What’s Right For Your Dog’s End-of-Life?


I don’t want to put our dog, Simon, to sleep. I’m OK with him dying. I will be very sad, but I’ve also seen this coming. I just don’t want to end his life any sooner than he naturally would live unless he really is so close to the end.

I’ve been getting a lot of advice from friends, and many of them suggest we put him to sleep because that is what’s best. My wife even suggests it, though more obliquely. I tell them I will know when, and when I do know, I won’t wait. But it isn’t now.

Simon is a boxer. He’s 11. He has cardiomyopathy, and he really isn’t expected to live much longer. He has slowed a lot in just the past week. He gets winded climbing the stairs and going outside to do his business. He sleeps a lot. I have to carry his 75lb. frame upstairs. Those aren’t reasons to put him to sleep.

For the past few weeks, I’ve tried to think of specific reasons why I struggle with putting him down. The first bit is the euphemisms like putting him “down” or “to sleep.” Doesn’t sound so pleasant? Let’s “put him sleep” like he will just lay down and rest, you know, forever. Or we could put him “down” like any other object we own. How inoffensive. But regardless of what we call it, we are killing our dogs.

So then I thought about the practice of euthanizing a dog, and I listened to the reasons people used. They are all animal lovers, but their reasons ring with a bit of self-preservation and even, dare I say it, convenience. I know in my heart that these well-meaning folks wouldn’t euthanize their pets for convenience, but I can’t shake the idea that someone would. How would I know for sure?

See, I really feel like sometimes we convince ourselves into thinking that it’s the “humane” thing to do; that it somehow eases the dog’s pain. But I really think, in Simon’s case, euthanizing him now would just ease our pain. We have no way to judge his pain. We can only judge ours. Since we humans don’t have control over the end-of-life for our human family, we resort to controlling the end-of-life for our furry family, and assuage our guilt by using euphemisms and platitudes. When in fact we don’t want to bear witness to the deterioration that comes with the end-of-life. We don’t want to see our beloved pet “suffer”. I agree, but this is a decision that isn’t entered into nonchalantly.

I feel there is value in those last few days of life. I have been in the room when three people died. Their last hours, their last gasps for air, we’re truly horrifying for all of us gathered. Honestly, I wouldn’t want everyone sitting in a hospital room staring at me while I was dying, but then again it would be nice to be so loved and cherished that people would want to be with me when I died. Each of those people who died were all enveloped with the love of the people around them. It wasn’t clinical. It wasn’t antiseptic. It was real. It was cathartic.

Simon, who comes from the working dog group, has done his job well. He has provided us with protection, entertainment, and (most importantly) unconditional love and loyalty. I feel I owe him more for his service than to do what’s “best” when it still rings of what’s “convenient.”

No More TimeWarner Cable Here

It’s official. We quit cable. TimeWarner Cable is no longer showing in our home theater (read: family room). 

We still have our internet and landline through TWC, but the phone may be gone soon, too. Before we can start saving money, though, we have to pay their early termination fee, of course.

The decision wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. At first, we thought we could just cut the line and be done, but there were some roadblocks. The first thing we encountered was the early termination fee. This was news to us, too.

Apparently, two years ago when we added phone and internet to our television package, we were put on a contract similar to the ones you sign up for with cell phones. This wasn’t made clear to us, though. There was no mention of an early termination fee at the time. Earlier this year we were notified that our preferred rate was coming to an end, but again the information we received didn’t say that we would be penalized for canceling. We deliberately did nothing, because our opinion was to let our contract expire and make a choice later. That was a bad choice, but not an informed one.

The first time we tried to cancel, we ran into the ETF, and at approximately $135 we had to consider whether it was worth it. We tried to negotiate with TimeWarner Cable over the phone to get it reduced or removed. For over an hour. I talked to four different people in four different departments. Each time I had to verify my information. You know, name, address, phone number, last four of Social, etc. I didn’t even want to talk to the fourth person, but got transfered there after being put on hold while the customer service person tried to find the answer to one of my questions. This fourth person was so condescending and rude when I asked to be transferred back and I was so tired that I just hung up. Also, one of the people I talked to put me through a survey to see if I wanted to purchase more television services!

Staying the course to quit cable was going to be tough, apparently. We had to do some research and be willing to adjust our watching habits. No more live TV (unless we bought an antenna), and a lot of our shows would be unavailable to us. But when we weighed the cost of the television service against the cost of our time actually sitting in front of the television. Two questions occurred to me: What else could I be doing with the time I’m spending in front of the television? and What specific programming do I want to spend my money on?

We were paying about $175 a month for three services, two boxes, one DVR, digital/HD, and the Disney on Demand channel. We also were already Netflix streaming customers at another $8 a month.

There are some alternatives out there. The biggest players include AppleTV, GoogleTV, Roku, and Boxee. All offer TV over IP, or internet-streamed video. It is all on-demand. They key differences come in the subscriber services and hardware offered. Honestly, none lives up to the hype, but I am hopeful that the number of streaming services improves. We chose Roku based on the number of subscription services offered and price. We were able to buy a box about the size of a deck of playing cards for $79. It has two cords: power and HDMI. It sits inconspicuously behind my TV and gives a great HD picture. It’s important to note that this is just for one TV, though.

Now we have to consider getting an antenna for broadcast channels. This could cost between $40 and $100. On the high end, that would mean our capital outlay for this venture is between about $120 and $200 with taxes. After all of the adjustments to our TimeWarner bill shake out – prorated television services and early termination fee – we will need to take account of how long it takes us to recover our equipment costs. We also have to be careful what subscription streaming services we subscribe to. We don’t want to sign up for too many $8 and $10 monthly services to add up to the cost of cable in the first place.

Ultimately, it comes down to preference. We decided we were tired of paying for a television service that did not fit our household. We could enjoy using our television in a new way, deliberately instead of passively. Who knows, maybe we will return to cable. But we are off for now.

Like everyone else, I remember exactly where I was

It was deadline day for the two weekly newspapers I worked for. There was a special election going on to replace the late Joe Moakley in Congress. I was already behind in my stories.

I had a full day of interviews, election coverage, and writing ahead of me. The day began earlier than most for me.

I had an 8:30 meeting with a man I had never met before and knew going in I would never see again.This is typical in the news business. It was for a story on the recovery process for contaminated groundwater in a residential neighborhood. We met in the dining room of a Cape-style house that the contaminating company had bought from the owners. Coincidentally we joked about that house being “ground zero” for the clean-up effort.

Towards the end of the discussion, the guy’s phone rang. He spoke a few sentences of surprise. Hung up the phone and said, “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center.” We were both stunned.

I got into my car and tuned into WBZ radio, and listened. The first images I saw came when I went to another stranger’s house. Her son had died a few days earlier in a motorcycle accident. She had it on her TV, and the second tower hadn’t been hit yet.

My next stop was home to let the dog out. That’s where I had the chance to turn on the TV and get a look at what was going on. By then the second tower was hit an all air traffic had been ordered grounded. I watched both towers fall live.

The rest of the day was a blur. I remember saying to a local high school principal that the towers collapsed. He was incredulous. Of course he was also trying to manage the information stream coming to his 14-18-year-olds.

We finished the day with election results and a never-before-felt sense of vulnerability.

In the weeks and months that passed, I came to know many people who were affected. I met a woman whose fourth child was born a month after her husband perished on one the planes. I had friend whose aunt was in the South Tower and she escaped.

I have visited Ground Zero a few times in the years since, and I have to say I’ve always been stunned at the feeling around it. There’s a bustling city around it, and an active construction site, but it still maintains a sense of quiet and peace. If only we could achieve the same as a nation.

Boys Are Culturally Maligned in Elementary School

Something awesome happened in my classroom recently. It was something that I had hoped would happen, too. I played this video from a TEDx talk at Penn State about bringing gaming into elementary school classrooms to help inspire boys’ to engage in school-based learning activities.


In this 12-minute presentation, Ali Carr-Chellman talked about her research as to why boys are disenfranchised in today’s educational system. She points to some eye-opening statistics about gender inequities in schools today that belie the idea that boys will automatically outpace girls academically. But she is clear to point out that she is not gender-baiting. Her point is that we need to meet boys where they are, culturally.

I’ve been saying the same thing for about a year now. I have noticed the phenomenon since day one of teaching. In all of my classes, boys were the ones who were “most likely” to be reprimanded for some fashion of unacceptable behavior. Boys were the ones “most likely” to turn off during lessons. Boys were the ones “most likely” to lag behind their female counterparts in any kind of reading or writing assignment. I put “most likely” in quotes because I am referring to my experience and not any empirical data.

At the same time I was noticing this trend among boys, I also noticed another trend among teachers. Carr-Chellman calls attention this, too. It is the demeaning of boy culture by teachers. Teachers describe boy interests using diminutives like “little” and “toy”, or dismissive generic nouns like “thing” or “stuff”. I experienced this myself as an adult when I started to show my new iPad to some female friends. Immediately they called it a “toy” in a not-so-supportive tone. Conversely, they revered their less-powerful and single-use Kindles, and promoted them to their friends. And this has happened repeatedly in the past year, but less so as the iPad has gained acceptance.

It was a perfectly timed experience for me, beacuse I was immediately transported back to my pre-teen self when my teachers, administrators, counselors, etc. would make similar remarks about the toys and interests my friends and I had. I even remembered thinking on at least one occasion, “Wow. I hoped I could have made a connection with my teacher just then, but I failed.” That memory made me more aware of my own interactions with my students, male and female alike. I made an effort to have more authentic interactions with them about their personal interests. It immediately improved my understanding of them as individuals, and it allowed me to improve my rapport with students which was especially useful for times when I had to discipline them.

So, before I showed this video to my students, I asked my boys if they have ever felt like school was just for girls. I asked if they felt like their interests were discounted by their teachers, and how that made them feel. The answers were unanimous. They did not feel like school was a place for boys. So, I expected it to be true, but to hear them agree so enthusiastically was astounding. Asking those questions empowered these boys in my class to express themselves publicly in an honest and visceral way that they hadn’t before in school. I guess no one had thought to ask.

This whole exercise, of course, is connected to the curriculum. It is in fact connected to my writing curriculum. One of my goals this year is to break down the barriers that kids have in becoming good writers – really good writers. And I want my boys to feel like they can express themselves using words without fear of retribution or ridicule, but in a way that isn’t mistaken for violent expression.

Watching the video and the discussion that followed got the whole class riled up. That’s good because the writing unit we are working on at the moment is personal essays. I’ve been using audio and video versions of good personal essays mainly to distinguish between a personal essay and a personal narrative. After seeing this, each student could have written a personal essay about his or her feelings about school – the boys especially. Seeing them write with conviction, passion and purpose – that will be the biggest (and most welcome) surprise of all!

The “Real” First Day of Kindergarten

I really didn’t see it coming the day it hit me that G is starting to gain some independence. I expected it, even prayed for it, but still wasn’t ready when it came so suddenly. Last week, G walked himself to his kindergarten classroom.

In our house, we have been counting down the days until G started kindergarten. Where we live, the schools run on multiple calendars and some even go year-round. G’s first day was just after the Fourth of July. He went one day for staggered entry – each day a small group of kindergarteners arrive and get a tour of the school and take a few readiness assessments. To me, this was a breeze. Bringing G to his classroom that first day was, emotionally, no different than any day I had dropped him off at daycare or preschool.

Even the next week when he started going full time, it was really cool to walk him downstairs from my own classroom where I teach fifth grade to his kindergarten room. It was a little out of the way for me, but I really enjoyed it. I never suggested G walk himself down, either. But somehow, he got the idea, and next thing I know he was doing it.

Out of the blue one day last week, G asked to walk himself down the stairs. We said our goodbyes. I hugged him a little tighter that morning, and I watched him trundle off for the stairwell. My heart broke a little in that moment to see my boy going off on his own. No tears for me, but emotion, yes. It was bittersweet. I miss bringing him to his classroom already.

Verdict: Guilty of High Cholesterol

We got confirmation of something we knew was very likely. G has the same hereditary problem I do: high cholesterol. It may seem strange that a 5-year-old has to worry about his cholesterol, but he does, and so do I. It comes from my father’s side of the family, and it killed my dad at 34 and his dad at 36.

Even though I expected it, it is kind of a big blow for me.

I found out after my dad died that his cholesterol was 640. It’s supposed to be under 200. Later I learned it was hereditary, and it hits in mid-30s. All of his brothers have had some kind of heart trouble.

I know what’s ahead for G, and I’m not happy about it.

But I want his experience to be different. Mine started when I was teenager, and right at the time that cholesterol became a bad guy. Most people didn’t understand it, and everyone though it was just a middle-aged man’s concern. My friends’ parents thought I was crazy when I said I couldn’t eat lunch at McDonald’s because I had high cholesterol. That wasn’t something a kid should need to worry about, surely. One friend’s mom openly called me a liar. (She apologized after my mom set her straight.)

We are at least a little more enlightened these days, I hope. Time will tell.

Now it’s my job to teach G all that I have learned. Unfortunately, we can lower our cholesterol by changing our diets alone. I’ve tried that too many times and failed every time. But he’s too young for medication, so diet and exercise is all we have for him right now.

He’s already very active, so we just need to find ways to trim fat and white carbs and sugars from his diet. That’s easier said than done. We all have a sweet tooth and a love for rich foods. After we broke the news, he was most upset that he can’t really eat much cheese anymore.

This is the first of many changes afoot; all good for us as a family. They’re just not the changes we’d choose to make right now.




Fatherless for 22 Years and Counting

It was 22 years ago today that my dad died of massive coronary. I didn’t get official word that heĀ  died until a couple of weeks later, though.

My folks were divorced and I hadn’t talked to my dad in a long time. I decided I wanted to call him, and maybe see him, after being out of school for about a week. I hadn’t asked to do that in a long time, and in a strange twist of fate, I happened to call his place of employment looking for him 22 years ago today. The man on the other end of the phone told me that he had died the night before, and that he was just finding out about it. I was stunned, of course. After a few more questions, I found out he had changed to a different work location. They weren’t very helpful when I called there, so I had reached a dead end.

I went on with life for the next few weeks. I didn’t know what to think. It could have been a trick. It could have been true. I put it out of my mind and went to visit with family for a week or so. But when I came home, my mom had the death notice from the newspaper where he lived and it was true. It’s one of those moments you’ll never forget living through. You remember everything, and I still do. I remember the exact layout of the room we were in, how we were sitting on the couch, and the look on my mother’s face when she had to break the news to me. I remember which lights were on, for goodness’ sake.

It was also a moment that changed my life forever for another reason. I found out that I have a hereditarily high cholesterol, as do all the men in my family. It’s something I’ve battled since, and while I’ve avoided a heart attack, I have not won the battle with myself and my ability to stay fit and keep my cholesterol low.

In the years since my dad died, I went through a long grief process, but most of the pain of loss is gone. That was until this week when I had to explain to G about why my dad was dead. G is 5. He has lots of questions. Those questions are often very pointed. He’ll make a good trial attorney someday.

G and I were in the car when he started asking about it. A few minutes earlier, while we were still at home, I was trying to teach him how to snap and whistle. I showed him a neat snapping/clapping trick that my Uncle Bob taught me a long time ago. G loved it.

He got a little confused when he asked about it in the car, and he asked when my dad showed me that. We had to do some sorting out, for example, my stepdad isn’t my actual dad. The snapping trick was shown to me by my uncle. My dad is dead; my uncle is not. Then the questions started about my dad, and suddenly I was back on that couch in my living room watching my mother say the words, “Your dad did die, Tim.” Suddenly, the pain of loss was poking its way back into my gut for the first time in over a dozen years.

“How did your dad die, dad?” G asked.

“He died of a heart attack,” I answered.

“What’s a heart attack?”

“It’s when your heart stops working, and your blood doesn’t get pumped through your body anymore,” I said, trying to make the words accessible to him.

“Why did he have a heart attack?” G asked, apparently satisfied with my previous explanation.

“He didn’t take care of himself, G. He drank beer, smoked cigarettes, and didn’t sleep a lot.”

“Why didn’t he take care of himself?”

“He didn’t know any better. He didn’t know he had a high cholesterol that was going to make his heart stop.”

“So he died because of his cholesterol? What’s cholesterol?” See what I mean? I’m being cross-examined here.

“Cholesterol is the stuff in your blood that we say is bad and you and I have a lot of it. That’s why we can’t eat certain foods because they’re bad for our blood,” I explained.

“And he didn’t know those foods were bad for his blood? How come no one told him?”

“No one knew the foods were so bad. He didn’t know they would hurt him,” I said.

“Well we know, dad, so we won’t eat those, right?”

“Right.” And that’s when I changed the subject, but the feeling of loss hasn’t left me since.

I’ve now reached an age my dad didn’t. He never saw his 35th birthday.

I’ve lived without my dad almost my entire life anyway thanks to a combination of familial missteps, but his absence has always been noticeable. As a boy, I missed him because he wasn’t at my ball games and such. As a teenager, I missed him, but I didn’t fully know why until I was older. I needed a dad to help toughen me up and point me in the right direction (advice about girls would’ve helped, too). As a young man, I missed having that grownup relationship men have with their dads. As a father myself, though, I miss him more than I thought I would. And the conversation with G really brought that into focus. G has a great relationship with my stepdad (Gramps), as do I, but even G notices the absence of my natural father.

So, wherever you are, dad, just know that I’m thinking of you today, as I do each year on this day. You weren’t ever really a big part of my life, but you’ve left a big whole that no one will ever fill.