Ngazi died yesterday. She was only seven years old, and I loved her very much.
Years ago I came across an abandoned Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, who I adopted and named Dundee. I had her for fourteen years and you couldn't have asked for a better dog. When she died I was crushed, but I was hooked on this breed. I wrote about her in this diary, and she was really something special. So when it was finally time to replace my pet, which like a heartbreaking romantic breakup the pain needs time to heal, I naturally searched for this breed.
Ridgebacks aren't easy to find on the East Coast. The breed was
developed in South Africa to track and hunt lions. Most of the U.S.
breeders are on the West Coast. Plus, I was looking to adopt, not buy.
After months of searching and coming up empty, I came across a breeder
in western New Jersey who had a reject. That's my kind of dog, so I
hopped into Biomes I and headed south. Biomes I was a white Pontiac mini-van, and the biggest piece of junk I've ever owned. Don't buy a Pontiac.
Little did I know that a "reject" Ridgeback will still set you back
$900. When I arrived I was shown the last of the litter, a
three-month-old puppy that had been sold for a few thousand dollars but
brought back because she had an overbite. You can't breed or show a dog with an overbite. So I bought her.
She was a good dog. A "little off", as my vet would say early on, but very loyal and friendly to all people and other animals (she especially liked cats). But two years later our little pet-master dynamic changed. On our way to work I stopped at the coffee shop while she waited in the mini-van, engine running. I came out and the van was a-rockin' and pounding. I figured it was the engine needing yet another repair until I opened the side door and saw my dog lying on her side, stiff as a board and slamming herself into the sides of the car, foaming at the mouth. That was her first seizure.
Here's Ngazi and I standing in front of Biomes II, which is a car I highly recommend. Very good gas mileage and still plenty of room for an 80 pound dog in the back. Anyway, It was obviously time for a real vet visit to find out what to do about this. Turns out that canine epilepsy... wait, what does that tee shirt say?...
Cool. Ok, it turns out that canine epilepsy usually appears around the age of two. But it is treatable and normally easily controlled. Here's the procedure and I'll follow this with where it failed with my dog. There are two medicines used in the treatment. The first is Phenobarbital, which is a barbiturate that is fast acting in preventing the seizures and stopping them when they occur. The problem is it is metabolized by the liver, so it needs to be administered every twelve hours. Also, of course, in high doses it destroys the liver. The other med is Potassium Bromide, which although is not metabolized, it takes time to build up blood levels to help prevent the seizures. And it's not quite as effective and can't be used by itself.
So here's what vets do. They first start the dog on a regimen of phenobarb to keep the seizures in check. It takes some time to find the proper dose that will work. Once this dose is reached, and in Ngazi's case it took months to figure out, you then start them on the Potassium Bromide. After a while the level of PB builds up and you slowly decrease the phenobarb. The idea is to find just the right balance of the two chemicals so that the seizures are under control, yet there is limited liver damage.
Before moving on, here is a photo of The Boy and Ngazi a couple of years ago when we first bought the new Money Pit house.
So, we finally get the two meds balanced and life is good. But I'm noticing she's starting to stumble a lot and generally less and less interactive with her surroundings. This ataxia increases steadily until she's nothing but a zombie-like eating and pooping machine. The vet's stumped and sends me off to a canine neurologist. And yes they are as expensive as they sound.
He observes her and figures it must be brain damage. Or it could be the phenobarb. I ask if it's the P. Bromide, since that was the latest med we started her on. "No, of course not." Taking her off the pheno was no option since the seizures would start if I was even a half-hour late with her twice-a-day meds. Try running your life for five years every single day having to be with your dog at eight in the morning and eight at night. Tends to cramp your style, but I digress.
He admits the now nearly walking comatose dog (who has lost about 30 pounds) for a week to run tests. Brain tumor, no. Encephalitis, no. Stroke, no. Final bill: $3000 dollars. Since her quality of life is basically non-existant (and remember, she's only about 3 1/2 years-old) they decide she needs to be put down. I make the appointment but at the last minute, in the vet parking lot, I change my mind. Of course I've been web-surfing canine ataxia for days. But this time I go home and decide to search for information on human ataxia. Well, I come across a very rare genetic disease called bromide toxicity. And it causes ataxia.
I up the phenobarb and stop using the Potassium Bromide. Within days she's back to normal. Mission accomplished. I outwitted six vets (two of them neurology specialists) and when I go back to tell them what I found they couldn't have cared less.
ooh..another break. This time it's Ngazi bathing in the sunlight coming through a window. She'd spend all day following the beams from window to window and room to room.
Now back to the present. I'm on my fifth year of caring for a dog that is basically like taking care of a six-month old baby who never grows up. But things are much worse. Even with the meds the seizures won't stop. She's become lethargic and yelps every time she bumps into something. Which is frequently. I'm wiped out. I can't do this anymore. I can't sleep, my blood pressure is through the roof from the stress and my business is suffering. The vet asks to see the dog and they run some tests. The phenobarb has taken quite a toll on her liver and she's going downhill fast.
I have to make a decision, and I can only make the most humane one. If I take her home she will suffer, but emotionally I don't know how I'd be able to take her back to be put down. The scene is me sitting on the examining room floor, holding my dog and sobbing like a child while two vets are hugging me. I see tears in their eyes as well. I leave and while I'm driving home I can almost sense the moment the end came for my dog.
Christ, I miss her already. I'm vowing to never own another one. The pain of losing them is too great. But I know this is a lie.
I know I've posted this before, but for one last time I'll put up the video my son made of her doing some of the tricks I've taught her.
Goodbye Ngazi. I love you and you will be missed.