Sunday Salon: The Trouble With Dog Stories

Five signs that Dakota is having a good day

  1. Jumps on the bed.
  2. Barks at The Hat Lady.
  3. Wants to go for a walk.
  4. Presents a toy when we get home.
  5. Asks for snack at bedtime.

Today, it’s Saturday afternoon as I write this, Dakota is having a good day.

My book blog has always been something of a dog story.  You can see a portrait of Dakota, my Bassett hound in the banner above.  It’s a detail from a much larger painting a friend of ours did.  My old blog featured a much bigger picture of Dakota taken at the Point Isabelle Dog Park, or Dog Heaven as we call it, with San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.   For several years now she has been the face of the TBR Dare.  Dakota has long been by my side in my Gravatar as well.  Sometimes she has been my Gravatar.

I used to regularly write posts about the books she ate, though she hasn’t eaten one for a couple of years.  I even kept a running list of them for a while.  She used to select the winners for book give-a-ways, back when I still did them.  But, you’ve probably guessed the problem with dog stories by now.

Last week, we took Dakota to an oncologist.  There is a visible lump towards the back of her belly.  The oncologist confirmed that she has lymphoma.  It’s a common type of cancer in dogs her age–she’s around 11 years old.  Since she’s a rescue dog, there’s no way to be sure exactly how old she is.  The oncologist said that without treatment we can expect another six to eight weeks.  There is medication available that will make most of her remaining weeks pain free.

Treatment, in case you’re wondering, is chemotherapy which takes six months and, if successful, would give her an additional six months to a year.  Bassett hounds live about 12 years on average, with 14 years not being uncommon.  Treatment cost $7,500 dollars, may not work, and could induce a list of side-effects that I was unable to really comprehend while the doctor was reviewing them.  Fortunately for me, C.J. was able to stay focused and got all of the details.  The possible side effects are not something I’m willing to put Dakota through, even if the treatment was something we could afford.  The oncologist did remind us that there is no guarantee treatment would work, though he does have one patient, a cat, who has lived five years after treatment.

Meantime, Dakota is completely happy and as active as ever. If you saw her today,  you would not think for a moment that she was sick at all.

So, I asked the oncologist how we would know when it was time.  He recommended making a list of five things Dakota does that show she is having a good day. Keep track of how many she does each day on a calendar.  When she does all five in one day, mark that day as an ‘A.’  When she does four out of five, mark that day as a ‘B.’  This way you’ll know when it’s time.  This past week, she had six A-level days.  We’re taking things day by day.

Many dog owners will tell you they learn about life through the dog/owner relationship.  Much of what they say I find problematic. I’m not one who subscribes to the dogs as children notion either. I am not a dog parent.  Dakota is not my child; she is my dog. I am certain that the people who call me a dog parent do so with the best of intentions, but conflating the two has always struck me as a bit insulting to both children and dogs.   There is something very moving about a dog’s devotion to its master.  It’s something unique to dogs.

Dakota has shown me one thing that I would like to take into my own life– the ability to be happy in the moment.  It’s a cliché, I know, but dogs really do live in the moment. When they are happy they are completely happy, Kermit the Frog happy. When they are sitting comfortably with people they love, they have no thought to the past or the future,  just the present moment and the pleasure it’s bringing them.   Enjoy the now whenever you can.  Not a bad motto.

I digress.

Today, Dakota has already jumped on the bed and gone for her morning walk.  When we came home from breakfast, she presented us with the toy leopard that I bought to keep her from jumping on the leather chair in the study, and she barked at the hat lady, one of our neighbors who wears a straw hat when she walks her two small dogs past our house twice a day. For some reason Dakota hates her or her dogs and barks furiously at them whenever they come by.   Tonight, around 8:30 when the sun goes down, I’m sure she’ll starting whining and wagging her tail to remind us that she gets a dog biscuit before bedtime.


I made this video of Dakota several years ago.  Though she did learn to sit, to shake, to come when called and to wait before eating until given the command, Dakota never has learned to stay.



27 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: The Trouble With Dog Stories

  1. Oh, no. Dog stories always end badly. I’ve gone through two sad endings myself. But the thing is, I can’t help but keep wanting another try. And so now our border collie, the highly neurotic Holli, is 13, and is still healthy, but with more gray hairs every day. I’ll be horribly sad when her time comes–and then I’ll want another dog.

    These are going to be hard times for you, and I’m sorry. But you gave Dakota a wonderful life. She lucked out when you guys rescued her.

    1. She doesn’t know how much she lucked out, either. Part of that whole live in the moment thing she does so well. I’ve been told I have to wait a year before getting another dog. I think it’s a good idea, but it won’t be easy.

  2. Sorry to hear about Dakota. Pets are a very important part of our lives. I haven’t had one for years; for various reasons I have tended more towards cats (though I do love dogs), and my husband’s asthma is a limiting factor. But like you I always appreciated the difference between my Siamese and children (which I don’t have either). Valuable, to be loved and cared for but not people. I hope your last weeks with Dakota are full of love and fun.

    1. We’re taking her to an outdoor art car rally later today. She’ll be getting lots of local trips and lots of delicious treats in the coming weeks.

  3. Sorry to hear about Dakota’s prognosis, bless her heart. From the sound if it, I have little doubt she will spend her remaining days generally happy and certainly loved…

  4. I am so very very sorry to hear that Dakota has lymphoma. We found out in mid-February that our 13-year-old Russian blue, Claudius, had high grade lymphoma and that he probably had only 4 to 6 weeks to live without treatment. After several days of saying I wouldn’t put him through chemo, I opted to try it for a month; his tumor shrunk dramatically, and we’ve stayed the course since then. He’s had minimal nausea for a few days following chemo, lingering anemia, which he’s tolerated well but is finally past, and needed a brief course of antibiotics following a spike in a liver value (a lifelong issue with him). His whiskers fell out a couple of weeks ago. Basically, that’s the sum total of his side-effects. He’s gained weight, strength, and attitude. It is bloody expensive, and if we find out a month from now that he’s still not in remission, that’s going to be one sad day. But, as you already know, it’s the quality of their lives that matter, not the length. And the knowing when to let them go so that they don’t have to suffer.

    Wishing her many more happy moments.

  5. So sorry to hear about Dakota, and as the owner of two elderly dogs myself, I am mostly not trying to think about the kind of thing you are going through. But it sounds like you have a tremendously wise oncologist looking out for her. Blessings and best wishes.

    1. I try to always focus on the now with dogs. That’s really what’s great about them. No matter how bad a day I have had, even when it’s been my fault, the dogs are always happy to see and the always insist that I deal with them right now. It’s nice to have a creature that takes you away from the future, whatever that looks like it’s going to be.

  6. When I visit my sister in Novato she would take me to that Isabella Dog Park. Great fun. She had three basset hounds all at once and they were hilarious. They have since passed on once they reached the ripe old age of 15 and 16. Your dog is gorgeous. My three dogs are very present moment oriented. They just don’t care about the past and have no idea of the future. They just “are” and are happy. We do the best by them and then say goodbye and then onto the next dog and the cycle begins. Thinking of you and Dakota.

  7. I feel sad for you. It must be hard to think about the progression of her illness. Let’s don’t think about it; I like the idea of enjoying every day with her.

    Still I feel sad.

  8. Stu, of Winstonsdad’s blog, was just writing of his worry over Winston’s health yesterday. Today income upon this tender post of yours. We have our own dear Henry, a rescued dog of part Huskey, part who knows what; he is also nearing his time. Some days are better than others. I like the idea of “grading” an A day, or a B. But, I suppose for us it will have to be when Henry can no longer walk. Anyway, my encouragement to you and your fine dog, Dakota.

    1. I know it’s unpleasant to think about, but I’m glad we set up what an A day is while Dakota is still healthy. There will be enough to deal with when the time comes.

  9. May she have peace for the end of her days, and know that her family loves her- I’m sure she does, in her doggy way. My mother’s dog had a type of cancer that made her get golf-ball sized lumps all over her body, but they decided for similar reasons to not have them removed- and she still had a good life for at least a year… they were able to tell when she was suffering- it’s still hard to make that final decision though. How awful that our pets’ lives are so much shorter than our own! (although I imagine having a pet who would outlive you- like a parrot- has another set of hearbreaking issues altogether)

    1. Didn’t I mention that we also have a parrot. The parrot will be much happier once she is getting all (more) of the attention. We try to take very good care of all our pets.

  10. James, what a touching story this is. I know from experience the hardest question is: “when do you know it is time to say good-bye?” I lost two cats in six months. They were the best of friends, always went outside together, always at each other’s side. I called them Benedictius en Gregor ( the ex-Pope and his personal assistant). I still miss them. Enjoy every nano second with Dakota….I’ll be thinking of of you both.

  11. Oh James. Big hugs! I’m crying for you and having just said goodbye to our dog a few months ago I can understand the heartache you must be feeling. This post is a beautiful tribute to Dakota and you’re absolutely right that the relationship between pet and owner is a unique and cherished one. Here’s to many more A days with your sweet pup.

    1. Thank you Trish, As I said above, today, Monday was an A day. We’re heading for the dog park later this week. We enjoying every day we can and Dakota is getting way more dog treats than she’s normally allowed.

Comments are closed.