Saturday, September 19, 2015

Oh Yellowstone!
But First, An Emergency For Biggie.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

We arrived in the town of West Yellowstone on Saturday, September 12th at what would be our base "camp" used to explore Yellowstone National Park for the next two days. But two nights stretched into three and not because we voluntarily wanted to extend our stay. Of course, Yellowstone requires two weeks, not two days to get to know it. We'd love to return some day and using tent or trailer to camp, hike or explore it in depth. Regarding hiking though, dogs are not permitted on any trail and not even on the ubiquitous boardwalks that the park service has installed at various interest points throughout the park.  The reasons  for the pet exclusion were clearly stated even though it crimped our activity. They made sense: 
  • Other visitors may not appreciate the presence of your pet.
  • Your dog may get away from you and cannot survive the wilderness.
  • Your dog might attract a bear (a real danger out here) and lead him back to you - what a thought!
The danger of bear confrontations is stressed throughout the park. How to behave?
  • If you're confronted, never run. 
  • Do make noise as you walk the back country. 
  • Don't hike with fewer than three people. 
  • Carry bear spray which has proved to be effective in thwarting an aggressive bear. 
  • Don't leave food around - stash it in bear proof containers far from your campsite and never in your tent, car, etc. 
Many bears in the park are not reclusive as they are in the wilderness. They've become used to people and are attracted by their food. They are not "cute" and should never be approached at any time as they can charge you and are extremely fast and sometimes aggressive. There have been numerous incidents over the years and at least one person a year is killed by a bear in Yellowstone. Nuff said for us.

Back to Biggie's saga: Why did we extend our visit for an extra night (three instead of two)? Our hotel was expensive at $250.00 a night in West Yellowstone. Even after Labor Day, the hotels were full - we wanted to stay inside the park, treating ourselves for a couple of nights at the grand old Yellowstone Inn. That was not to be. One must book a year in advance to cop a room there. So we stayed outside in the town that serves as Yellowstone's western entrance. But it's a small town and rooms are always at a premium; thus, a lowly 2-star hotel room, even after the summer, is quite expensive, well beyond its actual value.

Biggie gets seizures. His condition has been diagnosed as idiopathic epilepsy. Idiopathic means no known or observable source: no liver problems or adverse sugar levels. No brain tumor or fluid on the brain. Just brain dysfunction where the neurons misfire and cause seizures; i.e. uncontrollable spasms and, often, lack of consciousness: his eyes bulge or glaze over, he stares off into space, he falls over on his side and his rear legs convulse, contracting and extending stiffly, suddenly and uncontrollably. It's a distressing, pitiful and heartbreaking thing to watch. This condition started when he was young. At first we thought he had injured himself, falling suddenly in the park and lying almost motionless. Maybe, we thought, he strained a muscle, running so energetically after his ball. He would come out of it after a minute or so, regaining his normal activity. And  these episodes were infrequent, coming perhaps once every six or eight months, if that much. But, as he got older (he's now three), they've become more frequent and more evident that these were seizures not some muscle strain. And they became more severe: the last one, not long before we left on this trip, was a grand mal seizure, continuing for much longer than the three minutes that veterinarians consider the maximum time that when seizure crosses the border into a life-threatening situation and where emergency care is necessary. We did exactly that in Brooklyn, rushing him after 20 minutes to an all-night emergency pet clinic nearby. They watched him, inserted a catheter into his right paw, just in case he needed meds to stop any further seizing (he had come out of it by the time we got there). And they prescribed anti-seizure medication, something that he will probably have to be on for the rest of his life. It took the poor little dog a good 30-hours to come back to normal that time. He was extremely lethargic and loopy and could hardly walk straight for a day afterwards. This was not our Biggie! That aftermath, dubbed post-ictal by the doctors, is the result of the brain "frying" that the seizure produces. 

Little Biggie, hair blown back by serious winds, is gawking at bison on
the range in Yellowstone National Park. This was taken after his bout of
seizures that caused us to extend our stay in West Yellowstone.

Don't think we didn't worry that he would have another serious event on the road and, perhaps, far from medical assistance. And of course, that's precisely what came to be. We had been, on the advice of our vet, weening him off the anti-seizure medicine because the downside of its anti-seizure benefit is their serious side effects of harm to the liver (like many meds). On second thought, it would have been wiser to wait until our return to New York before we proceeded in that direction. So by the time we reached Yellowstone, the weening, which must be done slowly over time, had proceeded to a low level. Sure enough, the second night of our stay in West Yellowstone, the little boy, exhausted and stressed I think, from long days of driving, went into seizure. They came one after another. This is called cluster seizures or rolling seizures. And though each was short lasting and he never went catatonic as he did last month in Brooklyn, rolling seizures are also considered life-threatening if they continue unabated. 

What to do? The town has no services - it's mostly a base for the park with hotels and restaurants and nothing much else. Just that day at a lunch place I struck up a conversation with an older waitperson who lived in town. "Where do you shop?" I asked her out of curiosity. "In Bozeman, It's the nearest big town" she replied. But that's 90 miles away I thought. "That's where I have to go for medical services also 'cause there's nothing here," she complained. Of course, the same applied for intensive or emergency pet care. 

The seizures started at 9:30 Sunday night. I called a local vet and reached a voice message that gave  a number to call for emergencies. Sure enough, it was also in Bozeman. I called and the person I spoke to was calm and laid out our choices. We should probably bring him in if the seizures were to continue because rolling seizures, even if mild, could sometimes develop into a grand mal seizure which could be so severe that Biggie's life could be in jeopardy if not treated. On the other hand, the drive from West Yellowstone to Bozeman, is a difficult one, particularly at night. It winds through the Gallatin mountains and steep canyons, twisting and turning and there's the added danger, we were told, of large numbers of elk crossing the road - something to be on constant guard while driving. 

We decided to watch our little boy to see if the seizures were over and not have to make that dangerous drive. No such luck. One more struck and we gathered our stuff and started out on the trek to Bozeman at eleven in the middle of the night over that treacherous mountain route. We reached the clinic at half past midnight. Biggie had seizures number five and six in the car, huddled in Stacey's lap as I drove carefully but as fast as I prudently could to get him to emergency care, hoping that all would be alright. 

By the time we reached the clinic, Biggie's seizures were over and he was returning to normal activity. Another couple was sitting in the emergency room. Their cat had been attacked by a neighbor's dog and suffered some serious puncture wounds to a paw. Biggie was the star of the clinic, winning the hearts of staff and customers alike. That's expected given his out sized  personality that just oozes cuteness in a little fluffy package. We discussed the strategy with the vet and were told to up the meds back to their previous level and to leave the weening until we return to New York where he could be more carefully observed and managed by our nearby vet. 

We spent the night at a motel next door - the second time this trip that we paid for two hotels in one night! But Biggie was fine and we found ourselves cuddling and loving him more than ever, worrying over his health. This is what our pets do to us as all pet lovers know so well. I'm writing this several days later - he's been perfectly fine ever since. But the threat of seizures still hangs over him and over us. 

We returned to our West Yellowstone hotel the next morning and decided to stay another night to give us all a chance to rest and enjoy the park a little bit more.

In my next post I'll actually write about the park itself. This one was devoted to our little boy that we love and adore so much.

- Matt

Little Biggie and Little Woman, enjoying the sights of Yellowstone
and watching the bison in the meadow as they grazed and rolled about in the dust.


  1. Harrowing story. Wishing you the best with Biggie.

  2. very sorry Little Biggie and you guys had to go through this awful and frightening ordeal. Glad you got him to the clinic safely and sounds like the right plan to continue the anti seizure meds until you're back home. He's so sweet, I'm sure you were totally freaked. Hope the remainder of trip is negatively uneventful and filled with fun experiences for you....xoxo

  3. So sorry for your harrowing experience with your little boy! These furry kids can break our hearts. Hope he stays well.

  4. Wholly S--t!! Sounds like you risked your lives to save biggie's......You should write a book.....'Our Adventures with Biggie' A novel by M&S Weinstein

  5. UnknownSeptember 19, 2015 at 4:20 PM

    Wholly S--t!! Sounds like you risked your lives to save biggie's......You should write a book.....'Our Adventures with Biggie' A novel by M&S Weinstein

  6. .......sounds like an amazing trip, but it should be "don't hike with FEWER than 3 people" not "less than." You're never too old to learn.

  7. UnknownSeptember 19, 2015 at 4:20 PM

    Wholly S--t!! Sounds like you risked your lives to save biggie's......You should write a book.....'Our Adventures with Biggie' A novel by M&S Weinstein

  8. Now you know who posted that one.....Before it said it now....

  9. Glad the little guy is okay. Lalibela sends her regards to him.

  10. Wow! Just saw this. It was painful to read. Poor Biggie & poor you & Stacey. Happy it turned out OK. Lesson learned. Sorry for the lack of communication. Been of devices till now. Glad you r enjoying the trip. Much love, Duba