Bare was dumped at a house literally in the middle of nowhere around 8 months of age. I was volunteering with a German shepherd (GSD) rescue and went to pick him up to bring him to a foster home. He never left our family. He joined his “sister,” a black GSD named Daisy, and they quickly became best friends. Bare was a happy-go-lucky “puppy” who was almost 80 pounds at 8 months old. I joked he was a golden retriever in a GSD body. He was my shadow.
He was a funny puppy. Once when I was in the front yard watering, he jumped on the front door and locked it. Uh oh! I went to the neighbor’s and called a locksmith. While I waited, I sat on the front porch and watched him run around the house like a little kid … bounding through the air with glee. You could practically hear him singing “Weeeeeeeee” as he flew by. Lesson learned. There was another time that he was playing chase with his sister in the backyard. He was running toward the deck, NOT where the stairs were! It was all like slow motion. He went to jump onto the deck, and his head went through the bars of the railing. The rest of him did not. He just stopped short and slid down. Luckily it was close to the ground, and he could stand! It was not as easy to get his head OUT of there as it was for him to get it IN! He was always making us laugh.
Then the seizures started.
He was about 3 when he had his first seizure. It was around 2:30 a.m. I’ll never forget it. He stayed downstairs at night, and I awoke to ear-piercing screaming. I ran downstairs, and he was in the middle of a grand mal seizure. This began our journey with canine epilepsy.
I journaled at first, following the seizures as they became more frequent and worsened, and it didn’t take long before the vet put him on phenobarbital. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to help a whole lot. He kept having seizures. One day he went into status epilepticus. I had been at work and came home to him in this state, so I don’t know how long he had been like that. He stayed in status until we got him to the emergency vet. Have you ever tried to get a 90-pound GSD out of a crate and to a car while in seizure? I don’t recommend it. At the vet they put him on a valium drip to get him out of the seizure. His temperature was over 105. He was there for three days before he was stable enough to come home.
We took him to the UW Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and had all the possible neurological tests done. I wanted to make sure that his seizures were not caused by something we could fix. He was a champ, being poked and prodded and having ultrasound and nerve testing done. But alas … he was diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy.
We started him on a loading dose of potassium bromide (KBr). That was his “wonder drug.” It wasn’t perfect. It did have some side effects, but animals including dogs, cats, cattle, horses and rats helped prove KBr is safe. Without it, my Bare would have had a much shorter life, full of seizures. During the adjustment period to the massive doses of KBr, he was much like a zombie. He couldn’t do much for himself. We even got a ramp just so he could get up on the couch, where he would just lay all day. Fortunately, after he adjusted to the KBr, he was back to being happy-go-lucky Bare. He was a little different, but he was still my boy. One side effect of the meds (he was on both phenobarbital and KBr) was insatiable hunger. This was sometimes difficult to deal with, but still always funny. Think of childproofing all food and garbage x10. Locks on the food bins and cupboards. Nothing was off limits! He topped out at about 110 pounds. (NOVEMBER IS ALSO NATIONAL PET CANCER AWARENESS MONTH. Read Clyde’s Cancer Story.)
I’d like to say that due to the meds Bare lived a nice, long, happy life. Unfortunately, about 3 years after the epilepsy started, he developed degenerative myelopathy (DM – found most often in GSDs), which shortened his life to only another year after that. He passed before the age of 8. Maybe one day animal research will find a cure for DM. So many animals would benefit from that! I lost 2 beautiful GSDs ultimately to DM. I have high hopes that animal research will continue to yield treatments and cures to allow our pets to live longer, happier lives by our side.