When A Pooch Tears Up A Knee

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - July 15, 2009
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Lucy and Rufus in a quiet moment at home

Some longtime Coffee Break readers may recall my column about the dogs in my life, from black cocker Ribbons, to oversized Sheltie Prince, to Hawaiian poi pups Boats and Buddy, to the present yellow Labmix siblings Rufus and Lucy. To me, all the dogs in my family have been ... well, family.

I’m sure many of you can relate to that. Daughter Kim acquired yellow Lab Lacy while at San Jose State, and after graduation brought her to Hawaii, quarantine and all.

Ultimately, Lacy begot Maile, Maile begot Jasmine, and Jasmine begot Rufus and Lucy, so there is family history here as well.

Rufus and Lucy are the result of an illicit Round Top tryst for which Jasmine was really too old. She lost four of the eight pups and couldn’t nurse the surviving four. And worse yet - tsk tsk - their father is ... anonymous.

Circumstances left it to Susan and me to nurse the 4-day-old foursome with baby bottles every four hours, teach them to poop and pee with gentle wet finger massages, and cheer for opening eyes. In other words, Rufus and Lucy think we are their mama. To this day - nearly nine years later - they still zone out while “nursing” on their furry suckie toys, perhaps dreaming of something they never had.

Their respective personalities are so typically “he” and “she.” Rufus: “duh ta duh ta duh think I’ll flop down right here ... ooh - almost got that fly ... mmm, seems like it oughta be chow time!” Lucy: “I’d better keep an eye on the driveway in case I need to bark ... Rufus, you better stop that, you’re gonna get us both in trouble!” There is an extraordinary bond between us and our dogs. I can almost read their minds, and they mine.

In early May, Lucy tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee (stifle joint). The dogs always jumped easily in and out of the back of the SUV, but this one time, in her eagerness to “go,” she was off center and fell back onto the pavement, coming up with a limp - a sure sign of pain - that wouldn’t go away. X-rays confirmed the torn ACL and the need for surgery.

The options were: 1) a relatively simple and less expensive replacement of the ligament by lacing fishing line through holes drilled into the upper and lower bones of her leg, usually adequate for smaller dogs, or 2) a more complex and more expensive procedure called tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO).

Unlike the human knee, a dog’s upper and lower leg bones don’t line up vertically, with the upper resting upon the lower. They come together at an angle, with the ACL bearing most of the weight on the joint. With a TPLO, recommended

for larger dogs, the ACL is replaced, but also a flat surface is cut into the top of the lower bone (tibia) for the upper bone to actually rest upon. Hardware and screws reinforce the area around the “plateau.” Once healed, it provides the best chance for nearly full recovery. We chose the TPLO.

Rufus missed Lucy terribly during her four-day absence, but was flustered upon her return by the smells of the ordeal and her big funnel collar. But she’s six weeks out now. She still has some discomfort but limping less each day, and friskier all the time. She and Rufus are back to their playful norms and are grooming one another like a couple of cats. The key to recovery now is keeping Lucy restrained with leash walks only and no rambunctious play for a few more weeks.

And now we use a dog ramp for the SUV. Oh yeah, the cost. The bill looked like something from Queen’s, with a litany of separate charges like IVs, anesthesia, warming unit, electric monitor, the surgery specialist, intensive care, three days of cage occupancy and, of course, a “biohazard” fee.

The total was only about as much as for a month-long vacation for two in Bali, or for the car you’d send your kid off to college in!

But whaddaya gonna do? It’s family, right?

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