Buster's Story - 2012 Update

In 2006, MARS lost Buster to what we believe to be a toxic reaction to drugs listed on the MDR1 Problem Drug List published by Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. As described in the that story I wrote in 2006, Buster was given a number of drugs that he was unable to process properly due to a mutation of the multi-drug resistance gene. His personality changed, he became intermittently vague and distant and unexplainably aggressive. Ultimately, Buster had to be euthanized and we still grieve his loss.

While it is true that the many and varied pain medications given to Buster had to have caused a toxic reaction in his brain, new research has shown that the aggression he exhibited most likely did not come as a result of the pain medication, but more likely from the Acepromazine given prior to his neuter. Acepromazine, a "tranquilizing" drug, has a side effect of increased levels of anxiety, including aggression, in dogs of all breeds, whether or not they carry the MDR1 mutation. The MDR1 dog will often exhibit an increased level of sedation following use of the drug, which, as with the other problem drugs on the list, can cause lethargy, followed by coma and ultimately death, but the aggressive response is not due to the mutation.  It can, and often does, occur with any dog.

We credit Buster with saving the lives of thousands of MDR1 dogs, as the volunteers in MARS worked tirelessly to spread the word about the MDR1 mutation. The issue was not well-known and less understood, even by veterinarians, prior to his death. Our fear now is that many non-MDR1 dogs also need protection from the common and frequent use of Acepromazine, both as a tranquilizer prior to surgery and for dogs with motion sickness, among other things.

All of us in MARS believe that sharing our lives with companion animals means that we accept responsibility for them. We take that responsibility very seriously, as shown by researching the food that they eat, the medications that they are given, and the toys that they play with. The fact that you are reading this makes me believe that you take that responsibility seriously as well. We hope to be able to continue to support you by providing information critical to your dog's good health.

Marla J McCormick
Mini Aussie Rescue & Support, Inc.

Buster's Story - 2006

As the MARS Rescue Director, I was frequently the one to receive calls and emails about Mini Aussies in need. On June 5, 2006, I received an email about a small red merle Mini, misidentified as an Anatolian Shepherd, in a shelter in Ohio. He had been picked up as a stray three days earlier. The shelter, being overcrowded, could not keep him much longer. He had been evaluated by an Aussie person, and she called him “perfect.” Gorgeous dark red merle, one blue eye and one brown, 15 inches tall, just over 30 pounds with a cute little natural bob tail, he was loving, attentive, good natured – yes, "perfect" seemed to fit Buster to a T.

Receiving help from our Aussie friends, Buster was pulled from the shelter for MARS on June 10th, and taken to a wonderfully generous veterinarian who boarded him, treated him for his kennel cough, and performed the necessary neuter, using Acepromazine as a sedative, as we looked for a foster home. He called mid-week to tell us that Buster had ripped his stitches and that it had been necessary to put Buster in a cone in order to keep him from doing any more damage. Buster was uncomfortable, but handling things well. All the employees loved him.

On Father’s Day, Sunday, June 18th, one of our volunteers flew his own plane to Ohio where he picked up his single passenger, Buster, and took him to his foster home where he was to stay until he healed. Buster, with his calm, confident personality, managed the flight and the transition to yet another new place with good-natured curiosity. Still hacking a bit from his kennel cough, he settled in to his new bed and into the hearts of his caregivers. We began to look for the perfect home for this perfect dog. We found one almost immediately, so we started reference checking and setting up a home visit.

Unfortunately, Buster kept hacking, so on Monday, June 19th, he made a trip to the vet. His cough was not improving and his incision was raw and obviously painful. The veterinarian felt that his cough may be canine flu and treated it aggressively with Baytril. To help with the pain, he prescribed Tubrotol. None of us knew that Buster carried the mutant MDR1 gene, but by Friday of that week, Buster began to leave us.

I got a call that Buster had behaved aggressively towards a visitor and appeared to be having small seizure-like episodes. The fact that he was still wearing his cone had prevented any injury to the family members, but Buster was no longer free to roam the house at will. We immediately stopped the meds but, of course, the damage was done.

By the next day, Buster’s eyes were dilating and he appeared to be having trouble focusing. His aggressive behavior was no longer directed at strangers, but had become indiscriminate, and he no longer recognized his caregivers during his episodes. He was a danger to those who cared for him.

I contacted the adopter with the wrenching news that Buster, our perfect dog, was no longer perfect. MARS had made the quick decision that we could not put her, her husband, and her daughter at risk by placing Buster in their home. We cried together, and we both knew that Buster could not be placed with anyone.

Buster spent the next few days of his life with one of the most caring people I have ever known. She showed him love and comfort when he was Buster, and kept him from harm when he wasn’t. During a quiet time, she held him close as she swabbed the inside of his cheek for the MDR1 test, and I’m sure that his coat was damp with her tears. The test results showed that Buster was normal/mutant. His brain could not rid itself of the common medications that were administered to him in the previous weeks. To Buster, and all dogs with the mutant MDR1 gene, those medications were poison. On July 5th, a month to the day from when I first saw his picture, Buster was dead.

Only a few of us ever met Buster, or petted him, or looked directly into those two beautiful eyes, one blue and one brown. But we all know Buster, and we grieve for him. His caregiver vowed that Buster would not die in vain, and that his death would be the catalyst for investigation and dissemination of the information that we were receiving about the effects of certain drugs on dogs with the MDR1 gene. The “Buster Alert” is his legacy. It has made us aware that many of our dogs are at risk, and that we have to be responsible for learning how to protect them. None of us will ever forget Buster, and many of us will be forever grateful to him. Our perfect dog.

Marla J McCormick
Mini Aussie Rescue & Support, Inc.

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