Twilight - by John Sealander

Wishing Spot a happy birthday!

When everything was said and done, just about the only thing that wasn't Y2K compliant during the twilight of the twentieth century was Spot. On New Year's Eve, this most active and playful of dogs was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of ushering in the new millennium with champagne and special yogurt covered dog biscuits, we spend the evening keeping a watchful eye on alarmingly low red cell counts and an abnormally high temperature. Spot's New Year's treat was a cocktail of IV fluids followed by a special meal of Science Diet-ID and Barium to check for motility in his lower bowel.

This isn't a sad story though. It is an affirmation of a dog's will to live. Spot is still alive. Against all odds, he still takes his daily walks, cons me out of extra treats by catching tennis balls and insists on being covered with his blanket before he goes to sleep at night. Nobody expected him to live through the long New Year's weekend, when all the veterinary surgical centers in town were closed. Nobody expected him to recover from the surgery itself, after a tumor the size of a tennis ball was removed from his lower intestine. Nobody, in fact, was willing to offer a positive prognosis at all, after it was discovered during surgery that the cancer had already spread to his liver.

Spot has other ideas though. When he was released from the hospital, after spending three days in intensive care, the prospects didn't look good. He was terribly weak and was suffering from paralytic ileus. He had a fever and just trying to stand made him shiver and shake. In truth, he didn't seem well enough to leave the hospital at all, but the surgeons said that as bad as things looked, Spot's condition had stabilized somewhat. Even though he wasn't doing as well as expected, it was time to go home. I think they just wanted to give us a little time to say goodbye. When I asked when I should resume Spot's heartworm pills and allergy antigen shots, the surgeon gave me a funny look and said that heartworm was the least of Spot's problems.

The vet made the right decision to send Spot home though. I could tell he was depressed and had seemingly lost his will to live when I made my daily visits to the hospital. I know he thought we had abandoned him. There really was no choice though. As I carried Spot to the car on the day of his release, I kept wondering if he really ought to be hooked up to his IV and under a doctor's care a few days longer.

The first night at home was touch-and-go. He still had a fever and shivered uncontrollably through the night as we lay curled up together on the bed. In the morning though, he was a different dog. His temperature has gone down by a full two degrees and for the first time in over a week, he started wagging his tail. Spot just wanted to be back home again.

That was the first of January and now it is the first of March. I have learned to take things one day at a time. When Spot improved to the point where we knew we weren't going to have to say our good-byes right away, we took him to see the oncologist. Again the prognosis wasn't good. According to the pathology report, Spot has what is called a neuroendocrine carcinoid. In layman's terms, this is a very rare form of cancer that affects the nerve cells in the lower intestine. It doesn't respond to chemotherapy at all and there have been only five recorded cases of this disease in dogs. On the positive side, humans who have been diagnosed with this type of cancer tend to live from two to five years after their cancer was initially discovered.

With only five recorded cases on record, we'll probably never know all the details about how this particular cancer affects dogs. I'm being optimistic though. In five years, Spot would be the world's oldest Dalmatian. Even two more years would be all anyone could ever ask with a dog who is going to celebrate his thirteenth birthday in a few weeks. Stranger things have happened though. Spot has already survived a difficult surgery that successfully removed a benign tumor in his spinal cord. He also suffered no ill effects from climbing over an eight foot tall chain link fence when he was a puppy and from eating glass when he was a little more mature. Anyone who says that cats are the only animals with nine lives hasn't met Spot.

I suspect that all dogs are best appreciated one day at a time. A dog can provide so many moments of simple pleasure that it's easy to take many of them for granted. These days, I let Spot take his time smelling every tree and bush on his daily walks. I enjoy his conniving way of getting me away from the telephone or computer by faking a deep "danger" bark that just can't be ignored. I've never been so happy to see nice brown, well-formed dog poop. Spot doesn't know he has cancer. He does know that things have changed though.

Oddly, I'm convinced he thinks it's a change for the better. He loves his new diet. Instead of the usual dry kibble, he gets a special mix of moist food designed to build up his immune system without putting a lot of stress on his intestinal system. This new "cancer" diet is high in protein and almost equally high in fat; two culinary ingredients that all dogs seem to love. Add a few antioxidants, some vitamin B complex and omega 3 fatty acids and you've got a dog with even more energy than he had before. All the doctors were convinced that Spot was going to start losing weight almost immediately, especially since the cancer had already metastasized. Wrong again. Spot has already gained ten pounds since his surgery and is almost back to his normal weight.

Since progressive, involuntary weight loss is one of the biggest problems in dogs with cancer, there doesn't seem to be a lot of research on dogs who actually gain weight after their cancer is discovered. Spot definitely isn't losing his appetite though, so it's only a matter of time before we have to put him on some sort of a diet again. I'm sure that even with the most nutritious foods available, there can be too much of a good thing. Anyway, a dog that's dying of cancer definitely shouldn't die of obesity instead. Maybe it's just the breed. I'm never met a Dalmatian who wouldn't eat everything in its path. Dalmatians just love to eat.

My Dad, who in his long life has had almost a dozen dogs, keeps reminding me that dogs don't live forever. It's hard to remember this however when Spot has been an integral part of my life for the entire time my company has been open for business. Getting Spot was one of the first things that Janet and I did together as a couple and he's been an active part of our life ever since. For fourteen years, his desire to get up at the crack of dawn and his insatiable love of long walks in any type of weather have defined daily life. It's almost easier to acknowledge that I'm growing older and falling apart than that he is. The sun is setting though. Even without the cancer, I can see the difficulty he has climbing into his favorite chair. We walk slower now and don't play ball nearly as long. It's twilight. I know Spot isn't going to live forever. I do think I'll get another chance to say Happy Birthday though. I'm happy for that.

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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