Sheep herding is an expensive hobby, one that draws upon a dog’s natural instincts and provides an opportunity for owner and dog to bond by learning to work together. Yet what was meant to be a fun day, turned quickly into tragedy and a once healthy four-year-old dog name Bristol is today struggling to walk.
Walking might not seem to be a great accomplishment, but for owner Laura A. Liebenow, it represents a milestone. Her dog Bristol, a purebred Australian Shepherd, had been on a coma at the ICU at Tufts since Sept. 2. There are 4 levels of consciousness: coma, obtunded, depressed, alert. Bristol remained in a coma until Sept. 19 when she was officially updated to obtunded–one step closer to being alert and awake.
Liebenow wrote on Facebook, “I took Bristol to a herding lesson, not knowing that the livestock had just been wormed with oral Ivermectin. Bristol had eaten some sheep droppings and ingested a toxic amount of Ivermectin.” While herding classes are expensive, being at a dog in ICU is even more expensive and Liebenow found that “every day her bill goes up by about $1,500.” Unwilling to give up for a dog that she once jokingly called “feral,” Liebenow swallowed her pride and asked for help. And help came through online auctions and a successful GoFundMe campaign.
To date, all of Bristol’s expenses are covered but she still has a long road ahead of her and Leibenow wants to express her gratitude and give warning to dog owners everywhere. What you don’t know and what you don’t ask about can be deadly. In a previous article, a smooth collie was poisoned after digging through the trash, but in this case it was the dog’s eating feces during a herding lesson.
At the herding facility, the sheep had been treated with the anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin. Ivermectin is used for worming dogs and livestock such as sheep and horses. Although Ivermectin is an ingredient in the heartworm medications such as, Heartgard, Bristol carries the P-glycoprotein gene (MDR1) which does not allow a resistance to the toxicity of the drug. The main concern is neurotoxicity, which in most mammalian species can manifest as central nervous system depression. Besides Aussies the MDR1 gene can be found in rough and smooth collies as well as border collies, Collie, Old English Sheepdogs, Shetland Sheepdogs (Sheltie), and German Shepherd. Having a mixed breed dog doesn’t preclude the condition.
According to one account, horses can pass feces with Ivermectin for 9 hours to 11 days after being treated. A field might not be safe for dogs to play in until as much as a month has passed between removing all livestock. If you take your dog to a herding facility or a farm, it is important to ask if the sheep, goats and horses have been treated with an anti-parasitic drug like Ivermectin.
Ivermectin poisoning in dogs has the following symptoms according to Parasitipedia.net:
- In dogs without the MDR-1 gene defect, the dominant symptom is extreme mydriasis (dilatation of the pupils) together with incomplete and deregulated pupillary reflex. Dilatation in both eyes is the most sensitive indicator of Ivermectin intoxication and the most common symptom in dogs.
- At higher doses and in dogs with the MDR-1 gene defect other symptoms include: weakness, lethargy, hypothermia (too low body temperature), hypersalivation (drooling), vomiting, difficult breathing, behavioral disturbances, confusion, seizure and in the worst case scenario, death.
Symptoms usually develop about 5 to 24 hours after treatment and can last for several days until coma. Generally, when the poisoning is more serious and prognosis is worse if the symptoms develop faster.
Bristol’s symptoms began on the evening of Sept. 1. Liebenow wrote, “I also think is an important piece of Bristol’s story. Because our lesson was in the evening, she didn’t start having a reaction until the middle of the night. She could have had a faster recovery, had her reaction been during the day.”
Bristol was a dog that Liebenow didn’t intend to own. Liebenow intended to sell her. Liebenow wrote, “Bristol came from Clara, Maine-ly Aussies, when she bred Fly to my Dega. She sent two puppies down for me to help sell. From the minute Bristol stepped into my home, she made it clear she wasn’t going anywhere. I never had the intention of keeping a puppy from this cross, but she trotted everywhere and every time she stopped in the yard, she stopped square. I kept saying, ‘I’m not looking!’ and so she initially was called Maine-ly’s Look At Me NOW. The longer she stayed and the more her personality made itself known, the more I knew she was meant to stay. Her personality was a perfect fit for a name that I had held onto for years, needing just the right dog. The name was suggested by a friend on the way to USASA Nationals in 2009. The song ‘Headstrong,’ by Trapt came on the radio and she said I needed to name a dog ‘I’ll Take You On.’ Bristol has the attitude to live up to her name, in fact, we jokingly nicknamed her Feral Dog!”
Liebenow wrote about just how feral Bristol is. “Sharon often boards dogs for me when I’m on the road showing. Bristol was a frequent visitor because my parents refused to watch her. There’s a story here too. My dad was home alone while I was grocery shopping and heard a dog whining. He let Bristol out of the crate and sat back down to watch TV. He heard a commotion behind him and to his surprise–Bristol was doing figure eights on our antique oak dining room table.
“After boarding at Sharon’s for a few weeks, Bristol came home and there was an open 40 łb. bag of food leaning up against the food bin waiting to be dumped in. I made myself a chili cheeseburger and sat down to eat it. Took one bite and I could see the disaster about to happen. Before I could say, ‘Noooooo!’ she dumped the bag over. I started picking the food up off the floor and putting it in the bin, when she approaches the water dish we keep on the fireplace. Instead of just drinking it, she put both front feet in it. I called her name and in the process of pulling her legs out, she dumped the entire, full two gallons of water. I grab a mop, she grabbed my cheeseburger. She had been home for five minutes. I said, ‘Let’s go outside and burn some energy.’ I threw a tennis ball for her to chase and over-estimated the distance. It landed in the pool and she never slowed down. She kept right going and leapt over the 5-foot side of the pool.”
Yet Bristol isn’t just an action-packed pup. She also has brains. Liebenow wrote that the little scamp is a schemer. “She liked to open the food bin and feed herself, so I put stuff on top of the lid so she couldn’t open it. What does she do? Walks by, pushes everything back when no one is looking and then plays with a toy. A few minutes later, she walks by and uses her nose to unlatch the top. Then she plays with a dog or lays down for a bit. A few minutes later she has the lid up and starts snacking.”
Bristol is strong and Bristol is smart and dog lovers around the world are pulling and praying for Bristol under the #BristolStrong.
As Bristol struggles to walk and improves daily Liebenow wrote, “The most important things I’d like people to learn from Bristol is awareness. I’m not someone who was unaware, I did know Bristol’s MDR1 status and this still happened to us.” While Liebenow is not currently financially desperate as she was during the first week of Bristol’s hospitalization, she writes, “Right now the bill is paid for and we have about $14,000 left from fundraising. We’re looking at another couple weeks of hospitalization, then extensive physical therapy/rehab.” But she also commented, “I’m also spending about $100-$140 a week on gas to drive back and forth to Tufts to visit her.”
Liebenow really wants this story to get out because, “I’d also like people to see that in a world where we focus so much on the negative, there are still wonderful, generous people out there. It may not seem like it, but those generous people outnumber the negative. There are no words strong enough to express my gratitude, trust me I’ve tried. Thank you just doesn’t cut it, but I will continue to say it.”
If you would like to donate to help cover Bristol veterinarian and hospital care or be updated and watch videos of Bristol’s progress, go to Laura A. Liebenow’s FB page. Donations can still be made to the GoFundMe campaign or directly to Tufts University at the following number. Just indicate that you would like to donate to Bristol Liebenow’s bill.
- Tufts University Veterinary Hospital