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Monday, December 5, 2011

Hard to keep a good Lab down

My black Labrador Disney -- wearing a cone
because of her knee surgery -- lays in the yard.
Disney poses for a photo after getting a bath
months before her knee surgery.

For the past eight weeks, my wife Sharon and I have been health care workers. But we weren’t providing care to an ill child, or comfort to a relative. No, our patient has been our 10-year-old black Labrador, Disney.

In early October, Sharon and I were walking our two dogs when Disney lunged toward a pack of dogs that was being walked on the other side of the street and suddenly started limping on her right rear leg. Naturally, we were at the farthest point from our house, so I walked back home with the other dog to get the car to return and pick up Sharon and Disney.

The next day I took Disney to the vet. The diagnosis was a cruciate ligament tear. I was surprised, but apparently this injury is very common among Labradors, especially aging ones.

A few days later Disney had an appointment with an orthopedic specialist, who confirmed the diagnosis and set up a time for surgery to fix “the football injury,” as he called it. The surgery went well, but the doctor also found severe arthritis in the knee. I felt a little sad when Disney was brought out wearing a plastic cone around her head to keep her from picking at her sutures and with her right hind quarter shaved.

We received a long list of discharge instructions to help Disney in her recovery, among them changing her diet, limiting walks to “elimination” only, and keeping her confined — for 8 weeks!!!

That last one was going to be a little difficult for a dog that has had the run of the house for the past 10 years. The surgeon wanted us to keep Disney in a room about the size of a doctor’s examination room. But living in a two-story townhome, there are no small rooms on the first floor.

So we had to make do. We have some paneling in the basement, so we used a piece or two as a divider between the living and dining rooms. And to aid the “elimination” process, my dad built a ramp out of plywood to put on the deck so Disney could avoid using the steps.

For the first week of Disney’s recovery, I slept on a couch in the living room. No, I wasn’t in the dog house. But Sharon and I agreed that was probably best to keep Disney from whimpering. The patient also needed pain medication three times a day, and one of those times was usually around 2 a.m. — or whenever I woke up in the middle of the night.

But after that first week we needed another confinement plan. Disney learned that by using her cone, she could move the paneling and walk around downstairs. So we borrowed some baby fencing from our oldest daughter and set up a small pen for Disney in the dining room.

Her recovery was going well. Two weeks after the procedure, she returned to the surgeon to get the sutures out and lose the “cone of shame.”

But free of the cone, Disney was again using her ingenuity to get out of her confinement. She realized that if she put her nose on the floor, she could lift the pen and crawl underneath. It was a bit surprising to come home from work some nights and see that Disney had escaped. This happened so many times, we called her “HouDisney.”

I know she didn’t understand why she had to be confined, and probably thought she was being punished. But it’s not like I could talk to the patient and tell her about the recovery process.

Another two weeks passed quietly and a first set of X-rays on the repaired knee showed good progress. But then the surgeon said something that caused me a lot of angst: because her knee was healing, Disney would want to be more active and therefore her confinement had to be more strict.
He wasn’t kidding. The past four weeks have not been easy.

We used dining room chairs as clamps to keep Disney from getting out of the makeshift pen, but that didn’t stop her. She still managed to escape a few times. The issue was especially bad when we went to bed and Disney had to stay downstairs. For a couple nights in a row, we could hear the rustling of Disney trying to get out.

In one instance, Sharon went downstairs to scold Disney and saw her trying to CLIMB out of the pen. That was the last straw. So at 10:30 on this particular night, we were at Walmart buying a crate for our ornery patient. Disney didn’t like being crated, but we had to keep her as confined as possible. So close to the end of her recovery, we didn’t want her to screw up the surgery.

Being the stubborn old lady that she is, Disney hasn’t gone in the crate willingly. We’ve had to put a leash on her, then walk her into the crate. But she gets something out of it, because the only way Sharon or I could get her to move was when we said “treat.”

Disney’s final X-rays were scheduled for Saturday. To be honest, when we’ve been home we haven’t kept her totally confined. On Thanksgiving, she was walking around a lot as we entertained a house full of people, and she’s also climbed the stairs once or twice over the past 10 days.

She seems to be recovering nicely. Disney’s moving around about as well as she did before her injury — with a slight limp — so I expect the X-rays to show she is nearly healed. And based on inquiries from our neighbors, Disney’s been missed my many.

Our work isn’t done, however. Next are weeks of rehabilitation as we have to build up the strength in Disney’s injured leg. I only hope the rehab process is a little less aggravating than her recovery.

Mike Spohn is The Mercury’s Sunday editor. You can e-mail him at, or follow him on Twitter @Merc_Mike.

1 comment:

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