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herriotMost dog owners are the most blessed individuals on this planet, beneficiaries of a love and trust that only is possible from a good, loyal companion.  My sheltie, Nick, is one such dog.  Even at this moment while I am parked on the couch writing this blog, Nick is at my feet, a friend who never seems to tire of my presence.  James Herriot is right on — my dog truly puts a lot of humans to shame with his constant unconditional love, given every day without fail.

Of course, at the moment I am shooing him away.  Nick also has a tendency to stand in front of me and pant heavily, his sewer breath surrounding me in a green cloud.  I’m not sure what Nick wants.  One thing Nick can not do is talk.. or perhaps it’s my inability to understand him.  After all, Nick does communicate with me, sometimes more than I like, his persistence can be a distraction.  What that sometimes means is that we dog owners can not always tell when our animal is ill, at least not right away.

I know what Nick is trying to tell me right now.  He is upset, namely due to his being sequestered to the first floor of our house, while right now the rest of the family is upstairs.  He wants to be there with them, making sure they are OK.  We are afraid to let Nick use the stairs right now, all because the grimaces attacked him over the weekend, ferociously and painfully.  Watching him in the throes of a seizure is such a helpless, frightening feeling, his eyes blank while his rigid body jerks, his jowls a snarling grimace with his tongue turned blue and hanging out of the side of his mouth.

A rare moment Sunday night when we were able to get him to lay down for a few seconds.

A rare moment Sunday night when we were able to get him to lay down for a few seconds.

Grand mal seizures came in clusters, 2-3 per hour, starting at 12:30 AM this past Sunday.  Duration was relatively short, 20 to 90 seconds each.  Sometimes he went into a seizure slowly, Nick seeming to try to fight the seizures off as they came on, a whimper as he felt the tightening, the fear in his eyes evident as he began to lose consciousness.  Perhaps as frightening for me was watching him struggle to sit up and stand as he came out of each seizure, disoriented.  Confused.  It became necessary to block off places where Nick could get stuck, such as underneath tables or behind a cupboard.  So disoriented was my dog that he bumped into walls or chairs as he paced anxiously around the house, often getting stuck in a corner until he came to his senses.  Even then he was afraid to lay down or stand still lest another seizure come on.

He’s laying on my feet right now.

Seizures continued through the night and all day Sunday.  We timed each seizure and kept a log in case the veterinarian needed to know that information.  When it came time for bed on Sunday night, Miriam volunteered to sleep on the couch to watch Nick.  She logged each seizure, the last one at 4:15 AM Monday.  All counted, Nick suffered close to 30 seizures in roughly 28 hours.

We wanted to take him to an emergency vet on Sunday, but, well, this may sound awful, but an emergency veterinary hospital charges an outrageous fee.  As much as we wanted to take him, we just did not have the money or the credit.  Our only choice was to ride things out and hope Nick lived through the night.  There were times when it looked like I was going to lose my friend.

Dog owners know that is inevitable.  Even the most hardy breeds don’t live more than 15 years or so.  That doesn’t keep us from loving our animal.  Maybe it causes us to love him more, the time we have a bit more precious.

I took Nick to the vet early Monday morning.  He was stumbling, weak from the stress, evidenced when he allowed me to pick him up to place him in the front seat of my car.  Nick doesn’t like my car, usually doesn’t allow me to pick him up.  I laughed as he actually seemed to enjoy sitting on the seat next to me as I drove us to the doctor, a nudge on my shifting hand so I would pet him, a lick on my hand to show his appreciation.

Nick had seen the vet last March, blood work and tests done then as he had started to have occasional seizures then.  The diagnosis was simple — epilepsy.  The tests had ruled out liver disease or cancer.  Our vet prescribed Phenol Barbital for the seizures, instructed me to stay with Nick all day in case he had another seizure after I gave the drug to him.  If he did, I was to bring him back in so the drug could be administered intravenously.

Finally, rest.

Finally, rest.

So I worked from home, Nick anxiously standing next to me, his chin occasionally on my knee while I worked, seeking comfort — something we both needed.  By the afternoon, he succumbed to the drug and began to rest.  No more seizures.  My loyal companion will remain so for a few more years, our time together extended.