By Mitch Mode
It started with a cough. Friend said, “Is he having a problem?”
I said, “No, I think that’s normal.” No worries. A simple, shallow cough from Fenway, now three years old and a healthy little Boston Terrier. No worries.
Not that day.
But looking back I think that’s when it started; Tuesday afternoon at lunch.
He probably coughed again that week. I did not notice it. Dogs are always coughing or sneezing or whatever. Fenway was normal.
Until he wasn’t.
Until Sally got home from a trip to California and Fenway was bouncing off the walls with excitement of seeing her. Until the next morning, Saturday, when Sally called me at work. Said, “Fen didn’t eat. Did you feed him?” I said I had not and she began to worry because that is who Sally is; one who worries about her dogs.
He did not eat and he coughed more. We spent Saturday in a state of mild but growing concern.
Sunday was worse; no appetite, lethargic, a dry, persistent cough. That night we were in the vet’s office drawing blood and taking X-Rays and poking and prodding Fenway who dealt with it all with a sense of resignation. At the end of it though he would not look at the vet, turning his head away as if in disdain.
There was nothing in the test results. No internal injuries; no Lymes; no major congestion or evidence of disease. There was talk and in the talk mention of Blasto but no real possibilities for that; he’d not been much out of the yard. But his temperature was up; 104 and change. Something was wrong. He was sick.
The next days brought more tests and a round of antibiotics. His temperature told the story; still104 degrees plus Holding steady. An infection had taken hold and it was not subsiding, a rising tide that was not abating.
Fenway curled up in the sun, sought out blankets for comfort; slept too much, ate too little. He coughed and his eyes held sadness; deep and dark and emotive of his feelings. He was sick and he wasn’t getting better.
Another test. More questions.
Two days into it; three; four. His fever would not break, a smoldering ember undimmed by antibiotics. He did not eat.
We were uneasy at the start of all this, nervous as the days passed, more anxious each day at lack of progress. Sally woke each day with eyes that matched Fenway’s; sad and concerned and lacking a brightness and spark.
On Wednesday the phone call: He’d tested positive for Blasto.
Blastomycosis. Blasto. A fungal infection that attacks the lungs and is debilitating at the least; fatal at the worst. Typically found in wet, dark environs or in decaying wood or leaf. Humans get it and dogs get it. It is not pleasant for any involved. Dogs die from Blasto, not in huge numbers (under 5% from what we learned) but they can die. And they will be very sick. Treatment is lengthy, months long, an ongoing campaign of drugs and pills and constant attention.
Now our pup (we still call him the puppy even at three years of age) had Blasto. Now the bundle of energy and life and joy was stilled by the disease. Now Fenway was acting like an old, tired dog with the life force faded.
He labored to breathe, breaths coming short and shallow and far too frequent. He panted as he lay still in the blankets. He coughed, a hacking cough tinged with discomfort, his lungs compromised by the disease. He was sick and with his sickness we lived in concern.
More drugs and IV’s. Pills and more pills, appetite stimulants and nutritional supplements.
He is smart and he is stubborn and while those two attributes in a dog can drive one to distraction at times without that combination you have a very boring animal. I’d not wish for anything else save for a dog smart and stubborn and willful.
He learned in a very short time to spit out the pills. We wrapped the pills in cheese, in soft dog food, in cat food (his favorite treat), in peanut butter. He’d take them in, act like he was swallowing them, then spit them out.
Then he’d clam his stubby jaws shut tight and fight us; stubborn. We’d pry his jaws open, force the pill deep as we could, hold his mouth shut. He’d push the pill back out.
He learned that a trip to the vet’s was not a pleasure trip; pulling against his leash, avoiding our eyes when we tried to make up to him. Our entreaties of “Good boy, Fenway” met with doggie disgust.
He came home from hours on IV drips, tired, ears down, eyes dark and sad. He would curl up and sleep and we’d cover him with a blanket until only his face showed; black with a blaze of white down the center and sad, old eyes.
He refused most food. The, nearly a week into it, he started to eat. But only chicken. Offer anything else and he’d sniff it and refuse it, a haughty scorn with turned up lip as if insulted. Vet said he’s seen dogs go over a week without food when fighting Blasto.
By midweek he started to take food, slowly, tentatively. His temperature began to fall.
The vet says he’s young and fit and has everything going for him. Says everything will be alright. Give him meds, give him time, give him attention.
Chances are he’ll be fine. Chances are…
But now is the time of anxiety as we watch for incremental changes that show he has turned the corner. Now we watch his every move, judge his mood, assess his diet; fret daily.
In the night he sleeps on the bed and I listen to him breathe, slow and steady. In the dark of night he moves, resettles, makes a small, pathetic whimpering sound. Then all is quiet and after a time we both find sleep and wait for dawn and a new day.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, go to StarJournalNow.com.