College of Veterinary Medicine Home Pet Loss Hotline
  Denali 1993-2005

12/1995  The last thing I wanted for Christmas was another dog.  Somehow Jerry convinced me to take a look at him.  When I first saw him he was a shedding 114 pound tub of fat.  He didn’t really belong anywhere since he lived in an unfenced yard and, when he wasn’t tied down, he was free to roam wherever he wanted to go.  Our friends, who lived next door to his owners, always had a dish with snacks out for him and by the looks of him so did everybody else in the neighborhood.  Denali didn’t know much about belonging and loyalty, he ran to everybody who called him…he was only two years old.


It was his gentle behavior and the fact that he was an epileptic, (I’m a sucker for sick animals,) that convinced me to give him a second thought.  When Jerry drove back a few days later to pick him up all he had to do was open the hatch of the Jeep and Denali hopped in, there was no need to coax him.

Once settled in our big yard, Denali acted like a yard ornament.  He didn’t move, run or play and was completely submissive to the other dogs.  One thing Denali wanted, however, was to get into the house.  He was plastered to the screen door in the back of the house and every time we opened it he tried to push his way through.  One day I walked towards said screen door and realized that half of Denali was oozing into the house.  He’d managed somehow to bend the lower part of the door.  We decided that it was time to integrate him with the other pooches and taught him that the dog houses in front were a better place to hang out. 

There were only a few things that upset Denali.  One was the ringing of the telephone, the other fireworks.  Every time the phone rang, he took off like a shot and ran as far away from the house as he could.  I finally disconnected our outside bell, but it didn’t make much difference, he could still hear it ringing inside.  So I bought a machine that talked instead of rang.  So when the phone rang there was a voice saying “Pardon me, but your telephone is ringing”…which, after a few weeks, made me run halfway across the yard.

On New Years Eve Denali ran away.  All it took was one firecracker and he crawled under the fence and disappeared.  It took me the better part of the night and the next day to find him in a neighbor’s yard playing with a little dog.  He thought it was quite all right to run away and didn’t feel bad at all when he saw me.  I adopted stricter measures and hot-wired all the fences.

Slowly over the next few months Denali started to change.  He ran a little with our other German Shepherd, Max, and turned some of his fat into muscle.  On occasion he would get up and greet us when we came home.  Although he never competed for affection with the other dogs, he now sat nearby and quietly awaited his turn. 

We soon discovered two interesting facts about Denali.  He loved to play and he never barked.  Therefore, we had on our hands a 114 pound “guard” dog with the mentality of a puppy that didn’t make any noise.  We decided to teach him one by using the other.  We bought him a plastic bone and before we threw it for him he had to bark.  The first few times he just opened and closed his jaw, but no sound came out.  His first bark scared him quite a bit and he looked at us for support.  After his first encounter with a bark he soon realized that it could be used to initiate playtime, but that was just about it. Unfortunately Denali’s seizures got worse over time; he seized every 10 days and the vet increased the Pheno Barbitol steadily.  Pretty soon we ended up with a completely drugged dog.  He wobbled when he walked and kept falling over.  Max and our other two dogs Panda and Jenni regarded his seizures as a threat and started to attack him.  First they just left little bite marks in his joint areas but the more seizures he had the worse the wounds got.  During one particular attack they tore open his armpit from side to side.  A friend of ours mentioned a drug called Potassium Bromide which was used in high doses to treat epilepsy in dogs.  We decided to put Denali on it to see if it would cut down the seizures and consequently the attacks. 

He almost immediately stopped seizing but unfortunately the attacks by Max didn’t.  Max had turned into a predator, whether that was cause by Denali’s seizures or if it was a character flaw that was reinforced by them we’ll never know…but we did have to put Max to sleep.

Over the next few weeks Denali blossomed.  He started to chase Jenni, our German Shepherd girl, through the yard.  At first the distance between the two was enormous, but little by little he caught up with her.  His muscles got stronger everyday and in no time he was the strong healthy dog he was meant to be.  His behavior never changed though.  He never barked and still ran away from the sound of the phone, but we didn’t really care…we just wanted him to be healthy and happy.  Even without being drugged to the eyeballs he was the most gentle and most loveable dog.

By the time Denali had been with us for a little over two years he was on Potassium Bromide, 200 mg of Pheno Barbitol, seizure free and trimmed down to 99 pounds of muscles.  He spent his days chasing his favorite toy, Jenni, through the yard, waited for us to feed and pet him and whenever he could fit it in…he napped.

Early in 1998 Denali developed a limp in his left front leg.  After a series of x-rays and a biopsy our vet determined that he had elbow dysplasia and arthritis in both front legs.  We put him on anti-inflammatory medication but the limp didn’t go away.  After a few weeks he also got very weak in his hind legs.  His right leg would turn in whenever he walked and interfere with his other leg.  Back to the vet we went for another checkup.  Since the x-rays taken previously showed no signs of hip dysplasia or back problems the vet diagnosed him with German Shepherd myelopathy, also known degenerative myelopathy.  Such a diagnosis is a certain death sentence.  The very next day we took him to another vet for a second opinion and his diagnosis was the same.  The only hope he could offer, a small one to boot, was acupuncture.  Willing to try anything under the sun we made an appointment.  The doctor sounded very hopeful and stuck poor Denali full of needles.  He looked like a pin cushion but was genuinely bored with the whole procedure and fell asleep.  He never once tried to fight the vet or the needles. 

That night and the next day he was exhausted and very sore all over.  We were told to cook special food for him, so I bought rice and veggies to mix with gourmet frozen food and vegetarian dry food.  His dish looked better than some I’ve cooked on occasion.  Over the next few weeks and treatments Denali seemed to improve a bit. 

3 years later Denali was off the Pheno Barbitol altogether.  His treatments with the vet, whom we affectionately call the “Voodoo-Vet”, have been cut back to once every three months.  Meanwhile, he learned to bark at the horses and when he demanded food.  People still were no reason for him to raise his voice or even wake up for that matter.  Jenni was still his favorite toy and even though she was “all grown up” still loved to be chased around by him. 


It’s been over 6 years since I wrote the above. Denali never had another seizure. We took him off his seizures meds and he was just fine without it. His arthritis was under control and he lived a happy life. Lately though he’s been getting worse and we decided that it was time to let him go. We’ve had the pleasure of his company for 10 beautiful years and we owe it to him to let him go with dignity. Jerry and I are both a mess, but eventually we will be able to laugh at Denali’s antics and look back with a smile at the memories we made.

"Let me go before the cheering stops" Quote from Million Dollar Baby

Posted Sept, 7 2005  |     Printer Friendly Version