Canine epilepsy can reach out and touch anyone.
No matter how carefully a breeding is planned, no matter the precautions taken, it can,
without warning, rear its ugly head.
30+ years of raising, loving, and competing with Australian Shepherds and,
although aware of the risks of canine epilepsy,
it had never directly touched our lives until November 2018.
That’s baby Cian on the bottom right with the little strip of white on top of his head.
Cian chose me pretty much as soon as he was born.
I told him he was too little to decide, being just born and all.
Yet every time I went to visit in those first few months,
he told me the same thing.
Who was I to argue?
Happy, athletic, intense, biddable… Cian was everything we had hoped he would be and we had great plans for the little guy. First, however, came the all-important task of just being a puppy, something he tackled as he would most things... with great joie de vivre!
Then, on an otherwise normal Friday afternoon in November of 2018 when Cian was not even a year and a half old, he had his first seizures. Being Cian, he met epilepsy the only way he knew how: full speed and giving it his all. After a weekend of cluster seizures, trips to the vet, overnight stays in the ER, tests, more tests, and a consult with a neurologist, the diagnosis was confirmed. Cian became a statistic and our world crumbled.
That first month was hell, watching Cian fight through the unrelenting clusters and then adjust to the anti-seizure meds. He went through a zombie stage where he didn’t know his name or us. Gone was the happy, carefree spirit. Cian would stand in the yard, seemingly afraid of everything. The light that had always been in his eyes was gone. Our Cian was gone and it threatened to rip our hearts out and made us question, more than once, if we were doing the right thing. If it wouldn’t have been kinder to let him go. The gamut of emotions pounding us as we attempted to wrap our heads around what idiopathic epilepsy meant for all involved was a roller coaster ride I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Our sense of security was shattered, taking with it all the hopes and dreams we had for Cian.
No matter how wicked the storm is, however, they all pass and this one was no different.
We are surrounded by an amazing support group, and, like Cian, we’re fighters.
Little by little, he came back to us.
Little by little we found our balance again.
Normalcy of a sort, returned.
Good days began, once again, to outnumber the bad and we tried to settle into our new routine.
And we did. For a time we were able to relax, though epilepsy is not something that allows you to forget about it. Although Cian continued to play, love, learn and work stock as he was bred to do, there were occasional set-backs. There were additional trips to the ER and added meds in the hope of buying more time. When all this started, we had been warned that epilepsy tends to hit working breeds with a ferocity unlike others. And so it did.
Not even a year after his initial diagnosis, on a beautiful October weekend, Cian began to cluster. Another trip to the ER, an influx of meds, but this time nothing seemed to work. After more than 18 hours in the ER, when they couldn’t get the seizures to stop, we were forced to make one of the most difficult decision of our lives. I held Cian in my arms and we let him go.
There is still rarely a day that goes by when I don’t think of Cian. I never regret taking him into my heart. It is said, dogs come to us when we need them. Cian came into my life to teach me something. Perhaps it was merely a reminder in how to live in the moment. Perhaps, like his motto we borrowed from Maya Angelou, it was to teach me: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive.”
Safe journey, little man, your life was short but glorious.
There is no cure for canine epilepsy. There is no genetic test for it. There is, however, continuing research which will someday, hopefully, help others.