Traveling Dog Lady: Caring for Ctitters - Life on 3 legs

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Caring for Ctitters - Life on 3 legs

As mentioned in my most recent post, we are pleased and honored to participate in the Caring for Critters Round Robin, hosted by Jodi at Heart Like A Dog. How it works is, each participating blogger writes about their own experience with a medical condition, injury, disease or illness.  Then, the blogger "passes the baton" to the next, sort of like a relay race in words, online!  Yesterday, Sue Oakes at The Golden Life told us about her pack's digestive issues and how each one presented its own challenge before they were able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.   I'll be passing the baton to Kelsie at It's Dog Or Nothing (don't you love that name!?  Actually, I love all the names of the various blogs involved.  A lot of clever critters out there in the blogosphere!).  

Today, I'll be writing about our personal experience with amputation of a pet's limb due to injury.  In short, it's not so bad!

Our dog, Cooper, wasn't part of our family when he injured, and subsequently lost, his right, front limb.  He's the littermate of Charlie Brown, whom we adopted first.  Cooper was with his original adopters when, at about eight months of age, he somehow injured his right, front leg.  We do not know how he sustained the injury -- that information was either unknown, or withheld, but it appeared to have been a crush injury that could not be successfully repaired. Unable to afford the expense of the medical care, the well-meaning family confined the puppy to a crate for several weeks,  and eventually returned him to rescue when it became clear that the scope and expense of the medical concerns for Cooper would be out of their reach.  That's where we came in!  Rescue sent out an "APB" to all the other littermates' parents asking if anyone wanted a brother with a messed up leg. Of course, we got all wrapped up in the drama, and several friends suggested I'd be nuts if I didn't adopt him (and equally nuts if I DID!).   True to form, and always up for a challenge, we chose the former.

Cooper, with four legs; pre-amputation.

It was not to be our decision whether to attempt repair, or amputate.  That would be up to rescue, who was the owner of record of the dog at the time, because the family had surrendered him back to the rescue agency.  After extensive testing and opinions, it was decided that the only repair possible would have been "experimental" and ill-advised. To use the vet's own words, "I wouldn't put my own dog through that."

Even though we had known other tripawd pets, and knew they were able to get around just fine, we didn't want this very young dog (now 10 months old) to have to go through amputation and living on three legs for the rest of his life.  But, like I said, it wasn't our decision.  The surgery was planned, and a donation campaign began.  We donated a portion toward the cost ourselves, thus reducing the eventual adoption fee we paid in the end. The surgery was performed in mid-August, after all the donations had come in, and about two weeks later, Cooper came home to live with us.  I had gone to meet him, with his brother, Charlie, when Cooper still had four legs (one useless and dragging around on the floor); and then met him again after surgery.  

A pile of puppies... Charlie in the middle, on the left (with slightly darker markings)
and Cooper (the so-called runt of the litter) on top of everyone!

The treatment was basically quite simple.  Amputate the leg, rest, recover, enjoy the rest of your life. And that is pretty much how it went.  Cooper lived with his original foster mom during the 10-day recovery phase.  We humans were all worried about the amputation, and foster mom was able to observe him in the recovery room using a web-cam that the vet had set up!  She shared still photos with us by email and Facebook.  Cooper did astonishingly well that first night, and then went home to the foster house, where he promptly jumped up on the bed with his canine foster sister!  The worst part was trying to keep this puppy inactive so the stitches did not get disturbed.  After all, he had been dragging around a useless leg for such a long time, it was probably a relief to be rid of it, in his mind.

Cooper was on Tramadol for about a month, and the wound healed nicely and there is now no sign that anything happened.  In fact, it takes most new people a few minutes (sometimes longer) to realize that he has a missing leg!  He was not tired, lethargic or sad.  There was no change in his spirit or even his activity level.  He simply moved on with his life and didn't look back.  Cooper truly lives in the moment.  He can chase a ball just as fast as his brother, sometimes faster.  He jumps onto and down from the bed, furniture, picnic tables (his favorite) and is Chief Counter Surfer.  He can jump into my car if the driver's side window is all the way down, from a seated position on the ground -- like a cat!  When we go to our birthday reunion parties on the beach in Gloucester, Mass. he runs so much I have to put a leash on him to make him take a rest.  He tends to "slam" the remaining left leg a little too much.  That being said, he is all muscle, and loves to chase his brother around the back yard at super-high-speed!

Cooper in the car.  "Let's go, Mom!"

Taking a break on Good Harbor Beach, with his sister's tennis ball!

If I had to make the choice whether or not to amputate on another pet, I am not sure we would do it again.  It depends on the situation, type of injury (cancer is the main reason dogs have legs amputated, not injury).  Shortly after Cooper's amputation, people began developing prostheses for canines.  Cooper cannot have a prosthetic limb because there is no remaining bone to attach it to.  If we had to do it all again, I would consider leaving some bone available to utilize a prosthetic.  But honestly, the worry about his spirit being broken, and his activity level being compromised was just human b.s. worry, and nothing more.  It was all for nothing.  If you are ever faced with the conundrum of amputating a pet's limb, just remember, take it from Cooper, it's not so bad.

Be sure to check out ALL of the Caring For Critters posts, here!


  1. Amputation doesn't seem too bad, although it does sound like a bit of a shock... I remember we had a young kitten patient with a very badly maimed leg. The vet tried to fix surgically with metal pins in her arm. The hardware for the whole thing made her look like terminator kitty and for weeks she wore this stuff. In the end, it wasn't working out like it should have and her arm was amputated.

    1. That's what they were probably going to do with Cooper... the "experimental" solution they were considering. Amputation isn't great, but it's not the end of the world for a pet, either. There are some things he shouldn't do (but he does them anyway) and I can't take him for a long walk or anything, which is a bummer, but otherwise he leads a relatively normal life. He's such a great dog, even after everything he has been through. :)

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post about Cooper. What a special boy he is. I can't imagine having to make that decision myself. I suppose it would depend on the injury/illness as well as the age of the dog.

    Dogs are amazing. I love how they live in the moment and don't know the words, "I can't." If we could all learn that one thing from them, what a wonderful world it would be.

    It seems like he hit the jack pot when he wound up with you. Funny thing, Delilah can jump from a sitting position just like a cat too!!

    1. Aw, thanks for the kind words! I was afraid it was too lengthy, or such a touchy subject it might upset folks. On the other hand, when we were faced with the dilemma, it was great to hear from others who had been through it (such as on the website).

      He hit the jackpot, and so did we. He's our little "comfort dog". He loves to snuggle up to us when one of us isn't feeling well, and he always snuggles with Hobie -- my two handicapped dogs ha ha (don't tell THEM!).

      Oh that is too funny about Delilah! I never saw a dog do that before, it's hilarious!

  3. Hi Kathy! I'm not sure how I would react at first; but I know that if any of my girls needed to have a limb amputated due to cancer, I would do it in a heartbeat. Dogs are much more resilient than most people I've known and learn to adapt. My Shadow's littermate had one of her legs amputated due to osteosarcoma. Early this past summer, she passed away but not because the cancer had returned. She had developed acute renal failure due to all the arthritis meds she had been taking.

    1. Oh wow, that's sad. We recently stopped giving Hobie Tramadol (prescribed for both arthritis and a herniated disk)... he was getting sick every two weeks and all tests came back normal. This last time, about 3 weeks ago, he was so sick he couldn't keep the meds down. Once he went without it for 3 days, I started to notice that he seemed more lively and spunkier. He's now been off it for 3 weeks, no "sick" episode since, and yeah he is probably in a little pain but he seems much more energetic and interested in life. I think he was all drugged up. Sometimes we have to go with our instincts and realize the risks of the meds may not necessarily outweigh the benefits (or vice-versa!).


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