Fort Myers, Florida (News-Press) -- Karamel is a feisty, funny member of the Ransom household in east LeeCounty. She bounces around and gets excited for handfed treats, anddoesn't shy away from anyone.

It wasn'tlong ago that her owners, Ann and Gerald, weren't sure their 8-year-oldminiature poodle, rescued from a Kentucky animal shelter, would bearound much longer.

Whilethe Ransoms were out of town, Karamel, who was being watched by theRansoms' daughter, had an unusual episode where she fell asleep brieflyand jerked awake, then recovered almost immediately. After a trip toKaramel's regular veterinarian and then to see Dr. Sarah Scruggs atSpecialized Veterinary Services, the Ransoms had a verdict: Their little10-pound companion needed rescuing again, this time in the form of apacemaker.

"I didn't know there was such a thing as a doggie cardiologist," Ann said.

A lot of people don't, nor are they aware that dogs - and cats - can also wear pacemakers, according to Scruggs.

ThePhilippines native and University of Florida graduate is one of about230 veterinary cardiologists in the country, but one of the few inSouthwest Florida. The pacemaker Karamel received is the first to beinstalled in a dog in Lee County, Scruggs said. Residents used to haveto go to Tampa or elsewhere for the surgery.

Scruggsdid the procedure on Karamel in mid-December. Much like a humanpacemaker - typically what is installed in animals - the device isrequired after heart block, heart disease or arrhythmia develops. InKaramel's case, it was heart block that caused her near-fatal episode.

"Heart block is a disease in dogs ... in which the electrical system of the heart stops working properly," Scruggs said.

Quick surgery

Becausethere was no incision into her chest cavity, Karamel was on theoperating table for about an hour and required only a one-night staybefore returning home.

Her operation came with a bit of anxiety for her owners.

"Wewere apprehensive on all sorts of levels," Ann said. "Thinking 'ohgosh, I have a little dog and she's going to be worth Fort Knox,'because you're not quite sure what the cost is going to be, and mybiggest concern was that she's small."

But Scruggs was experienced, having installed several pacemakersbefore in Denver, one in a dog weighing a little more than a pound.

The surgery costs about $2,000 on average when the pacemaker is donated, as was the case with Karamel's.

Scruggssaid it's common for human-pacemaker companies to donate the devices toveterinary hospitals, and some pacemakers may come from a person whorecently died. Those can't be reused in humans, but they are perfect foranimals.

A fewhundred dogs per year receive pacemakers. Devices like Karamel's werefirst used in dogs in the 1980s, though the first dog to ever receive apacemaker was a 10-year-old Basenji in 1968. That device had beenremoved from a human who died six months after its implementation.

Shelf-life is always a concern with pacemakers, as well. But for dogs, it may be less of a concern given their shorter lifespan.

Almost 100 percent

Karamelremains about two weeks out from complete recovery, and Ann said themost difficult thing has been keeping the little ball of energy fromgetting too excited.

"(She) feels so much better. Her heart is working better than it did before, so she's ready to be active," she said.

Annalso feels guilty for keeping Karamel locked up when she gets tooexcited, and is interested to see how security agents at the airportreact when she tells them the little passenger wears a pacemaker.

"She'llhave to have a card stating she has a pacemaker ... as to howbelievable they'll find that, I don't know," she said with a laugh.

"They're very social animals, and they get excited about seeing the people and dogs they know," Ann said.

After all Karamel has been through, "for her to continue at a normal level is pretty amazing."

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