Goodbye My Friend - by John Sealander

The road from Denton to Dallas had never seemed this long or bleak before. The last time Janet and I had driven this far north together, we returned home with a beautiful, plump six-week-old Dalmatian puppy in our arms. Now, almost fourteen years and four months later, we were returning from virtually the same location holding a small cedar box of roughly the same size and weight containing his remains.

We'd finally come full circle. In one of life's many ironies, this resilient and perpetually optimistic offspring of Bummer's Black Prince and Shiloh's Freckle had arrived at the end of his journey through life less than two miles from the white farmhouse where it all began.

The puppy's name was Spot and although I remember that Holly Mohelnitzky, the breeder we discovered through an ad in the paper, offered us the second pick of the litter, it was really Spot who picked us. I'll always remember a sunny Easter morning in 1987 when this happy and inquisitive little dog had emerged from a squirming pile of puppies playing together on the grass in front of Holly's Denton, Texas home and walked straight into our arms. It is still hard to believe he is gone.

lthough Spot had been sick for almost two years before his death, it was all too easy to convince ourselves that he could live forever. No matter how bad things became, Spot never gave up. I had always heard that a dog would tell you when it was time to go. Month after month, I kept looking for telltale signs of listlessness and depression that might signal that Spot was ready to rest, but I never saw them. Even toward the end, when I had to pick him up in my arms and carry him from room to room, you could tell that he still enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of a place he had learned long ago to call home. On nice days we would sit together in the back yard for hours as Spot smelled the air and quietly watched over his turf. We learned to exchange the rough and tumble activities of his younger years for quieter things. Even after he became paralyzed, he still liked to play ball. I would gently roll a ball toward him as he lay quietly on his rug and he would catch it in his mouth. Our walks were reduced to a few painful steps in the back yard while I held his rear legs in a specially made nylon harness. It was sad to see the once strong muscles of this playful and active dog atrophy to almost nothing. Spot's front legs remained strong long after his rear legs began to fail, but eventually he needed help with them as well. I gradually learned to assist with all four legs and using a Rube Goldberg collection of connected harnesses and padded nylon straps. We continued walking around the house and yard for months after most would have considered any type of mobility physically impossible. The trick was in learning to take weight off Spot's increasingly paralyzed limbs while still allowing them to touch the ground and move in a spontaneous and natural fashion. It wasn't easy, but I think we did pretty well. I gradually learned to think like a dog and anticipate how his legs were trying to move. For the most part, you could tell that Spot still thought he was walking under his own power. Month by month you could tell that these slow steps became more painful however. Even with the Prednisone pills he took daily to ease the pain, our short assisted walks became progressively shorter and finally stopped completely.

During the last weeks of Spot's life, I carried him everywhere. We had become so close that all it took was a glance in my direction to tell me what he wanted. There was a look that told me he needed to go outside to the bathroom. There was another look that told me when he was hungry or thirsty. Very often the look in Spot's eye's just said that he wanted to rest nearby.

As cancer and spondylosis took their toll on Spot's ravaged body, he became increasingly fearful of being left alone. It was certainly understandable, since he could no longer move anywhere without assistance. I began buying things from catalogs and over the Internet, so I wouldn't have to leave the house. When a trip to the bank, the barber or the occasional meeting downtown was unavoidable, I would always take Spot with me. During the last several months of his life, Spot was never out of my sight for more than a few minutes at a time.

The high point of our days together was always mealtime. As he became sick, I learned to make a big production out of fixing Spot's special meals, because I could see his eyes brighten with anticipation with every new ingredient that came out of the refrigerator. For a long time, Spot ate a special diet designed by our oncologist to keep the spreading cancer at bay. Luckily, he loved it. Spot's meals needed to have a higher fat content than normal, because cancer cells cannot effectively process fat. They also needed to be very easy to digest, packed with vitamins and antioxidants and tasty enough to still entice a dog that was starting to have difficulties even chewing and swallowing.

Spot loved these mealtime rituals until the day he died. When it became apparent that the end was growing near, we abandoned the special cancer diet and began feeding him his favorite things. We would boil a skinless, boneless chicken breast for him almost every day, occasionally punctuated by a fillet of fresh fish. Spot liked beets, baby carrots and scrambled eggs. I know he ate better than I did during his last days. I spent so much time fixing his meals that I usually just threw something quick and easy in the microwave for myself.

When Spot's jaw became weak, I fed him by hand. He ate slowly, but he savored every bite. Spot was a chowhound until the very end. I am convinced that the anticipation of one more good meal kept him alive for weeks after his body started telling him it was time to go. The night before he died, Spot ate a chicken sandwich. He seemed so happy and content that I never dreamed it would be his last meal.

uring the night, when Spot woke me at 2 A.M. to take him outside to go to the bathroom, something unusual happened. I carried him to his favorite spot in the Asian Jasmine that grew in lush profusion along our back fence. The smells were stronger here and it helped him urinate, even though he was having increasing difficulty controlling his bladder. This time, I noticed that Spot kept trying to move toward the gate at the back of our yard. It had been weeks since he wanted to go outside the yard, but it was easy to tell that this is what he wanted. I unlocked the gate and carried him outside. I gently held him upright using the harnesses attached to his front and rear legs and watched in amazement as he slowly walked under his own power toward a low bush about ten feet away. He sniffed and circled the bush, marking his territory when he found exactly the right spot. He then turned toward the house again and made a few feeble steps. I picked him up and carried him inside again. He seemed tired but content. After putting him back to bed, I got Spot an ice cube from the refrigerator. The Prednisone that Spot was taking to alleviate the pain and inflammation in his legs made him continually thirsty. Although it was becoming difficult for Spot to drink from his water bowl, he loved to suck on ice cubes that I held in my hand. He usually chewed these cubes voraciously, making big wet spots in the bed. This time he only licked the cube I held in my hand a few times and went back to sleep. I had given Spot my place on the bed several months ago when his legs became too stiff and weak to curl into his normal sleeping position. I would usually sleep beside him on the floor, where I could listen to his breathing and be close at hand when he needed me. Spot never barked anymore, but somehow I always knew when he needed help. This morning, Spot's breathing seemed easy and relaxed. We both slept soundly until morning.

I was alarmed when Spot refused to eat or drink the next day. I still thought that maybe he would eat later however. As eating became more difficult for him, Spot would sometimes wait until almost 11 A.M. to eat his breakfast. He always ate though. At least until today. A plumber arrived at the house around 9 A.M. to fix a leaking toilet in the master bath. I carried Spot to the bedroom so he could watch the work through a door by his bed and although he seemed quiet, he was alert and breathing normally. After the plumber finished his work, I carried Spot to my office where we began another normal workday. Spot normally slept under my desk and this is where I placed him today. Since he was becoming increasingly incontinent, I always placed a big towel under him in case there was an accident. I could tell that Spot was embarrassed whenever he had these accidents. We tried to make the best of things however. I discovered that with a big towel under him, I could easily pick him and the mess up and carry him to the back porch where I kept a ready hose and a supply of dry towels. With a little practice, I was able to clean him up and return to whatever we were doing in just a matter of minutes. I have never had children, but during Spot's final days I think I finally understood what it was like to have a new baby.

With Spot safely resting on a big white towel under my desk, I decided it would be a good time to take my morning shower. I was just about finished when I smelled was I initially thought was sewage backing up in the pipes. The shower was draining normally though and I instantly knew that Spot was in trouble. I raced dripping wet out of the shower and saw Spot looking perplexed on a badly stained towel. The stain was almost liquid and I knew from the smell and color that there was blood in his stool. Pulling on a pair of shorts, I quickly picked up Spot and carried him outside. As soon as I had him upright, Spot began to defecate again. Blood was even more evident this time. As soon as he had finished, he began to retch and threw up a tarry liquid that looked almost identical to his stool. Spot was hemorrhaging internally. I knew at that moment that the cancer in his body had finally won. When Spot's surgeon had removed the tumor from his intestine over a year and a half earlier, he told us that the cancer had already metastasized and spread to his liver. At that time, Spot was only given about two to three weeks to live. Spot obviously had other ideas.

Since Spot had hung on to life so tenaciously during the past two years, I refused to give up on him even now. Still wet from the shower, I hurriedly pulled on a shirt and some shoes and put Spot in the car. As we raced to the vet, I noticed that Spot was sliding around the back of the Land Rover like a sack of potatoes. Luckily, our veterinarian was only a few minutes away. Spot was limp and still as I carried him inside and we were rushed to an operating room immediately. Ironically, Spot had an appointment at this same clinic later in the day for one of his regular Tuesday afternoon acupuncture treatments. He was going to need a lot more than acupuncture now.

y putting my ear close to Spot's neck I could tell he was still breathing. He was in shock though. His blood pressure had dropped to almost zero and the doctors couldn't even detect a pulse when I brought him in. It took several agonizing minutes before they could find a blood vessel in Spot's leg to attach the IV needle. The vets and technicians in the room tried all four legs and even his neck before they finally found a suitable vein. With the IV fluids set to maximum drip, Spot's breathing slowly became steady and regular again. He was so close to death that his extremities had already become cold. One of technicians brought in an electric blanket to warm up his body and when they thought his condition was beginning to stabilize a bit, they wheeled him into a nearby x-ray suite to see if they could determine how bad the internal bleeding actually was.

I stayed next to Spot the entire time, gently talking to him and listening to his breathing. As the IV fluids infused throughout his body, Spot became alert enough to lift his head a bit and look around. I could tell he knew I was there with him and was glad he still recognized me. When the x-rays were complete, we were moved to a small glass observation room inside the hospital's surgery suite. I sat on the floor with Spot as he rested and appeared to be gathering his strength again. For almost an hour we stayed here. Spot rested his head on my knee as I held him and made sure his electric blanket was still warming his legs. At some point, one of the veterinary technicians changed the IV bag hanging above his head when the first bag of fluid became empty. I remember thinking that Spot must have lost a lot of blood. I knew he was dying, but I kept thinking that after he rested a while, maybe he would be able to come home again for a few more days. I knew that he dearly loved his home and wanted him to be able to spend his final hours there.

Dr. Johnson, Spot's veterinarian, came back to check on his condition after his IV fluids had been changed and I went to a nearby phone to try to call Janet at work. When I returned from the phone, Spot sat up suddenly on his blanket and started to look around. I thought that this was a good sign, but it wasn't. I remember telling Dr. Johnson that Spot probably had to go to the bathroom, because he had a nervous, worried expression on his face. It would have been hard to take him outside at this point however, since he was still hooked up to several IV tubes and wrapped in an electric blanket.

he real reason that Spot sat up so suddenly was that he had started to bleed internally again. The hour-long infusion of IV fluids had raised his blood pressure enough for the hemorrhaging inside his body to resume. In just a matter of minutes, Spot became still and his breathing became labored. I remember Dr. Johnson's voice in the background saying that she didn't think she could bring him back this time. Then Janet was kneeling beside me. We both held Spot as his eyes fluttered and his muscles began to twitch. I hope he knew that we were both with him from the beginning of his life until the very end. I think that Spot managed to hang on to life as long as he possible could, but this Tuesday morning, just around his regular lunchtime, he lost his long battle and died in our arms.

Janet and I sat holding Spot for the longest time. It was hard to believe he wasn't still alive. His ears were still silky smooth. He looked so peaceful and sweet that it was easy to imagine he was just sleeping. Janet and I looked at each other and we knew that life wasn't going to be the same. Maybe there would be other dogs in our future, but a fourteen-year chunk of our lives that included our entire relationship together was gone forever. A flood of memories overcame me. There were countless good memories like Spot's first experience with snow, his obsession with collecting tennis balls from nearby tennis courts and his willingness to do almost anything for a piece of cheese. There were sad memories too, like the last time he wagged his tail and the last time he was able to walk in his beloved park.

Working at home the way I do, Spot had become such an intrinsic part of my daily routines that it was almost impossible to imagine what life would be like without him. During his final years, we were inseparable. I became Spot's legs and he became my reason to get up in the morning. A dog's desires are so simple and straightforward compared to most humans, that living in a dog-like manner began to seem like a valid solution to many of my own problems as well. Spot and I got up each morning and did the same things over and over again. We ate well, took long naps and even longer walks together. Every day was almost identical to the day that came before and after it, but I gradually came to see this as a good thing. Spot got my undivided attention and in return I got the peace and tranquility that made it easier than I ever though possible to earn a good living as a writer. In truth, I grew to love this quiet, dog-like existence. I still believe that most of what passes for variety and excitement in people's lives is nothing more than an ongoing effort to sort through the inconsistencies in the behavior of those around you. Spot and I didn't have this problem. We grew to trust each other totally. As he grew weaker, I grew better at devising clever workarounds that let him continue the routines we had both become so fond of. I haven't done many good things in my life, but I do believe that I never let Spot down. I could see it in his eyes. Through sickness and health, this was a dog that genuinely loved sharing his life with us. It's sad that fourteen years was all the time he was given on this earth. I know he would have appreciated a few more years to indulge himself in his many simple pleasures.

Janet and I decided to have Spot cremated. How do you know what a dog's last wishes are? Would he have wanted to be buried in our back yard? Would he have wanted to have his ashes scattered along the shore of his favorite lake? There is no way of knowing for sure, but I think if he could have told us, Spot's wishes would have been very similar to my own: simply to be remembered by those he loved. As we wrapped his body in his favorite blanket and began the long final drive north to a crematorium our veterinarian had recommended, I realized that everything in life eventually does come full circle. It wasn't until we actually arrived at our destination that I noticed how close we were to the place where Spot's story began. The crematorium was less than two miles from the small farm where Spot was born. It has taken fourteen years, but we had finally arrived almost exactly where we began. I guess we do reap what we sow. For the most part, what goes around comes around as well. I know that whatever we gave Spot in life, he gave us back much more in return.

I never had children and Spot was my only dog. I lifted the corner of his well-worn black and white blanket to kiss him on the top of his head and say a final goodbye before placing his body on the warm firebricks that formed the crematorium's floor. I couldn't help but wonder if my own circle had been completed as well. Spot had lived a long and happy life. He was gone now though, and I had never felt this lonely before. Goodbye my friend. There is no way of explaining how much I miss you.

If you enjoy these stories and would like to help this wonderful breed of dogs, please consider making a donation to Dalmatian Rescue of North Texas. Your donation will help Dalmatian Rescue continue to rescue and rehabilitate the hundreds of Dalmatians that are abandoned in North Texas every year. To help give a deserving Dalmatian a second chance, just click on the button to your left. You can use any major credit card to make your donation instantly and no matter what you choose to give, you can feel a little better knowing that you have helped a dog very much like Spot find the one thing it really needs: a home.

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