Monday, April 9, 2012

Doing the right thing.

Anyone who knows me well also knows that I am generally obsessed and often tortured by the need to do the "right thing." For whatever reason, my life has always been driven by a strong moral code (maybe all that guilt from my catholic upbringing) and the imperative that I strive to make honest, moral choices and do what is right especially when it comes to the animals under my guardianship.

As I get older I have found that this creed does not always show you a clear path and what is the "right" thing is not always easy to determine. My current case in point relates to my recent decision to have surgery done on one of my dog's to repair his ACL. I agonized over whether the benefits of the surgery outweighed the the risks and the trauma it would put him through.

Murphy is not your typical dog. He was a very high maintenance rescue that I adopted at 9 months old. He is now 7. When I took Murphy I was pretty much his last chance seeing that I was the 5th home he had had in his 9 months of life. Murphy was very neurotic, insecure, had severe separation anxiety and very little manners. He is either a dobie or rottweiler mix with super high energy and needed a home with land to run and play. It is his exuberance and energy that eventually led to his ACL injury last year. Murphy does everything at full throttle, including playing and running across my property at break neck speed.

It is also this "living large" personality that is making me question whether I have done the right thing and making his recovery a slow and torturous process for both of us. ACL surgery for a dog is very invasive, even more than for its human counterpart, and involves placing screws and plates to stabilize the bones where the ligament no longer functions. In Murphy's case, he had completely ruptured (not that he ever do anything half way) 95% of the ligament which essential left the rest barely attached by a thread and non-functional. The recovery period requires strict confinement for the initial 3 to 4 weeks and then carefully monitored and restricted activity for 2 months after that.

I knew that this would not be easy and that tranquilizers would be the order of the day for a majority of this time, but I had not prepared myself for the reality of how miserable and unhappy Murphy was going to be. Generally they suggest crating the dog, which is not an option for my claustrophobic and nervous boy, so I set up a small 4'x4'x4' - "xpen" type cage in my bedroom with tons of soft bedding. Pretty nice right? Well, not. Murphy is miserable and even as I right this he is whining and crying in the cage which is making me even more unhappy than he is. I wish I could reason with him that it won't be forever and that if he could just chill for a few months that life will get back to normal. Anyone out there that speaks neurotic rescue dog? I am even worried that he is going to compromise the success of the procedure because he won't just lay quietly.

So have I done the right thing? I did not make the decision for surgery lightly not only because of what it would put Murphy through but also because this level of vet specialty does not come cheap. (Nearly $4,500) At the time it seemed that Murphy did not have many other options. I had tried multiple non-invasive therapies like swim rehab, acupuncture, cold laser, and ultraviolet light therapy to name a few. When he became essentially three-legged lame I felt that the only viable option was surgery since I did not want to condemn him to the rest of his life being lame and was not prepared to euthanize him.

But now I am not as sure. Maybe I should have left well enough alone. When he was lame before the surgery he stilled seemed happy as a clam. Horses, at least mine, seem to be easier to deal with inactivity and confinement or at least they hide it better. What do you think? How do you measure "doing the right thing"?


Gayle Carline said...

A year from now, when Murphy's bounding happily across your land again, you'll know you've done the right thing. Right now, it's hard to see the future because dogs live in the moment and the moment is making him unhappy. I have no experience with neurotic rescues, but I think you need to provide plenty of tranquilizers and chew toys. Try to only reward him with attention when he's quiet - yes it's HARD but he might eventually get the idea that Mommy likes a quiet puppy.

In the meantime, you did the right thing. This will pass, but ending such an exuberant dog's life would've left you questioning your choice even more.

Laura Crum said...

Terri--I feel for you. I only have a couple of things to offer. First, I did a similar thing to a very skittery cat who could not take confinement. I had to lock the cat in a closet because kennels freaked him out. The cat was still miserable. But he healed--and he lived to be twenty--the confinemet occurred when he was three. So yeah, it was worthy it. And--you know, worst case, I once rescued (I had to trap) a feral dog who had a broken leg. The leg had been broken for awhile before I was able to trap the dog. We tried, but we could not mend it Eventually I opted to remove the leg. I found a home for this (now) three-legged dog and he lived to a ripe old age. He could run as fast as any dog you ever saw, even though he had three legs. It IS a viable option--though most folks won't tell you that. Terri--hang in there--your dog will be OK. You are trying--and that's what counts.

Anonymous said...

Chew toys, bones, and tranquilizers will be the order of the day, but in no time at all he will be out running around again. As far as the three-legged dog, it is very very common in Australia to see them. They heal quickly and it doesn't slow them down at all. It's a practice I'd love to see in the States more.

horsegenes said...

Maybe tranquilizers for both of you! Just kidding. I do feel for you. The hardest part is knowing that they don't understand and feel we are punishing them. You did the right thing and for now that is what is going to get you through. The wonderful part of it all is that in a few months while he is bombing around the yard, he will have forgotten all about his incarceration and be a one happy dog.

TBDancer said...

My golden doodle had the TPLO surgery on both back legs--Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy. For essentially a year, because each surgery required lengthy recuperation and gradual "return to normal activity," she was a convalescent. Large crate where all the action was so she was in the midst of life at my house but not in jeopardy. On a leash for potty (with a towel I could put under her barrel--think "girth"--so I could help support her while she did her business because she was unable to support herself) and eating, VERY strict PT, etc.

Gayle Carline is correct. Dogs are miserable when they cannot do "their thing," and Blossom LIVED for balls, toys, chasing, playing, and just generally being a "ranch dog," busy at all times. After that year, she was full of herself again, and she lived a very happy and VERY active 9+ years.

Expensive? cough cough. Worth it? Absolutely.

Susan said...

Go down to the grocery store and buy REAL bones. I guarantee you they will help keep him happy. Dogs evolved chewing bones, not chew toys.

Alison said...

And I agree-tranquilizers for YOU! You made a decision, so stop obsessing if it was the right one. Every choice has consequences. If you'd had Murphy put down you would be agonizing over that choice. Lots of good advice here, but the best thing was for you to put it in words so we could tell you that it will be okay! (Just maybe not tomorrow.)

Cassie said...

Oh Terri, this is a really hard one for me. I went through so many surgeries and fixes with Phoenix and it broke my heart. She was calm and sedate about the numerous things we put her through. Now as I have 1 senior citizen (Max) and Manny being 16 I set my surgery limits in age. If anything happens to either one of them no surgery. Max because he is 26 and not for Manny because he is 16 and his mind wouldn't last. But if (God forbid) Finally needed surgery I would do it, he is only 8 and calm as a horse can get. I have full confidence he would come back physically and mentally.
For Murphy, I agree with others give him whatever treat you can, have a glass of wine yourself, and wait it out. He still has many years to come and he will last much longer not in pain. The worst torture in this world is seeing your children in pain, it is heartbreaking. I often get made fun of for being the calm one when someone else's horse gets hurt, but if one of mine has a scratch or comes up lame I fall aprat and call Jolene crying for her to fix them.

Terri Rocovich said...

Thank you all so much for your kind and supportive comments. Murphy had a melt down on Tuesday and fought his was out of the cage on Tuesday and I had to rush hinm back to the hospital thinking all the while that he had blown the pins/plates and that we would have to either redo the surgey or amputate. (Yes I come to the decision that I cannot put him down.) Miraculously he had not undone the surgeon's good work and we decided to up his dosage of tranquilizers. So it is Ace Promazine for him and Grey Goose Lemon Drops for me. We are both doing better and I will take all of your comments to heart as we make it through the net 3 months of rehab.

Laura Crum said...

Terri--If you ever do have to amputate to save his life, do not be too scared of this. I have done it twice, on a cat and dog with unfixable legs--and both animals had an excellent quality of life afterward. I hate to say it, but those two did better than a cat whose badly broken leg I had very carefully and expensively mended. This cat always walked with a limp and never seemed comfortable. The two three-legged critters did great. So, though, I hope you do not have to do this, just don't be too afraid if you do.

RiderWriter said...

I did ACL repair on my darling dog and I know what it's like. Luckily, our English Springer girl is calm and while not a huge fan of her crate, she did tolerate it well. The hardest part for us was the hand-walking; we are all used to being able to open the back door and let her go. She mended beautifully for the first six weeks and then due to an accidental escape, ran too fast and tore her meniscus. That set her back, but long story short, she DID completely recover and now three years later, at age 9, runs and plays as sound as ever. Her knee still makes a "clicking" sound when she runs up stairs, but it doesn't seem to bother her so I'm calling it good! If your boy isn't already on a joint supplement, I recommend getting one. It seems to have helped Sunny.

I wish you both much luck with recovery. This too shall pass! :-)