customary truculence.

Thus our dilemma.

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