Life With an Epileptic Dog – November Epilepsy Awareness Month

My dog didn’t have a seizure today.

But he might tomorrow.

He might even have one tonight in the wee hours.

Or in a week or two–maybe toward the end of the month. I might get two or three seizure-free months.

But he’s going to have one, at some point. The only question is when.

That’s the hard part of having an epileptic dog. The unknown.

To make things worse, I don’t know how he’s feeling. I don’t know if he gets warning auras. He certainly doesn’t act any differently before a seizure. Occasionally, I notice he doesn’t eat as much on days preceding a seizure. But then again, there are times when he’s not as hungry and eats less on days he doesn’t have a seizure.

So maybe the food thing doesn’t mean anything.

It’s an enormous job taking care of an epileptic animal; recent studies have shown veterinary professionals far underestimate the impact of epilepsy on pet owners. As a member of several online groups for owners of epileptic dogs, I can tell you I’m in no way alone in making lifestyle changes to care for my animal. I was already working from home, but I turn the world inside-out to make sure Gus is never by himself–I only have a small number of people who are willing to watch him, afraid he’d have a seizure while I was gone. I give prescription medications (two of them) five times a day. I also cook food, and give supplements: gelatin, honey, fish oil, taurine, probiotics, cbd. Gus’s seizures have always been triggered by sleep (and are mostly at night), so I keep him close to me when I’m sleeping. In the summer, when the bed is too hot, I block him off in a cool area with a baby monitor so a seizure will be sure to wake me. I have a seizure protocol: ocular compressions, honey or ice cream when he’s coming back to awareness. Sometimes, it seems the post-ictal phase is worse than the actual seizure–the pacing, the confusion, the whining. It can go on for a half hour or more (which is really short compared to other dogs). I also try to give extra food (a seizure is a little like running a marathon, and replacing those spent calories sometimes helps shorten the post-ictal).

When he’s not seizing, Gus is a goofy, sweet little dog. He loves cats and people, and is firmly convinced that walks are not for exercise but for allowing the neighbors a chance to visit with him. He’ll do anything for liver. He is terrible at barking (how is that even a thing???), and talks incessantly in strange throaty noises: whines and gurgles and growls and gargles. He can’t wait for you to take off your shoes so that he can run off with one. He likes to wear sweaters and to sit inside the storm door, watching the comings and goings of the street. He hates the vet, and engages in hand-to-paw combat when the techs attempt to draw blood (just kidding–sort of). He’s smart, and if you are stretched out on the floor, he will try to lick your ear.

He’s a hundred things, and epileptic is just one of them.

It’s a strange disease; it’s a big thing, and yet, during those calm in-between-seizure times, it’s not. Epilepsy isn’t necessarily terminal, though a seizure can certainly turn life-threatening if it doesn’t end quickly. We’ve been there with Gus–he went into status epilepticus, and we had to rush him to the vet, where the entire medicine cabinet was thrown at him to get it to stop. He was even on oxygen for a while. The vet said if we hadn’t been home, we would have returned to a dead dog. (Which is why I have such a small number of people willing to be alone with him.) But then again, it’s not cancer. It’s not heartworm or distemper.

And still, it’s always there. Kind of lingering in the background. I try not to get him overtired (which is why he has a stroller). I try to avoid food dyes and commercial food with rosemary as a preservative. I jump, my heart thumping around crazily, every time a strange noise hits my ears. (Was that Gus? Is he seizing???)

That’s true of any chronic condition, though, I guess–it’s just always there. You never get to take a day off from a chronic condition. You never get to board a plane and go on vacation from diabetes or arthritis or Alzheimer’s.

I am inspired, every day, by the devoted pet owners I have met in online forums. So many of us are out there every day, exchanging dog food recipes or giving each other advice or a place to vent. Taking dogs on vacations, helping each other out with medications or emergency vet bills. So many kind-hearted people who are fighting for their dogs to have the happiest lives possible for as long as possible.

I’m in the same boat–I’d do anything for this dog. But come on–with a face like that, how could I not?

November – Epilepsy Awareness Month

I just found out that November is Epilepsy Awareness Month. Like most things, I never thought about epilepsy much until it became part of my everyday life. I’ve talked about it often, but my dog Gus has epilepsy. It was a slow process of figuring out what it was–whether seizures were severe or frequent enough to warrant medication. We started meds last August; just before Halloween, we had another seizure (the first while on meds), but that was because he threw up / didn’t get the right dose of his Keppra. (Next time, I’ll have some better idea what to do in that situation–everyone’s different.)

I’m just at the beginning of this whole journey–but I’m thinking about the animals and people who are also dealing with epilepsy on a daily basis. There are so many brave people out there taking care of animals or children or other family members who have seizures. I’m already so grateful to our vet (who absolutely saved Gus’s life last summer during a terrible seizure) and to our online communities who’ve helped me take better care of Gus–and who make me feel like I’m far from alone.


Holy moly, it’s been a long time since I blogged. More than a month! This, in all honesty, is the reason why:


I had to take Gus in for his neuter. I know, I know: it’s something the vast majority of pet owners do. It’s surgery, but it’s routine. Only, Gus’s wasn’t so much. He had a testicle that didn’t descend, so I really had no idea how it would go. On occasion, if the missing testicle is in the abdomen, it can require some exploratory surgery. (!)

Of course, Little Miss Type A spent more than a month Googling random testicle facts and watching cryptorchid neuters on YouTube. Long story short, the vet did an incredible job, the testicle was easily located, and we wound up with only one incision. Gus has completely recovered, healed beautifully, and is fully back to his zoomie-running, escape artist, silly, rambunctious puppy routine.


Once it was all over, I began to feel like I’d finally gotten my brain back.

It really is amazing how worry can hijack your own thoughts–in a way that you don’t even fully realize at the time. It’s not the only emotion that taints a writing session, either. Frustration can. Disappointment. Even uncertainty. I’m a big, BIG believer that tapping into joy is key for good writing. Now, looking back on the last few weeks, I can definitely see how worry was impacting my ability to tap into the joy and fun of writing. And how that was impacting the work.

It’s not the easiest thing to tackle, though, is it? Far easier to carve a few minutes out of the day to get some writing done. You can’t exactly just stop being worried, turn it off so you can work.

All I can say for now is that it’s definitely something I want to pay more attention to, keep track of. Kind of an early 2020 resolution…


HPIM0064I lost my writing buddy at the end of February. My nearly-16-year-old dog, Jake, passed away. Even though he was getting older, it was somewhat unexpected. (Then again, maybe deaths always are–even when we know it’s coming, we always think, Not today. It never seems real until the moment that it happens.)

I’ve been thinking lately about writing through hardships. I’m not sure I’m much of an expert on the issue (I’m still working through it, feeling pretty good one day and utterly awful another). But as I was trying to figure out if I had any advice, I realized that I’ve been writing through hardships all along. I’ve worked through illness (even if it’s just a sore throat or an injured back), the heartache of 1-star reviews, and the gutting that comes with the loss of a relationship (whether it’s a friend or a romantic partner). I’ve had to figure out how to calm down from a fight or push worries away or act as my own doctor so that I can get my head back in the game.

Of course, right now, none of it seems as bad as the loss of my writing buddy. But we do write through hardships. All the time. Every single one of us. Minor and major.

How have I been handling this particular hardship? I’ve been reorganizing my schedule; I took some time away from a copyediting project to clear my head. I’ve been trying to be kind to myself–Jake was always with me, and especially as we head into spring, I’m having to do things without him for the first time in more than 15 years. It’s hard and disorienting at times. I’ve been taking deep breaths and moving forward, one step at a time.

One thing these past few weeks reminded me is that everyone knows what it’s like to lose something important to them. We’ve all done that. I’ve been so surprised (and heartwarmed–is that a word???) at how many people have reached out to me about Jake, letting me know they were around if I needed to talk. I can’t say enough how much that’s helped these past few weeks. Sometimes, just letting people know what’s happened to you means the exact-right person is suddenly on your phone or shooting you an email.

The past few weeks have been awful, but they’ve been also been wonderful.

Life goes on, one step at a time.

This morning, I’ll be uploading my new copyedited book.


In honor of ALL ROADS, my latest release (a mysterious story of family and, yes, dogs), a post about childhood dogs and book vacations:

This is Winnie:


Actually, her full name was Winnie D. Pooch, and she was my childhood dog (like that name didn’t already totally tip you off).

And she is the reason why we stayed in the nastiest, scariest, weirdest hotels on the planet.

We never boarded her. Not once in 17 years. It honestly never crossed anybody’s mind. She was just always with us. She was in the car when Mom picked me and my brother up from school—or dropped us off in the morning. She went to the grocery store (weather permitting), she went on weekend camping excursions in the RV (which is where she’s standing here), and she was along for the ride on every extended family vacation we ever took. She went to Texas and Fort Gibson, OK and Branson, MO—etc., etc., etc. She was a Maltese, really small (maybe 6 lbs at her heaviest), easy to carry, totally innocent looking, and she was allowed into every single museum or shop we ever went to. Every. Single. One. Once, we took her to an outdoor restaurant in Texas. It was hot as hades, and all we wanted was something to drink. At first, waitstaff was going to kick us out (just couldn’t have a dog in a place where food was being served), but after about thirty seconds, we were getting bowls of water all around.

It wasn’t like she was an angel. She was prone to mad barking fits (once, she tried to “kill” a lifesized concrete buffalo on a trip to Oklahoma). She wouldn’t have known “sit” or “stay” or “c’mere” were ever words that applied to her. She sure knew “go,” though. (As in, “Do you want to go?”)


Anyway, when we were on the road (sans-RV), back in the ‘80s, we generally ran into dog trouble when it came to finding hotels. Honestly, part of the reason for that was that my dad would never push it when told “no dogs.” He would never explain she was housebroken or wouldn’t bother anyone (as long as there was no concrete wildlife in the room or walls of mirrors—THAT was a disaster, don’t get me started). He never even offered to pay a pet fee / deposit. If someone told him no, that was that. And we were on to the next place down the road. Which was every bit as likely to say no dogs, too.

Where we wound up? Oh, man. Places where headboards fell off, where no one was allowed to walk barefoot on the carpet, where the cleaning crew once left this note for us taped to the bathroom mirror: “THIS PLACE SUCKS!”

Yes, it did.

But the thing is, I remember every single one of those places. I remember every shady character I met at an ice machine. I remember every long-winded story one decidedly wacky guy told me poolside while Winnie dog paddled (actually, Mom said she was just walking on top of the thick pool sludge). We still joke about that housekeeping note and about being sure, in Wentzville, that the stuff on the rug was actually leftover chalk (from a recently deceased body’s chalk outline).

Maybe you do remember the bumps in the road more than you remember the times of smooth sailing. Well—the bumps and how you dealt with it, or the sheer fact that you all got through it. Maybe we all even get hungry for disruptions and surprises working their way into the everyday humdrum—and that’s part of the reason we go on vacation in the first place.

Maybe, too, that’s why we gravitate toward fiction—maybe that’s also a trip, a vacation from the norm.

Maybe, in the end, we most like winding up in the places we least expect.