By Don Bonnice
He started as a daydream. Two hunting buddies assessing breeding stock and imagining the outcome of two of the best dogs. My hunting buddy Todd and his wife Vicki are dear friends as well as the breeders of our vizslas. Todd and I talked frequently about the combination of his best field dog and the girl that is the daughter of a major big winning field dog. We speculated, imagined, dreamed and conjured up the combination. Reality would take us back to our tasks at hand but he lived in our minds long before his paws touched the ground.
It was an early winter hunt test when my friend came to me with the news. He had always had a difficult time keeping a secret and he bubbled with excitement as he told me that the pups were born. We spent that evening talking about all the possibilities.
We watched the litter as they grew. We stayed distant enough to let them show their individual personalities. One kept coming to the top. Before we were allowed to pick one, we tested and watched each as they interacted with each other, and with us. We showed them birds and we beamed as that top pup pointed with style and intensity.
He can home with us in late January. We appropriately named him Victory's Top Gun. He grew like a weed. He was a big boned and was muscling out like his parents. We carefully showed him birds and protected him from our very dominate queen bee Megan. His personality was full of spark. He was a high energy young boy. When we attended puppy school, he won the hearts of all our classmates. His puppy recall was like a rocket since he would do almost anything for a treat.
Through the hot summer we played, trained and bonded. He learned his place in our vizsla hierarchy but tested it on a regular basis. He was in constant motion or sacked out soundly in the cool air conditioning. As all our dogs do, he earned many nick names. He was either Kissy Boy or Gun Gun Gun (sung enthusiastically to the tune of the Coors Light commercial or the song from Molan Rouge) depending on the mood.
Early that August we traveled across the state to join the TBVC members at our annual fun day. It was his first road trip and we were anxious to introduce him to our friends. We had a great weekend. It was his first field experience with a strange dog. We chickened out when it came to entering the Show match. I held him on my lap at ring side whispering to him that he was more handsome then all those girly-boys. That evening was a social event where we talked about the coming field season with all his peers. It would be the very next weekend when the bottom fell out.
Gunner would sleep in his crate next to our bed. When he was ready, which was almost always before we were, he would wake and stir some to get up. Once in a while he would paw the crate to get our attention. This morning seemed like any other. It was a Saturday and we were hoping to sleep in. The brat whined a touch and we quieted him with a soothing greeting that was to reassure him we were there. He curled up like a donut and nodded off. Sudden we were awoken by his crate thundering with his thrashing feet. A blood curdling deep throated yell came from his crate as I jumped from bed to his side. As I spun the dials on the crate to break it open, he started to breath hard. It was as if each was his last. The top was off the crate to reveal our boy in a pool of urine. He had a far away look as he stared wide eyed right through me. I wrapped him in a towel and carried him off to the kitchen. The house was full of confusion. Our adult v's stared and sniffed the baby as if to diagnose him. My wife and I ran in different directions for the phone and towels. He settled down and seemed to be comforted by our presence. We had fears about what just happened. To say we knew would have been wrong. As I sat and watched him, my wife was scanning the internet for help. She found a web page that described what had just happened. It prepared us for what was to come. We woke our friend his breeder Vicki who was 2 time zones earlier. She calmed us and used her common sense to help us as we floundered for answers. We cleaned him up and took turns watching him as the other read the details of the information we learned online. The symptoms were text book. The far off look, the star gazing, the blind and deaf reaction to us. How could this happen? On pins and needles, we followed him as he paced endlessly around the house. As things began to settle, he stopped dead in his tracks, turned his head to his tail and began to fall over. I swooped him up and laid him easily to the ground. Every muscle in his body tensed. His jaw opened and he let out a yell to wake the dead. I held him hoping he knew I was there. The thunderous trashing made him hard to hold. He shook for what seemed like an eternity. This second event told us we were in store for what we just learned would be a cluster. We cleaned him up again and checked the clock to see how long it was between seizures. Yes.. seizures.
We knew our vet would be in soon so we scrambled to dress and supervise the mass confusion that was taking place in the hearts of our red kids. A placed a call to our vet and built a plan. As he laid peacefully resting in his crate, it struck again. Our adult v's beat me to the crate. They stared not understanding what their little playmate was experiencing. By now he was exhausted. The physical demand on such a young body was still unknown to us. We packed him off to the vet where they sedated him and began a battery of tests. We retraced every step, every moment, and every opportunity for him to get into something. Our vet was casual and calming. He was as perplexed as we were but I think he knew deep down what was wrong. He stayed positive, helpful and optimistic. We left Gunner in the care of our vet for the rest of the weekend.
We spent the rest of the weekend educating ourselves as best we could. We placed numerous calls to his breeder quizzing her about littermates, parents and grandparents. We learned as much as we could but still had no answers.
We picked him up first thing Monday as soon as the vet was in. He ran blood tests but no results just yet. The after affects of the seizures were odd. He was physically OK, full of energy and bounce, but he seemed agitated and nervous. He paced a lot and seemed to have lost all his obedience. I felt he could hear me but he ignored my calls. His potty training was lost as well as any manners he had acquired. This condition would continue but faded over the next couple weeks.
Life became normal as our babys brain seemed to return. His manners were back, his house training returned and he was back to the kissy boy personality that earned him his nick name. We lived very tentatively wondering if it would happen again.
Almost a month to the day that the last seizures occurred it started again. This time is was around midnight when the first one hit. At 3:00am, after his third seizure, we took him to the emergency room. There we heard probably the most frank and upfront answer to all our questions. Your dog is epileptic. Were the words that shattered our dreams. The vet treated him with Phenobarbital and valium. This calmed him but didnt stop the seizures. Once our regular vet was in, we packed him off for more tests. We arranged for him to stay with the vet while we worked so he was under close supervision. The test all came back negative and the cycle began again.
For the next few months we worked with our vet to tune his meds. As the Phenobarbital dosage got higher and higher, we started worrying more and more. He was seizing about every 3 weeks. He would have a cluster of 3 to 5 and would get his brains back within 2 weeks. We knew it was coming when he became our normal boy again. It was a roller coaster ride.
We resolved ourselves to make his life as full as possible. That little guy loved to run. He was one of the biggest running vizsla puppies I have ever seen. After a cluster of seizures he was totally out of control but he loved it so much that we let him go his own way. It almost always happened before a field trial.
Our vet was nearing the end of his experience with epilepsy as the PB dosage grew to attempt to contain the seizures. He referred us to a neurologist for further treatment.
The neurologist was very matter of fact. He drew out all the possible causes out for us. He also drew out the possible treatments. CAT scans, spinal taps, MRIs were all possible diagnosis methods. He examined Gunner thoroughly and between the two of us we decided that since he was a healthy boy with no outward signs of other epilepsy causing illnesses that we would use medication to control his seizures. He prescribed Potassium Bromide and cranked up the Phenobarbital.
The new meds caused a small sleepiness at first as always happened when we made an adjustment. The new drug however had a side effect that was harder to handle. The kBR (Potassium Bromide) was a salty solution. This induced a major thirst and hunger. Two months into the kBR treatment and we noticed a great improvement in the seizures. They were less frequent and less violent. It also seemed his recover time was less. This was all very positive. The down side came with his insatiable hunger. He lived to eat and to run. Sometimes he ate while he ran. Something to fill his belly was the only thing that stopped him.
We finally shared our situation with other dear friends hoping we could learn from their experiences. It helped us know we were doing all we could for the little guy.
Life on PB and kBR was growing to be normal. He was calm after eating but a maniac just before. He was our kissy boy again but seemed numbed almost all the rest of the time. He was happy it seemed.
It was just before last Memorial Day weekend when we had to make the decision we knew we would have to do someday. I was preparing to reseed a section of pasture that I was turning into a training ground. In Gunners usual fashion he followed and investigated my every move. As I placed a bag of clover seed on the ground, he pulled the seam and tore the bag. A hand full of seeds hit the ground and he was face first to steal a treat. The little brat was a counter surfer trained well by his sister Megan. They taught each other tricks of the trade winning each a taste or two. Typical Gunner. In the back of our minds we both knew that the seizure clock was ticking. It had been 4 weeks since the last cluster and we mentally prepared for the inevitable. That Friday evening we ran out for a bite. Returning home an hour later we found Gunner had seized in our absence. It was easy to tell. He had that far away look and the pacing that always followed. By now we knew the drill and seizures were pretty normal for us. We discussed the clock in our heads and prepared for the night ahead. It was no big deal we thought. Just a night like many before. The seizures are about an hour and a half apart. Pretty typical for him. After his third one, I curled up on the couch thinking that he was done for the night. It hit almost like clockwork. Again and again through the night he seized. Each time my boy Nik would lay by the door of his crate looking at his hunting buddy with a look of Come on snap out of it.. This went on all night. We were up for meds in the morning and a stroll in the yard to allow him some relief. He was so weak I had to hold him up as he moved his bowels. This was the worst we had ever seen him. We continued to watch him and get him to move about. The time since his last seizure was growing past expected time for his next one. We hoped maybe it was over. He calmed down and rested peacefully. We took a quick break and ran to our property down the street. Our return minutes later was to him seizing once again. That afternoon we made the decision that we knew sooner or later we would have to make. Long ago we resolved to give him the best life he could have. We felt we had done everything possible for him. Now it was time to do one last thing for him. We could not watch him be rocked by the violent convulsions of a grand mal seizure any more.
With the help of the emergency vet, Gunner is asleep and finally at peace. No more shaking. No more meds to cloud him. As I drove home I heard a song on the radio. The irony in the words was typical of a country station. I dont know the title but the words were I dont know why they say grown men dont cry .. Well they do.
Its been a few weeks now and I still cry when I think about him.
Last night as I walked from my truck to the house I noticed this funny little patch of bright green on the ground ahead of me. I looked close to see a small patch of fresh clover. It was where I held him steady when he needed to go. Further toward the house and I found another. It was where he ripped the bag open. Its Gunners clover.
That little guy will live on as he started, in our heads and hearts.