John Seilback and his dog, Diogi, planned to “head off into the sunset” when they retired from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office in fall 2020. But it would not be so simple for either of them.
About a year later, Diogi is being treated for cancer, and Seilback has to care for him almost like a full-time job, at great cost.
Without treatment, the vet said Diogi had two to three months to live. But the cancer can be effectively treated with radiation and offers an 80% success rate. A former co-worker of Seilback’s started a GoFundMe page to help cover the costs of Diogi’s treatment; in 10 days, it had raised just short of $3,000. Though the GoFundMe helps offset medical expenses, Seilback said he would do anything to give the dog that would run into danger for him a chance at recovery.
To date, Seilback has spent around $5,500 on Diogi’s care — about $2,000 of it just to get a cancer diagnosis — and the bills will continue to mount.
“Regardless of what funding would come in, I’m going to spend whatever it takes to help him with his condition,” Seilback said. “There’s a very special relationship with a police dog … I like to say it’s like 10 times the relationship you’d have with your pet.”
Seilback wanted to move to Tennessee after nearly 30 years in law enforcement — 20 spent with the sheriff’s office’s K9 unit — to hike the trails with Diogi and soak up retirement after a long career. However, Seilback noticed the pooch frequently sneezing over the summer, and he would occasionally see droplets of blood, though he could not tell where they were coming from. He attributed the sneezing to dust stirred up by the packing and moved to Tennessee in June.
Diogi’s sneezing only increased after the move, and Seilback began to find him bleeding from his nose. A veterinarian told Seilback that Diogi may have been suffering from allergies or been affected by a fungus native to Tennessee before prescribing a round of antibiotics and sending him on his way. That would be the first of four vets Diogi would see.
A week or two after the first consultation, Diogi got worse — bleeding from his left sinus, weeping from his left eye and suffering asthma attacks. He would crawl into Seilback’s arms gasping for air and wheezing uncontrollably. After one extended wheezing attack, Seilback took Diogi to an emergency vet, who said the issue was either caused by fungus or cancer. The vet prescribed an herbal supplement that helped with Diogi’s bleeding and breathing, but it did not cure him.
A third vet visit and a round of X-rays turned up nothing, and Diogi was prescribed more antibiotics as his breathing and bleeding issues did not improve.
Around this time, Seilback had been researching possible causes of Diogi’s symptoms, and a familiar one caught his eye: cancer. Having spent decades in the K9 unit, he knew that cancer regularly afflicts police dogs. In fact, three of the four he personally worked with at the sheriff’s office have been diagnosed with various forms of it, including, eventually, Diogi.
Frustrated by the lack of progress, Seilback got a second opinion from another vet in Knoxville. The vet conducted CT scans of Diogi’s head and found a tumor blocking up much of his left sinus. In medical terminology, it is known as a “large stage 3 nasal adenocarcinoma,” but in common parlance, it is a death sentence if left untreated.
So far, Diogi has gone through several rounds of radiation treatments and is somewhat doing better but follow-up and diagnostic appointments are needed, Seilback said, and he still suffers from wheezing attacks as the radiation breaks down the cancer. While some days are better than others, and the vets need to see how the cancer responds to treatment, Seilback remains optimistic that Diogi has more life yet left to live and the two can enjoy the retirement he envisioned.
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“It seems like the worst of his attacks happen at night; it has been very rare I’ve had a complete night’s sleep since this happened,” Seilback said. “If he’s having a bad day, basically my life orbits around him and taking care of him.”