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Roms Life, or, Thrombocytopenia Took My Best Friend

Jennifer Saulsbury

It began on January 13, 1997 (well, it actually started a few weeks before that, but we didn't realize it at the time). I was lying on the couch trying to follow doctor's orders so he didn't hospitalize me for the pneumonia I was in the middle of having. Romulus came up to me to be petted. I scratched the top of his head, then noticed something very disturbing about his right eye: it looked like it had exploded from the inside. There wasn't blood coming out of it, but his whole eye was just a pool of blood under the surface - I couldn't see his pupil or anything. I called Sarah (my best friend, who is a vet in Washington) for advice, and she said I should probably take him to the Emergency Clinic because if they were going to be able to save his eye, the sooner the better. I wasn't too worried because he seemed to feel fine. I loaded him into the car and my husband and I drove him to the clinic. Luckily, they weren't very busy that night and Dr. Schawel was able to see us shortly after we arrived.

For a while, he couldn't figure out what was wrong with Rom's eye. He kept saying that there should be some other obvious trauma for his eye to be hemorrhaging like it was. I suddenly remembered something that had been happening with Rom for a couple of weeks, but that never seemed to be a big deal. I mentioned it but didn't think that it was related to anything. Rom had been getting a faint rash on his stomach that would come and go. It looked to me like he had just been laying in something that he was slightly allergic to, and I was treating it with hydrocortisone cream. I showed the rash to Dr. Schawel, who said, "Oh no." He pulled back Rom's lips and saw what he was afraid to see - there were tiny purple sores all over the insides of his cheeks and gums. He immediately ordered some tests, then disappeared for a while. He came back looking very serious and informed us Rom had Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia (ITP).

From what I've learned over the past eight months, ITP is a relatively rare condition where the body does not produce enough platelets in the blood. Platelets are what make blood clot. The platelet count in a normal dog should be between 200,000 - 300,000. Rom's count that night was 3,500. The biggest immediate concern was that Rom would start bleeding internally and his body wouldn't be able to stop because his blood couldn't clot. Dr. Schawel kept him overnight and promised to call if there were any changes. As we were leaving he said, "I'm really worried about this guy. This is a real touch-and-go situation. We're lucky we caught this when we did, but I'd give him about a 50/50 chance right now." Bryan and I went home in complete shock. I couldn't understand how Rom, my sweet and wonderful companion, could suddenly have only a 50% of making it through the night. He never even seemed sick - the only reason we even went to the clinic was because of his eye. The most we expected to hear was that he would need surgery to save the vision in that eye. Nothing as dramatic as "this is a real touch-and-go situation."

"Stiegerhill's Romulus" came into our lives in March of 1993. He was 2? years old when we brought him home: the breeders' pick of the litter as a puppy, destined to be the next champion of all champions, super wonder-Dane. Someone forgot to tell him that though, because he HATED the show ring. He thought anything in the world was better than walking in circles with a bunch of other dogs, and he made his point by lunging at the other dogs and trying to start fights, lying on his back with all four feet up in the air in the middle of shows, and in true "show-stopping" fashion, tried to mount the judge on more than one occasion. Even now, he's notorious among some breeders and handlers. Janis and John (the breeders) had finally given up on his show career and were just going to keep him as a pet. They had tried to give him to one person who kept him locked in the garage all the time, then finally returned him because he was starting to get destructive (gee - I wonder why). We had gotten our first Dane, Scarlet, from them a few years before. Scarlet was a retired breeding dog, who just needed a good home, which we gave her. After she died, I decided I didn't want another dog, because even though she was supposed to be Bryan's dog, it seemed like I did all the work (even before we were married). Also, my allergies had been bothering me, so I told Bryan that we weren't getting another dog. Eventually, I felt guilty because Bryan loves dogs and really missed the companionship Scarlet provided, so I called Janis to find out about another dog. I didn't want a puppy, and I was hoping she would have another adult dog that they wanted to place, like Scarlet. I found out that they had tried to place Rom once before, and I asked for him. They were very worried Rom would be too much for us to handle (especially after Scarlet, the world's mellowest dog), but they said we could come walk him around the park, then if that worked, we could take him home for the weekend the next weekend, then if that worked, we could go from there. After an uneventful walk through the neighborhood park, Janis and John sent us home to think about it before we made any decisions. Their biggest fear was that nobody would understand him, but they also knew he'd really be better off in a one-dog home. At that time, they had four other intact males that Rom had tried to fight with more than once, including their two champions. Bryan and I didn't really have anything to discuss, because we had already decided we would take him if they would let us. The next Friday, I went to pick him up by myself because I only worked until 3:30 on Fridays. I don't know if it was that first car trip, or if Rom knew I never really wanted a dog and figured he'd better suck up to me, or something entirely different, but from the very first day, Rom was always MY dog, in both my mind and his. He followed me everywhere around the house all the time, and liked nothing better than to lay on the couch with me with his head in my lap. Not that he was perfect, because he wasn't, but he was a great dog and I know I'll never get over him.

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