Knowing When to Quit
Laurie's post about her dog Boscoe's reaction to injury has inspired me to write about the diametric opposite.
In our past life in the suburbs of Chicago, our dogs favourite place was the East Branch Forest Preserve dog park. It's a huge park originally intended for the training of gun dogs, so it has a nice big lake in the middle. It also has hills and brush and long fields for chasing. I imagine it's not far off from doggie heaven, perhaps great mountains of dog treats and trees made of hamburger are the only things that are missing.
Kodiak and Caper loved the park. Caper had this fantastic way of bolting off the leash and cavorting like a kangaroo. I'd never seen a dog spring around the way he did. While Kodiak spent most of his time trying to be the boss of passing dogs, Caper bounced and raced around. Caper enjoyed the park so much that he'd slink off when he knew we were getting close to the parking lot and would refuse to come when called. When we'd finally get him re-leashed and out to the car, he'd sulk – he'd plant his butt on the ground, hunch his shoulders and refuse to move. Peter usually had to pick him up and put him in the car.
One of Peter's co-workers had a dog about Caper's age, so they decided to arrange a puppy play-date at the park. Murray's some sort of lab mix and he matched Caper in athleticism, although he was probably even faster. Murray and Caper got on very well and were soon just blurs, with Kodiak galumphing along behind him, the thought-bubble above his head screaming "Hey guys, wait for me. I'm the boss of you!"
Murray and Caper quickly engaged is some sort of canine version of tag in which Caper was apparently "It." He was gaining on Murray when the crafty dog made quick turn that Caper couldn't quite match. There followed a spectacular wipeout, with Caper losing his feet out from underneath him, tumbling and twisting until he hit the ground. He was up immediately and back into the game straightaway. It never even occurred to us that he could have been hurt.
We were about two-thirds of the way around the lake when we realised he seemed to be dragging one of his legs. Peter called him over and manipulated the leg, probing for tender points. But it seemed fine. We did notice that Caper had run so hard that the pads of his front paws were scraped and bloody, but still he was tearing around. When we were about three-fourths of the way around the lake, Caper's legs finally gave out from underneath him. We took turns carrying him back to the car.
When we got him home, it was obvious that this wasn't just some simple muscle pull that was going to work itself out shortly. The poor dog literally didn't have a leg to stand on. His front pads were bleeding and his back leg wasn't working so well. Of course it was a Saturday and of course the vet's office had just closed, but we decided we'd better bite the bullet and take him to the emergency vet. (Usually, whenever we went to the emergency vet, the dog in question miraculously healed himself upon entering the $160-a-visit office.)
The vet had him walk up and down the hall and then popped him on the table. Again, there were no obvious tender spots in his leg. The vet, being a trained professional, knew exactly what was wrong. Caper had pinched a nerve in his back –that spectacular wipeout was not without its consequences.
He gave Caper a shot of a muscle relaxant and sent us home with pain pills for the next few days. He also showed us a reflex test to do and if Caper failed the test, it was vital that we get him to a vet immediately or he'd have permanent damage.
We took Caper home and he spent the next three days curled up underneath a heating pad. (Kodiak was so jealous of the attention that I ended up having to cover him with a towel so that he'd feel he was getting equal treatment.)
Caper was Peter's dog and I never felt that I had much in common with him until that day. You see, I too don't know when to quit. I'll run through pain and illness as though my pure stubbornness is all that's required for recovery. The lesson we learned that day was that we couldn't trust Caper to listen to his body and let us know when he was hurt. We'd have to watch him and curtail his activities if it looked like he might have injured himself. I felt bad for Peter – since now he was going to have to keep an eye on both his stubborn wife and his stubborn dog.