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Saving our Dog | Pamdemonium
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For the love of Dog, Chapter 2

August 19, 2010

We adopted both of our dogs in New Orleans when they were young adults, about 18 months old, according to their first vet visits. Shadow was first and Pilgrim followed more than a year later. For a decade now, we’ve been a pack of four.

Shaun and I have some gray hair and so do the beasts, though in Pilgrim’s case, the evidence is mostly white, not gray, and concentrated on his snout and paws. Shadow’s once luxurious coat is not as shiny as it was in her prime, but then, neither is my mane.

Time stops for no creature and we knew, eventually, we’d face very difficult decisions. Both dogs are in good health for their age, so we never expected a sudden crossroads in the middle of the night.

Pilgrim and Pam, August 2008

The power over life and death is not something I want. Growing up in northern Minnesota, we went on family fishing trips and I participated in fish death. As a meat-eater, I am aware my choices mean animals die but the many steps between slaughter and supper make the ramifications distant, too much, perhaps. Killing bugs doesn’t bother me; given my allergies to bites, I’d like to kill more. When we had mice out at the country place, we started with sticky traps but then read they caused an inhumane lingering death and even the animal people say snap traps with instant death were more kind. We got rid of sticky and embraced snappy.

Having to deciding whether one of our dogs should die or have expensive surgery with uncertain prospects took the issue to a new and icky level. Pilgrim’s internal injuries were severe – multiple pelvic fractures and a dislocated hip – but externally he looked okay. No blood, no cuts, nothing obviously squished. His reflexes and blood panel checked out.

But Pilgrim was no longer a young pup. He had painful dysplasia in both hips, which is I imagine a bit like living with joints that are a bit dislocated all the time. In the middle of the night, we stalled.

We didn’t know if Pilgrim’s broken insides were a “deal-breaker” or not. The vet at the animal hospital indicated surgery might be possible but would be costly. We wanted our regular vet to weigh in and asked that Pilgrim be shot full of painkillers and made as comfortable as possible. We left about 2 a.m. with instructions to return promptly at 6:30 a.m. because the facility closed at 7.

The animal hospital staff said our regular vet should be open because the offices that were closed had notified them. We put Pilgrim back in the Blazer and drove to our vet. The office was closed.

It was, after all, Monday, July 5 and a public holiday. A note on the door referred us to another veterinarian in Franklin for emergencies. Off we went.

We checked him in and explained that we wanted to talk to our regular vet but it was a holiday. This was a specialty vet practice that serves as an emergency animal hospital but takes referrals from local veterinarians for surgery, cancer treatment and other advanced care. The surgeon was working that day and called us in the afternoon. Pins could reattach Pilgrim’s pelvis and a procedure called a femoral head and neck excision would fix the dislocated hip and possibly mean less pain than before the accident. He was optimistic but would not operate that day even if we gave the word because Pilgrim needed a bit more time to stabilize. We agreed to talk Tuesday morning.

Surgeons like to operate. That’s why they became surgeons. We wanted more information.

Our regular veterinarian is a wonderful, straightforward, no-nonsense type. We reached her early Tuesday morning and she had read Pilgrim’s intake report and preliminary diagnosis. She sort of said it without actually saying it. Pilgrim is an older dog who’s already had mobility issues. Recovery, if possible, could be long, difficult and painful. She believes in quality of life not quantity of life.

After hanging up, we both cried again. Still conflicted, we called a good friend who is a veterinarian and had treated both Pilgrim and Shadow in New Orleans. He was very familiar with Pilgrim’s mobility problems because six months after we brought Pilgrim home, he operated on the red dog to replace a torn ACL with a synthetic version.

If Pilgrim’s other systems were functioning properly, our friend said surgery was a reasonable option. He agreed that Pilgrim might have less pain with his left hip once he was put back together. We wanted a face-to-face meeting with the surgeon.

With medicine all the information in the universe cannot give you the answer you want to the only question that matters: Will it work? We had barely slept. We had gotten a second and a third opinion. We had been up and down, sobbing and stoic. It wasn’t even noon.

The surgeon explained the procedures. We asked about recovery time. “I’ve had dogs get up and walk after three days,” he said. When would the surgery take place, we asked. This afternoon, he said.

Shaun and I looked at each other. “Do it,” we told him.



Rob August 19, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Good stuff from a tough time. Thank you for letting us in.

admin August 24, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Belated thanks. The red dog has his mojo back. Working on Chapter 3 tonight. Woof.

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