My wife and I volunteer at Chicago Canine Rescue, a shelter on the northwest side of Chicago that specializes in dogs that have special needs. Thunder had epilepsy. We met him for the first time during one of our daily visits to the shelter and took him for a walk. We fell in love with him immediately. We were also volunteering at the shelter to get to know the dogs because we were closing on a house and wanted our first dog to be a rescue. We asked about his history and fell in love with him even more. He had come from a family who couldn’t care for his epilepsy. He had been in and out of the shelter for over a year, placed with three different families during that span. Each time he came back, it was the same story. The family didn’t know how or didn’t want to deal with a dog with epilepsy. If you have never seen a dog or a person have a seizure, it can be terrifying. But this was no reason Thunder shouldn’t get the chance at a forever home.
We got to know Thunder quite well over the next three months as we waited to close on our house, get moved in and settled. We did our homework on dogs with epilepsy and knew what we could expect. A few extra dollars for meds, an annual blood check and a seizure now and then. Our minds were made up. Thunder was the dog for us. He came home to us just in time for Christmas. Ironically, having Thunder was like being a kid on Christmas morning everyday. He made everyone around him smile. It took him no time to get comfortable in his new home. Sleeping in the bed with us and curling up on the couch to watch TV with us. He was the perfect dog.
It was a couple of weeks before he had his first seizure. And it was heart wrenching. It makes you feel so helpless when all you want to do is make it stop but there is nothing you can do but watch and wait. After the first one, we knew what to expect when he did have one, usually once or twice a month. We thought if this was the worst of it, it wouldn’t be too bad. Were we ever wrong.
After having Thunder for about a year, he began having mood swings and developed a growth on his lip. We came to realize his mood swings were due to the pain this simple growth was causing him and that this simple growth on his lip was actually cancer. We took immediate action and had it removed. Our epileptic dog was now also a cancer survivor.
A couple of months later Thunder started having seizures more frequently, even after being put on a second med. After a trip to the vet and some brainstorming with Thunder’s wonderful vet (I say this in sincerity, Dr. Staughton is the BEST) we figured out his seizures were connected to his stomach, and the foods he was eating. This is something that still has no research on the subject. The only reason we know it is true is through trial and error. We eliminated everything from his diet except for a high quality single protein and single carb brand of food. The seizures subsided, for now.
A few months had passed and we thought we had everything under control. Seizures were almost nill, Thunder was happy and it was time to adopt another dog, a companion for our companion. A young female pup was the choice this time, but the location she came from was the same. Long story short, she sensed poor Thunder’s weakness and became aggressive towards him, causing him stress and you guessed it, seizures. After a difficult decision, she had to go back. It wasn’t fair to Thunder.
Thunder was alone again, but happy. After another failed attempt to foster a dog (this one male, tried to eat one of our cats who in turn sent me to the emergency clinic for cat bite treatment) we determined it be best that Thunder be our only dog. He seemed fine with it.
Thunder was alone again, but happy…till six months ago. He began having seizures, one after the other and they were getting closer and closer in frequency. These are known as cluster seizures and they can be fatal if not treated. He spent two days in the ER under constant care and watch and was prescribed a third anti-seizure med. A visit to a pet neurologist (this one was NOT wonderful) gave Thunder a clean bill of health, at least for a dog in his situation. We got him home and each day that went by without a seizure was a small victory. Days became weeks and weeks became months. Between the new med and his diet, this was the best he had been, as far as going without a seizure.
Then Thunder’s best went to worst. He began urinating in the house and was lethargic. Our first thought was a UTI, so we scheduled a vet appointment. After seeing the resident vet (not our favorite, our vet was out with pneumonia) the diagnosis was not good. Thunder was severely dehydrated, had a UTI, a fever and his liver was crashing. Back to the ER for Thunder. After a night of observation and fluids, things got a little better. Then his ultrasound came back. Obstructions in his stomach. Immediate surgery was highly recommended and we agreed. The next 24-48 hours would be critical. Could Thunder make a recovery from the surgery with so much else going on in his body? We prayed he could. We were wrong.
It was a Thursday night and we went to visit our dog, no, our baby boy in the hospital. Our thoughts were optimistic. Then we spoke with the vet. Thunder was dying. His organs were beginning to shut down. A decision had to be made. They brought Thunder in and it wasn’t even him. He couldn’t stand and he was shaking. We asked the vet and he told us exactly what we feared. He had never seen a dog in this condition make a comeback. We made the decision that no one should ever have to make. We wanted Thunder’s last minutes to be with us, not alone in a crate. We kissed him goodbye and walked out of the room. The vet came out minutes later. Thunder passed peacefully.
A few days later we got a call from the ER and his liver biopsy results had come in. Dogs with epilepsy usually have one of three things “go wrong” with their livers. Thunder had all three. They said it was probably going on for a couple of months and he was “getting by”. Everything else that was going on with him probably pushed him past the breaking point. We had made the right decision. Thunder would have painfully experienced organ failure had we not made the decision we did.
We are by no means doctors or vets and this information is just what we have learned through our experience with Thunder. We do know like epilepsy in humans, there is no known cure for dogs either. But for dogs, much more remains a mystery. How does food and the stomach play a part in the onset of seizures? How many meds is too many? What are the long term and short term affects of certain meds? Can a dog with epilepsy really live the same normal, long life of a typical dog?
We have set up a fundraiser to help us pay for some of the enormous vet bills Thunder left us with as well as the opportunity to donate the rest to Chicago Canine Rescue. We are also donating 10% of everything we raise from dollar one to Chicago Canine Rescure. We have also began looking into getting involved with charities for dogs with epilepsy. If you wish to donate or share the link, here it is: http://www.gofundme.com/ldrrg4. We are just glad you got to hear Thunder’s story.
Thunder was our first dog together as a family. He was also the best dog anyone could have ever wanted. He set the bar extremely high for any other pup that comes after him.
If someone showed us everything we would have to go through with Thunder and the thousands of dollars it would cost us and gave us the chance to choose another dog, I would pick Thunder every time. I will always love Thunder and there will always be a piece of my heart missing from the day he left this planet.
About the Author:
Dave Pappa works as a graphic designer and social media specialist. He is currently attending classes for an additional degree in Marketing Management. He lives in Mount Prospect with his wife Jackie, a college registrar. Their passions include animals, the outdoors and spending time with friends and family. They volunteer at the animal shelter Thunder was adopted from and have begun looking into other charities dedicated to dogs with epilepsy.