All photos courtesy of Maureen Fowler.

This German shepherd is more than just a pretty face. She’s using her influence to spread the word about canine health, nutrition and EPI, a rare but serious canine disease.

Life is full of surprises. When Maureen Fowler visited Woofstock in Toronto with her dog, Brynn, last summer, she thought she’d just be meeting a few friends. She didn’t plan on lining up at our Animal Wellness booth, and she certainly didn’t expect to see her pup’s face on the cover of this issue as a result! Though it was unplanned, it isn’t the first time in Maureen’s life that something like this has happened. Surprise – albeit an unpleasant one –also played a role in her decision to adopt Brynn in the first place.

After trying for a child for a couple of years, Maureen received the shattering news that she couldn’t have a baby of her own. Devastated, but determined to move forward, she decided to adopt a dog. A quick internet search led her to a nearby breeder. Their website, she explains, looked very inviting. “I liked how personal they were,” she says. “I felt they really cared about their dogs.” Encouraged by appearances, Maureen paid a visit to the breeder. To her delight, a litter of 11 German shepherd puppies were waiting to find their forever homes. She picked out a beautiful female with a larger-than-life personality and even bigger ears. Maureen called her new friend Brynn – the name she’d planned to give her first daughter.

Brynn doesnt “suffer” from EPI — she thrives in spite of it!

As is the case with all new relationships, the first few months with Brynn were perfect. Having a puppy in the house was like a breath of fresh air; the little shepherd kept Maureen on her toes and gave her the unconditional companionship she’d been seeking. But a curveball was just around the corner. At five months old, Brynn started experiencing health problems. Since chronic diarrhea was the primary symptom, the vet tested her for giardia. The results came back positive, but meds didn’t seem to alleviate it. That’s when another possible diagnosis came to light.

“My vet told me about a condition German shepherds are prone to called EPI,” says Maureen. Sure enough, Brynn tested positive for the disease. EPI, or Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, is a condition in which the pancreas fails to produce enough digestive enzymes. These enzymes work to break down starches, fats and proteins, and without them, a dog’s gastrointestinal system is greatly compromised. “I wish I had done some research so I would have known about this genetic condition in German shepherds,” says Maureen, in hindsight. “That way, I could have picked a more responsible breeder who does health testing on their pups.”

“I wish I had done some research so I would have known about this genetic condition in German shepherds. That way, I could have picked a more responsible breeder who does health testing on their pups.”

But Maureen knew there was no point dwelling on the “could haves”. Instead, she joined a group called EPI4dogs to get the answers and support she needed to help her sick companion. “It was a long road to figuring out what would work for Brynn, since all EPI dogs are different,” says Maureen. “I eliminated all grains and gave her the proper enzyme supplements, but still couldn’t get her stable.” When Brynn was about nine months old and Maureen was still struggling to restore her health, she ran into the owner of Brynn’s sire. His advice? To euthanize her and get a healthy puppy. Maureen knew then that she’d adopted Brynn for a reason – so she could responsibly manage her condition and give her a shot at a healthy life.

“I finally had a holistic allergy test done and that was the turning point,” says Maureen. “I found out she was allergic to the pork enzymes most commonly used to treat EPI.” In order to give Brynn the nutrition she needed without worsening her condition, Maureen switched Brynn to a raw diet from Big Country Raw, topped with various nutritional supplements. Almost immediately, her pup began to thrive.

Driven by hope and a desire to help other dogs with the same condition, Maureen decided to start an Instagram account to locate some of Brynn’s siblings. Since EPI is genetic, she thought it was possible that others from the some litter had been diagnosed as well. Maureen wasn’t successful in tracking them down, but an unexpected benefit arose from the account – it gave her and Brynn an activity they could enjoy together. They began heading out on adventures, camera in tow, and Maureen started snapping photos of Brynn in various settings and poses, and posting them to Instagram. Brynn took to the camera instantly, and knew almost instinctively where to stand for the “perfect shot”.

Brynn took to the camera instantly, and knew almost instinctively where to stand for the “perfect shot”.

Brynn poses proudly with her limited edition product that raised money and awareness for EPI.

Soon, Brynn’s account took off, garnering the attention of nearly 30,000 fans. As the followers piled in, other opportunities began to fall at Maureen’s feet. “Earlier in 2017, an all-natural pet health company on Instagram approached me to collaborate with them on a limited edition product they wanted to create, to help raise awareness of EPI,” she says. “They created a special formula based on Brynn’s allergies and intolerances called the Brynn Shampoo Bar. They released it for a limited time and donated a portion of the profits to The EPI Foundation.”

Thanks to a raw diet, natural healthcare products and a loving and dedicated “mom”, Brynn is able to take her active life in stride. And she’s loving every minute of it. “EPI never goes away,” says Maureen. “But you would never know she has it because diet and supplements control the symptoms.” Indeed, four years after her diagnosis, Brynn enjoys a full life, free from discomfort — and it’s evident in every one of her photos. Whether she’s promoting a product, swimming, hiking or running errands with her human, the four-year-old German shepherd is a picture of health and happiness.

Meanwhile, as their Instagram account continues to grow – and Brynn continues to thrive – Maureen seizes every opportunity to raise awareness for EPI. In fact, it was the reason they stepped into the line at the Animal Wellness booth during last year’s Woofstock. Life may be full of surprises, but it’s also full of serendipity. “Everything happens for a reason,” says Maureen. “And I love it that Brynn is my reason!”