10 July 2006



Yes, I know – it’s been a long time since I posted anything but there’s a reason – or rather an excuse (there is a difference of course). Columbo – my sweet troubled Columbo - is no more.

I simply didn’t want to think about it, let along write about it. Blogger’s block, you could say, but then I have to get over it and slowly that’s happening.

You can read Columbo’s story in the entry called Adoption Day at the Refuge. He was the emaciated hunting dog I adopted in February. The problem was that he was epileptic. I’d not thought of it as a problem when I took him and frankly, had I known how it would turn out, I’d still have taken him. At the time, I was told he simply needed one pill a day to stop any possible fits but it didn’t turn out to be as simple as that.

Columbo having a fit

After he’d been here a week or so, Columbo had his first Grand Mal fit – that day he had four more. I’m not talking little quivers and shakes here but major fits where he screamed (a dreadful not-of-this-world scream), fell to the floor from the sofa, emptied his anal glands, defecated, urinated and then crazily scrabbled around in all the mess whilst I rushed to prepare rectal valium. I’m told dogs don’t remember anything following an epileptic fit so tant mieux, (so much the better) as the French say. Columbo, I’m sure, had brain damage. He’d doubtless had endless un-medicated fits in the past. I’ve since heard from the volunteers at the refuge that on some winter mornings they’d find him lying in his run with his coat frozen to his body.

From the day I brought him home, he paced up and down for much of the night; I’d hear his toenails; click, click, click on the terracotta tiles. The pacing got faster and faster before a fit and afterwards, he’d endlessly walk about, crash into furniture and walls. He didn’t know where he was – he even tried to get behind the loo. Or he’d somehow find his way down to the garden and walk up and down, up and down in the moonlight on the lowest terrace, crashing into shrubs and trees. Not a happy camper.

... doing his 'Thurber Dog' impersonation

After that first day of fits, the vet put him on the highest medication possible and, after five days, the fits stopped. Then slowly over the weeks, we’d reduce the dose very gradually. Necessary because otherwise he was a totally doped dog, sleepy all day and also there were possible side effects to some internal organs. What didn’t help was that Rox, one of the other dogs I’d adopted, was continually snapping at him so Columbo was also a scared dog – jumpy around other dogs. Dogs know, of course, when another dog is sick or simply isn’t right in the head. The medication gave Columbo’s eyes a glazed look and so he didn’t give the right doggy messages to other dogs.


During the time he lived here, he put on weight – he grew into the beautiful dog he was meant to be; his coat gleamed and he did occasionally wag his tail when he saw me but I think only because I was the food provider. He was never really ‘present’ if you know what I mean. He didn’t respond to me as other dogs do. He was off in his own private and I think rather scary world. I’d often go sit with him on the sofa and try and stroke him but he didn’t always seem able to accept caresses so would sometimes get up and move away.

...missing a bit of ear

In April one of the dogs staying here bit off the tip of Columbo’s ear. It wasn’t Rox because he was shut in the study at the time. I had walked up the track to the mailbox and always I shut Rox away, knowing how he feels about Columbo. Well I didn’t see it happen and so can’t prove who did it and of course it shouldn’t have happened but dogs attack weaker dogs. The bleeding simply wouldn’t stop. If you ever have a dog with an injury to the ear, you’ll know this to be true. There seems to be more blood in a dog’s ear than in the whole damn body and Columbo had BIG ears. Eventually there was nothing to do but take him to the vet, blood dripping all over the car. She wrapped his ear right around his head. She said it couldn’t be stitched but needed fixing to the head so he couldn’t shake it. So for a few days, until it healed, Columbo looked like a novice nun or a medieval maiden.

...and here it is

Two weeks before the end, I started him on some supplements: special vitamins that I was told might help him. Within a week he seemed to be a new dog. He responded to me, seemed so much happier. I believed we’d turned a corner in his life. Then a week later, wham – the fits started again. There was no more to do. He was already on the highest possible dose of preventative medicine. I’d made an appointment at that time to take him to Marseilles to get a brain scan as it had been suggested to me that he could have a tumour. Friends with an epileptic Weimaraner visited me and said that the way Columbo held his head, the way he behaved, reminded them of their dog and she had been epileptic, caused by a brain tumour. There are only two scanners in France (one in Paris and one in Marseilles) but my vet advised me that even if we found that a brain tumour was causing his epilepsy, what would we do? Operate on him? A very risky operation- and with 6 months after-care in a quiet home. Believe me, this isn’t a quiet home. And so the horrible decision was made.

My vet wisely knew how it would turn out and she advised me, from the very first visit, that it might be best to put him to sleep. I fought this. Probably because I’d seen my brother, as a child, having bad epileptic fits and no one suggested putting him to sleep. I well remember, aged about 6, seeing my brother continually bashing his head against the floor, arms flaying wildly. He had a pillow put under his head and something in his mouth to stop him swallowing his tongue whilst I was told to get on with my dinner and to take no notice.

I can tell you it’s awful to give a refuge dog a home and then realise you’ve failed but I know that it was the right decision for Columbo. At least, when he died he was in beautiful condition, physically – he had a comfortable sofa to sleep on – he loved his food, indeed was crazy for his food. But mentally my poor Columbo simply wasn’t the full shilling. Perhaps if someone else had given Columbo a home – where he was the only dog – he’d have stood a better chance but with so many dogs in refuges begging for homes, it’s the cute little ones who get chosen or the solid temperament ones, like Labradors and Retrievers, not wild-eyed hunting dogs like Columbo.

Sharing the sofa with Digby

Columbo lived here at Pension Milou for only three short months but I’d have taken him home with me regardless. Despite the way it turned out, the sleepless nights when nothing calmed him, the endless trips to the vet, the hopelessness of his epilepsy, I learned so much from Columbo who always had the sweetest nature. He taught me things about myself I didn’t know – that I had more patience, more compassion than I thought. Those lessons, like Columbo’s beautiful soul will stay with me and he’ll live forever in my memory.

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