Goodbye, Droll, my good friend.
February 10, 1997 – September 9, 2002
Droll was never the same since he nearly killed himself breeding Jubilee in January 2002. Jubilee was incredibly hard to breed and he worked so hard, to exhaustion, that he seemed to have suffered physical damage. He did manage to impregnate Jubilee, and I got two very nice pups (the “J” Litter) from that breeding.
He was so frustrated at the difficulty breeding her that for the five days she was fertile he spent the time while I was at work fighting fence, working to pull panels off posts, digging under panels he couldn’t move, bending gates, anything to go through the three fences between his area and the kennel where she was. This from my easy-going dog who has always been an intense breeder but who waited for me to bring the girls to him. This confirmed my belief that the seizures were caused by an injury.
On the sixth day, when he finally said she was no longer fertile, he was very stiff and sore, walking with his back arched, very tired. To my horror he had a short seizure, of one minute duration, after which he was fine. When I called the vet he said he could have some kind of physical imbalance from the intensity of the 5 days. Unfortunately, he had another two weeks later and continued to have them at two or three week intervals. I took him to a veterinary neurological specialist in Denver in mid-April for an MRI and spinal tap to try to determine the cause of the seizures. Several months and thousands of dollars later, we still had no answer. The initial physical exam gave me hope because the neurologist detected a difference between his right and left sides, which if it persisted would indicate injury. By mid-May we had received all the results from the MRI and spinal tap, and all were normal. We repeated the physical exam and it, too, was normal. We were able to prove no cause for the seizures so they diagnosed him with “idiopathic epilepsy”, which means seizures whose cause is unknown.
This was extremely disappointing for all of us. The neurologist, when I took Droll to Denver, said he didn’t think it would be epilepsy because of three things. First, his age. Droll was 5. Most epilepsy is diagnosed by age 2 or at least by 3 1/2. Second, the physical exam which revealed the difference in neurological response between his right and left sides. In epilepsy every test and exam comes back normal–you never diagnose epilepsy by what you find, but by eliminating all other possible causes which show up on tests such as MRI’s and spinal taps. Third, the fact that his seizures have no pattern of occurrence. Often epileptics seize on a regular schedule or because of an identifiable trigger (such as stress, or a full moon, or all kinds of things people have identified). Since that January I learned far more about seizures in general and epilepsy specifically than I ever wanted to know, as I tried to determine what was happening with Droll.
Epilepsy can be genetic. Research has so far proven at least two recessive genes are involved, and some researchers believe up to twelve may be. I have a friend who over the years has had two epileptic German Shepherds of German breeding and has done extensive research to identify dogs suspected of carrying epilepsy. She has usually found those suspect dogs had been line-bred on in both the sire and dam of effected dogs. Line-breeding is the breeding of related individuals so that the same dog(s) show up several generations back. (In-breeding is the breeding of closely related individuals such as father to daughter or brother to sister. In line-breeding a person might breed two dogs who both have the same grandfather or great-grandfather–so the dogs are much less closely related.) My friend was kind enough to extensively research Droll’s pedigree for me. She found a couple of the suspect dogs back in something like the 10th generation, but no line-breeding. Not much information is available for the dogs behind his East German grandmother (because those dogs were behind the Berlin Wall and records aren’t as public as those in the free world), but the rest of his pedigree looked clear.
I immediately retired Droll from breeding after he began seizuring and neutered him shortly afterwards. He might have had a few genes which possibly lowered his seizure threshold and allowed his body to react to the extreme stress of those 5 days by creating a brain path that triggered seizures. Suspiciously, his first several seizures all occurred when one of my girls was in breeding heat (they came in heat one after the other like an assembly line that January – March). Only the last couple of seizures occurred when no one was in heat, but by that time the pathway was, sadly, established. In mid-April we put him on an anti-seizure drug and he did well for a while, although he still didn’t move fluidly and powerfully as he did before. I
The pedigrees of my females are clear of any suspect dogs, so even if there were a genetic cause for Droll’s seizures, none of his pups should be at risk. One of his daughters, from Bless, unfortunately began seizing in December of 2003. As of this writing, in June of 2004, she is the only one. I am very thankful now that Bunny (Droll – Ashi daughter) insisted that I keep her last fall. I hadn’t planned to keep a puppy until this year or later because I’m behind on getting training titles on
everyone, but am I ever glad I have her! Droll produced some superb pups–some are training exceptionally well, others are great companions.
The evil seizure monster finally won. In September 2002 Droll had another seizure, the third in a month, even though he was on two heavy-duty anti-seizure medications. In April we had put him on Potassium Bromide. He was obviously slower mentally, whether from the medication or brain damage caused by the seizures, no one knows. He would sleep so deeply during naps that the other dogs and I could step back and forth over him without rousing him. During naps and at night, he would be so still that I’d go over to make sure he was breathing. In June we added Phenobarbital. He became ravenously hungry, so hungry that I caught him eating grass clippings from last summer. He would eat anything that wasn’t barricaded down. He had always had a tendency to gain weight since he was so easy going, but he ballooned in weight after we started the second medication. I had to switch him to a light formula dog food and give him vegetables–green beans, squash and carrots–as fillers so that he wasn’t hungry all the time. I began trying to walk him every night to help get his weight down, but he would tire after a mile–way too soon to be normal.
For six weeks after we began giving him Phenobarbital, he had no seizures. I was so excited. Then he had one, followed by a second one 10 days later. Then he had a third, making three in a month. When he woke me up, having the seizure, my first thought was that it was just too much. I had already decided that I would not increase the doses of his medicines if they were not able to control the seizures. I would not have him feeling starved and drugged; what kind of joy would that life be?
I had been feeling bad about not being able to put Glory down, but when Droll had his seizure I felt it was meant that both would go together. The vet came here to put them down, and when Droll received his injection he laid his chin on his paws immediately as if he were very, very eager to rest. He and Glory are buried together, right at the edge of our play area, so they’ll always be close to the action.
I’ll miss you, Droll. You were always such a perfect gentleman. I’ll always remember how regal you were, what presence you had, how everyone who met you fell in love with you. I’ll remember how quiet you were when you arrived here, how the girls taught you to play bark, and how you loved to give that funny high-pitched bark every time company arrived or you thought it was time to play. I’ll remember how anxious you were to please me and how you tried so hard to anticipate my wishes.
I’ll remember the first time I took you to the nursing home and you wondered what in the world we were doing, yet in 5 minutes had figured out I wanted you to visit with the elderly residents and how to position yourself by their wheelchairs so they could caress you. I’ll remember how my young friend, Kate, used you for her science fair project that took 3rd place at state competition, how she tried to confirm the research that indicated that visits from animals helped lower heart and blood pressure rates in people who were sick or elderly.
I’ll remember how you thought you had died and gone to heaven when you came here–lots of room to run, daily playtimes, hikes in the mountains, and the girls. Oh, the girls, how you loved them! Then the puppies, the puppies you sired… At first you had no patience with them at all and would leave the room, but eventually you let them crawl all over you and chew on you. You produced some great pups, big guy, and I’m so glad I have one of your daughters, Bunny. May she grow up to have your presence and social nature and trainability. May your other pups do the same. Then we won’t have completely lost you. All who met you remember you with great fondness and grieve at your passing. May we meet again.