Walter Witschard begins the story of his beloved boy Sebastian by explaining a little about the breed.
“Bernese Mountain Dogs were originally bred in Switzerland to pull carts in the mountains. They are powerful, docile, intelligent.”
Walter once bred and showed what he calls “Berners,” and today he has Sebastian, who is now eight, and Sebastian’s niece Maria, who is now four. “So Sebastian is #5 and Maria is #6,” he says.
“One fault of the breed,” Walter says, is its lifespan — “anything over nine years you consider a gift from God.”
“Sebastian was my wife’s dog,” Walter explains. “If she sneezed or skinned her knee, he was right there.”
After a brief pause, Walter continued, “We lost her last September, and Sebastian still goes and sits by her chair. . . .” The vet told him, “These are big, highly intelligent, lovable dogs. They have great compassion for humans, and Sebastian is grieving.”
Sebastian had had trouble with his gall bladder the year before, but, Walter says, “the vet prescribed medication, and it cleared right up.” Then last New Year’s eve, Sebastian stayed at Rock Creek Kennels while Walter and his son vacationed in the British Virgin Islands. Between flights on the trip home, Walter got a call from the vet. Rock Creek had taken Sebastian in three to four days before, as he was again having issues with his gall bladder. But this time, the vet told Walter, the drugs weren’t working. “He said, ‘you either have to operate or you’ll lose him,’” Walter recalls.
“He was turning eight in January. I asked my son, ‘What do we do?’ He said, ‘Dad, Sebastian’s family.’ and that was that — we scheduled the procedure.”
“I got back to Portland the next day and went to see Sebastian at Cascade Veterinary Referral Center, where [I met] Dr. Donovan. There was Sebastian — he hadn’t yet been under the knife. They brought him out, and we talked and I pet him for half an hour.”
Using ultrasound, Dr. Donovan diagnosed Sebastian with a biliary mucocele, necessitating gall bladder removal. His procedure was coordinated with the surgery team for that day.
“The vet said after I left Sebastian was a new dog. It was like, ‘Dad’s home . . . everything’s gonna be alright.’”
Following the surgery, Walter says Dr. Donovan told him, “For the rest of his life, he’s going to be on the same drug humans are on (costing $110 per month); here’s a website where you can get the pills for half the cost.”
“Blessed be, that woman . . . I love her.”
Sebastian returned home and, Walter says come September, “I have a three-year-old dog! He’s at the dog park, he’s running . . . he’s like a little child.”
Tickled in the telling, Walter shares that Maria has “her” toys and Sebastian will sometimes swipe one, Maria giving chase, everyone having a ball. “Of course always the gentleman,” Walter points out, “he always lets Maria win.”
Those who share the love of animals appreciate how scary the prospect of surgery can be, and the difficulty of making related decisions when that best friend is in the later stages of his or her life.
“I couldn’t live without these dogs,” he says. Enacting them, he mimics, “We’re going to the dog park . . . We’re going to eat now. . .” Reclaiming his own voice, he says, “It’s really THEM who wants to eat!”
“He was given the gift of life,” he says. “It was an incredible surgery, and I can’t say enough — can’t praise the folks at CVRC enough.”
In closing Walter tells one last, sweet story about his beloved boy. “He is the gentle giant at the dog park. If he sees dogs get into a fight he’s the sheriff! He breaks it up. He’s 104 lbs, but moving at a full run, he’s a lot more than that. And when he goes to the park? He meets everyone. He greets every human. I often hear: ‘Sebastian’s here!’ They know him by name.”
“He has made a lot of people happy. He has brought so many smiles.”
“And now, he’s a three-year-old.”
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