When we were young - by John Sealander

When we were young, things were different. A fourteen-year-old Dalmatian is often quiet and well-mannered. A three-year-old Dalmatian is more like a coiled spring. It's easy to forget now how strong and fast Spot was in those days. He could run forever. The dog was a canine Houdini. He could effortlessly jump over the chain link fence in the backyard and once, during a memorable Thanksgiving dinner, he managed in a feat of fence climbing worthy of Spiderman, to finesse his way over the top of an eight foot tall dog run. He wasn't trying to run away. Once over the fence, he came straight to the front door. All he wanted was a place at the dinner table and a plate of turkey and dressing to call his own. We learned then and there that it isn't wise to exclude a Dalmatian from any sort of festivity. Dalmatians are the original party animals. They love people and they love a chance to show off. Christmas, Easter and birthday parties are tailor-made for Dalmatians. Spot quickly learned how to unwrap his own Christmas presents and would eagerly join in on Easter egg hunts if you scattered a few dog biscuits around the yard. In fact, it wasn't long before Easter wasn't enough. Games of hide and seek became a weekly and then daily activity that continues to this day. Spot still enjoys playing a quick game of "hide the biscuit" before breakfast. He's not quite as inquisitive or tenacious as he used to be, but his nose is still good and we haven't fooled him yet.

Spot's youthful energy was only surpassed by his curiosity. There were days when every newly planted tulip bulb was a hole waiting to be dug. Spot was always sticking his nose in places where it didn't belong. He got his first introduction to cats on an early trip to the vet. When he got a little too curious about a cat he fancied in the lobby, it slapped him with a paw right on the nose. Not long after, I found him racing around our back yard as fast as he could, with several bumblebees in close pursuit. Again, his curiosity got the better of him after he had disturbed a beehive. He learned quickly though. He still keeps his distance with cats and he won't get within 30 feet of a beehive. For some reason, it took an unusually long time for him to learn the perils of ants. As a puppy, Spot would all too frequently decide to poop right on top of an anthill and then start hopping around like someone had given him a hot foot when the ants started crawling up his leg. I can't even remember how many times I've been bitten by fire ants while trying to brush them off his legs.

Puppyhood wasn't just as series of misadventures with other animals though. There was a lot of sheer exuberance. Spot loved tennis balls. He could smell them in the tall grass around public tennis courts from at least 40 feet away. During warm weather, he would bring back a fresh yellow trophy on almost every walk. When he was a young dog, he loved to play catch. You could throw a tennis ball as far as you could and Spot would take off running, returning in a flash, waiting impatiently for you to throw the ball again. His energy seemed endless. I would always tire of throwing the ball long before he did. As he grew older, Spot's desire to spend hours playing catch gradually decreased. He remained a collector however and still enjoys finding a good tennis ball. He's become very selective in his old age, choosing only fresh bright yellow balls with lots of bounce and the smell of new rubber.

It's amazing that Dalmatians reach old age at all. Their speed and sense of reckless abandon can easily lead to sprains and broken bones. Spot was either lucky or had a guardian angel. His leg fell in a gopher hole once while running at top speed with no ill effects. He limped a little for a day or so, but the x-rays showed no damage at all. A year or so later, he fell off a toilet seat while apparently trying to reach a pack of chewing gum on a nearby shelf above his head. Spot's climbing abilities were pretty amazing, but it gradually became obvious that they weren't nearly as good as he thought they were. He was always getting in over his head trying to reach objects that four legged animals had no business even thinking about.

Of course, young Dalmatians have their quiet side as well. Spot could amuse himself for hours quietly chewing on a table leg or a new pair of shoes. He had impeccable taste too, always choosing the most expensive or hardest to replace items as chew toys. There were also the periods when he seemed to prefer house plants to shoe leather. It's been many years since Spot has been seen stripping the leaves off a Ficus tree or pulling a Yucca plant out of its pot, but his plant eating legacy lives on. For some reason, the only plants that remain in our house today are cacti. Spot never did like cactus.

It's a good thing that I was younger too during Spot's formative years. I don't know if I'd have the energy anymore. It easy to forget how just how hard it can be to get a young Dalmatian to relinquish a dead fish it has just found on the beach. Ditto for giving this same Dalmatian a bath after he's rolled in the aforementioned dead fish. You don't take many leisurely walks with a Dalmatian pup "walking" at your side. Usually, they're way out in front of you, tugging at their leash and urging you in their own special way to go just a bit faster. An old Dalmatian might be content to curl up beside you as you watch television, but a young dog would prefer a five mile walk in a pouring rainstorm to sitting quietly at your feet. Spot actually liked the rain and there were days when I was convinced we were both going to be struck by lightning if I didn't get him inside immediately. I wouldn't trade all those wet walks and chewed table legs for anything though. Not only has Spot's insatiable need for activity kept me in good physical shape over the years, his boundless enthusiasm has kept me young.

I wish we both could have lingered a little longer at the fountain of youth. It's over all too quickly. Spot is close to 75 now in human years. He can no longer climb into his favorite chair and has trouble even standing erect on a windy day. The years have taken their toll on both of us. Spot has led a life any Dalmatian could be proud of though. I remember when he could run like the wind. He could amaze you at how quickly he could learn a clever trick and then infuriate you by refusing to do it again for months. Dalmatians have a mind of their own and that's what's so wonderful about them. They can be loyal and even obedient if you don't try to dominate them. They can be friendly and well mannered if you never try to exclude them. It's a paradox of sorts. Treat a Dalmatian like a human and they will act like the dog you always dreamed of. Treat one like a dog and all bets are off.

Spot knows that his running days are over. He seems comfortable and even happy taking painfully slow walks through a small meadow behind our house that he used to leap through in seconds. He hasn't forgotten though. Late at night when he's sound asleep, I watch his legs move as he dreams of better days. He's still running! You can almost see him leaping over logs and bounding through his favorite meadows as his tired legs delicately trace the motions of a much younger dog in the still night air.

Sweet dreams my friend.

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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copyrightę2001. Contact John Sealander at: john@sealander.com 13604 readers since 3/19/01