Comparative Neurology Program

This is Duke.

I became interested in the ataxia problem after working with Ken and his dogs. Ken is an English pointer breeder who strives to breed the best dogs he can. So when some of his dogs had coordination difficulties, he sought our help in getting to the bottom of the problem, because in his words "Doc, what good's a pointer that can't point?". We were fortunate to be able to eliminate the problem from his line through DNA testing.

Duke lived with hereditary ataxia for 7 years.
Duke was from one of the test breedings we did while working out the genetics of the disease. His coordination difficulties made him pretty worthless as a bird dog, but like all Ken's dogs, Duke had a great heart and I adopted him. He was uncoordinated as could be, but that didn't stop him from enjoying life. Our kids called him our "disabled dog" and he had his own "barrier free" dog house with an extra large door and padding on any edges. Pointing birds was way beyond him, but pointing was still in his blood. So when we let him run in the pastures, he would point things more his speed - the box turtles. Of course his points wouldn't win him any marks in a field trial. Instead he would do what we called his "levitation". His front end would stay focused on the turtle, but his back end wouldn't stay put. He would lean forward until his rear legs slowly lifted off the ground, and he would hover in this hand-stand position until he lost his balance and fell. He fell often, but that never slowed him down. He would just bounce up again and go looking for another turtle.
His next favorite activity was raiding our compost pile for discarded oranges. He was so taken with them that we decided it best to give him fresh ones regularly before he got food poisoning from the ones in the compost. So Duke got his regular ration of oranges which he would then proceed to peel. His coordination problems meant he would have to hover and bob around the orange for minutes at a time before he could finally get a good grip on the skin with his incisors. He'd yank off a bit of skin and then repeat the process until he could finally dive into the juicy orange.

Duke enjoyed life on our steading for over seven years, but then suddenly took a turn for the worse. He had taken one too many falls and slipped a disk in his neck. Ordinarily, a slipped cervical disk is readily fixed with surgery, but Duke was no ordinary dog. It would have been too hard on him to go through a surgery like that with his coordination problems. He was in pain, and life wasn't the joy it had always been for him. So I had to euthanize him. He returned to the prairie he loved, and a wild bergamot blooms every summer where he rests.

Animals give their spirit to the place where they have lived, and remain forever a part of the rocks and streams & wind and the sky.
-Marguerite Henry
Guess I was just meant to have an ataxic dog, since we were soon joined by Elvis. He got his name because his breeder noticed from an early age that he just couldn't keep his hips still when he was excited. It reminded her of the gyrations that made Ed Sullivan censor "The King" from the waist down when he appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1956. Quite a different era then.

We feared that Elvis had a more serious movement disorder that would cut his life short, and I agreed to give him a home for the time he had. Fortunately, he had a fairly mild form of ataxia, and is still going strong at 5 years of age. He helps to educate veterinary students about neurologic disease and serves as an ambassador for canine genetic disease research.

Denny O'Brien