What started as a diarrhoea became an important wakeup call 18 months before his death. For about two months my setter was losing weight because of almost chronic diarrhoea, with no abnormality in stool, urine or blood. Because of his age, eleven years then, increasing weakness and the fact that there simply is no real cure for Colitis, we decided against a biopsy, prepared for the worst and went day by day, more than once from one false hope to the next.
Twice I was close, very close, to having him euthanised. Indecisive opinions or guidance from our vet and an unbelievable spring in my dog's step on such days made me hesitate, give him a few more days.
In May 2003 we decided on a final date, the day when we would declare the battle lost if he wouldn't improve markedly. At the same time I decided it didn't really matter anymore what I fed him. He could do no worse than slime and blood.
He did better. This last change in diet and very gentle and gradual withdrawal of medication over a two month period led to what can only be described as a virtually full recovery. Except for the occasional lapse after strenuous exercise or unexpected stress his motions and later his weight were back to normal. His stamina recovered to such an extent, that four months later walks of more than an hour were the norm again. There are no words that could describe the joy I felt.
I didn't work for days when he was at his worst. I worked on an old laptop from home for the rest of his life. We both benefited. This is when the two hour lunch break was introduced, when coffee breaks outside and many an additional cuddle or brief play in between, five, ten, fifteen minutes, were added. And that was just during working hours.
This was the time, when Beautiful became his latest, and his last, nickname. People said he was, sometimes daily. To me he always had been.
I believe he knew this to be a special phase in our relationship. His eyes, his expression, his behaviour said so. He was even closer than before, wanted more physical contact, leaning against, cuddling up. He wanted to see places we hadn't visited for a long time, directed me again and again where he wanted to go. Not by pulling on his lead, but by stopping at corners, crossings or pathways, by looking into the direction he wanted to go and then reading my eyes. Formally the decision was always mine. In reality we mostly went where he wanted to go. He knew how to get his will.
Failing eyesight, the odd stumble because of it, and the generally altered posture of an elderly dog left no doubt that this period was a reprieve, not something that would or could last. It was so good to have this extra time. To walk, sit in the park, to steal tennis balls people didn't care enough to pick up, to watch birds, squirrels, to share time, to hold. To glance sideways, get up as one, to once more being allowed to be silly, to tease, being teased. To see how a five minute rest, sorely needed, was appreciated as much as every minute we spent together. I felt unbelievably rich again.
On July 25th his behaviour changed. It was a very hot and humid day. Our walk may have been too taxing. At the end we were suddenly back to soft motion. Afterwards he immediately wanted to go home.
From then on he went back to his bed after breakfast instead of playing or just being there beside me for a while. During the day and in the evening he was less interested in staying outside, although he still enjoyed playing inside - sometimes tripping over his own legs and breaking my heart in the process. His stumbling became worse. Stumbling three times in a row onto a sharp stone one morning led to a limp - the first one for more than 15 months.
Medication at first helped, then not, and then again. On the morning of September 26th 2004 watching him getting up from his bed I felt he had improved yet again. Ten minutes later he was so badly in pain he could not walk. And although I wanted him to live forever I could not bear to see him pained.