Miro, K-9 patrol dog for state parks, suffers from disease that affects skeletal muscles | TheUnion.com

Miro, K-9 patrol dog for state parks, suffers from disease that affects skeletal muscles

Nevada County’s only K-9 dog patrolling regional state parks has been diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease.

Patrol dog Miro was released from UC Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital and is recovering at home with his handler, state parks Ranger Martin Gilbertson.

“I don’t know whether I’ve worked my last day with him or not,” Gilbertson said.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, myasthenia gravis is caused by an error in the transmission of nerve impulses to muscles. It is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles, which are responsible for breathing and moving parts of the body, including arms and legs.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Gilbertson, who has often praised Miro as the best partner he’s had in two decades of law enforcement work. “It’s up in the air whether Miro can return to work or not. We’ll know more after blood tests in six months.”

Some cases of myasthenia gravis go into remission and muscle weakness may disappear completely so that medications can be discontinued.

“When initially assessed, it sounded pretty bad,” said Gilbertson. “But I’m hopeful he will return to being my partner and going to work with me.”

Miro is trained in searching, tracking, and detecting narcotics. The primary duty of the K-9, who will be 5 years old Feb. 29, is protection and apprehension.

The sable-colored German shepherd was born in the Czech Republic, where he received his initial law enforcement training. Gilbertson and Miro teamed up in March 2016, shortly after Miro was imported to the U.S.

For the team’s first three years, Gilbertson and Miro were assigned to the state parks’ Angeles District. They transferred to Nevada County last February and began their new job patrolling the South Yuba River, Empire Mine and Malakoff Diggins State Parks.

Last spring, Gilbertson and Miro won the “Top Dog” trophy for Best Performing Team among 16 teams at the annual State Parks Department Qualifications Competition.

“We had been looking forward to defending that title,” said Gilbertson.


Miro had only recently returned to work after undergoing a $7,000 operation on his back. Miro’s medical expenses have been paid by the Rüdiger Foundation, Nevada County’s nonprofit that supports local K-9 patrol dogs.

“We’re appreciative of the early diagnosis provided by UC Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and for the excellent care they have provided,” said Rüdiger Foundation Board President Tina Vernon. “High-level care is expensive, as is treatment of this disease.

“To date, we have invested about $3,300 in his recovery, and we can expect costs of another $1,500 or so as we see him through this neuromuscular disease,” Vernon said of expenses in addition to the cost of Miro’s surgery.

Donations can be directed to http://www.RufK9.org.

“All of our law enforcement dogs are supported throughout their working career and retirement,” said Vernon. “It’s a ‘til death do we part’ commitment we make to each of our K-9 officers. Without the ongoing generous support of our community, we can’t do what we do.”

Many dogs with myasthenia gravis develop a dilation of the esophagus that holds food rather than allowing food to pass into the stomach. Because of that potential difficulty swallowing, Miro must sit still for 20 minutes after a meal.

“If he weren’t so well-trained and obedient, that protocol would be very difficult to maintain,” said Rüdiger Foundation founder Joey Jordan.

Because of their compromised ability to swallow, some dogs with the disease may inhale food, liquid, or vomit, resulting in aspiration pneumonia. Veterinarians report that among dogs who do not experience aspiration pneumonia or weakness of the throat and difficulty swallowing, the prognosis is good for complete recovery within six to nine months.

State park officials will decide Miro’s professional fate after reviewing the latest medical tests and the prognosis of his doctors.

Gilbertson said if Miro cannot return to work, he’ll become surplus property of the state. Miro could then be sold to his handler for $1 and become privately owned.

“There is no way I can let him go and I won’t give him up,” Gilbertson said. “The only question is whether he stays with me as my working partner or becomes my buddy at home.”

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer and dog lover who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.

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