Black and white dog's face

They called her the luckiest dog in the world, or so read the ad for an adorable puppy who had just been rescued from a kill shelter in Athens County and was now residing at a shelter in Columbus. We visited her on New Year’s Day 2010. My husband knew if he put her in my arms, I’d be hooked, and I was. We took her home and named her Rosie for the Buckeye’s glorious Rose Bowl victory that same day.

Rosie grew into a spotted black and white mutt about the size of a border collie. She was an athletic Frisbee dog: no toss too long, too crooked or too high. Like all dogs, she chased squirrels and barked at mailmen. She ran through the woods scaring up birds and sniffed deeply in the grass for scents only a dog could know. She led the proverbial dog’s life.

Everything changed in March 2015 when she had her first seizure. Seizures? What? We didn’t know what to make of it – thought it was the dog food. Then she had another, and another. They began to occur every two weeks. By the end of the year, she was on mega doses of phenobarbital and Keppra, both human drugs. She ballooned to over 70 pounds and lost interest in both Frisbee and squirrels. As the seizures grew worse – sometimes 15 per episode – she’d stay dazed and confused for hours afterward.

Our worst nightmare came true one evening in August 2016 when she started seizing and never really stopped. I tightly gripped her leash as she rammed into the walls. She shook violently, gnashed her teeth, pissed and drooled puddles. Her tongue turned purple. She writhed, rose, tumbled and fell. She let out hideous screams. (Have you ever heard a dog scream?)

Completely flummoxed, we wrapped her quivering body in a blanket and sped to a nearby animal emergency room. By the time she saw the veterinarian, her a fever had topped 109 degrees (a dog's normal body temperature is 101). Rosie faded fast into a coma. The vet said she had only a 10% chance of survival and recommended euthanasia. Rosie’s luck had run out. We lost her that evening to intractable epilepsy.

Until this point, the term was academic to me. I knew a few parents whose children suffered from the disorder, and I researched the condition for a Free Press article I penned in 2013 called, “And a little child shall lead them.” I wrote, “… epilepsy is characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. Current treatments are comprised of pharmaceutical drugs, many of which have debilitating side effects. Some forms of epilepsy do not respond to treatment, and when the seizures continue despite medication, the cases are termed ‘intractable.’” That was Rosie.

Much like their human counterparts, about 1-5% of all dogs suffer from seizure disorders. Like humans, the condition has multitude causes. Rosie’s were defined as “idiopathic”: cause unknown – strike one. Seizures are common in breeds like border collies – strike two. They appear around age 5 – strike three. The fate of the luckiest dog in the world had already been sealed. 

These days, there is a free association among epilepsy, kids and cannabis. Quoting the Free Press article, “After beginning a regimen of CBD oils, the child’s grand mal seizures dropped from 300 per week to only one or two per month.” CBD or cannabidiol is a non-smoked, non-psychoactive component of this controversial plant. The regimen may have a similar effect on epileptic pets. Unfortunately, the treatment may also carry the same stumbling blocks: too little research, too many hoops, too scarce and too illegal.

You’re asking, did we give Rosie cannabis? Sadly, no. We did not. Dogs are said to react differently to marijuana than humans. How much should we give her? For how long? When? We’re loving pet parents, not clinicians. It should be noted that the DEA has recently agreed to expand access to medical grade marijuana for research purposes. Let’s hope some makes its way to canines.

Even though Rosie was a dog, not a human, she was still a great teacher. She imparted a profound appreciation for the journey that is intractable epilepsy and for the human families that live this tragedy with their children every day. The helpless feeling of watching them seize, knowing that no magic you possess can stop them. The piles and piles of pills that seem to do nothing, yet you dare not miss a dose. The promise of something better made unobtainable by an untenable prohibition.

Epilepsy is no longer academic or just someone else. I’ve lived it. It’s deeply personal.

RIP Rosie. Thank you for teaching us about luck and love through your lens of intractable epilepsy. We were the luckiest people in the world to have had you in our lives for the short time that we did.