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2012-12-12 / Columnists

Pets pets pets

All-stitched-up-but-notready to-go, two Last Hope dogs shared turkey scraps on Thanksgiving Day while convalescing from orthopedic surgery. Their cages were near each other in the recovery room at NY Veterinary Specialty Center. Although Cisco, the Hound/Pit mix, and Wendy, the Aussie, come from two different worlds, their fates intertwined briefly. Here are their stories:

Cisco, a brindle Pit mix pup, about eight to ten months, with the saddest eyes you’ll ever see, was hit by a car in Copiague last August. Babylon Town Shelter responded to the call about an injured dog, and took him to NY Vet the same day. X-rays revealed a tricky fracture of the right rear femur, and the shelter gave permission for surgery.

Stop. Hold the presses! Yes, nowadays LI Town shelters do provide emergency medical care, and sometimes surgery, for strays with favorable prognoses, while contracted hospitals do work with the shelters to hold the price down, but orthopedic cases that become as extensive as Cisco’s are rare. Most Town shelters have both non-profit and municipal veterinary funds, so shelter directors must justify how they use these limited resources, especially taxpayers’ money.

The specialist put a pin in Cisco’s leg and then placed him in a splint. He stayed at the hospital a few weeks to heal. When Cisco seemed reluctant to put weight on the leg, new x-rays showed the pin wasn’t holding so a plate was inserted into Cisco’s leg during a second surgery.

He went back to the shelter two weeks later. After more xrays and his neutering, I took Cisco to Last Hope in Wantagh, thinking he would recover better in our small setting and, maybe, after seeing those sad-sack eyes, a Last Hope volunteer would want to foster him….which is exactly what happened.

Soon after, Mom, Dad and two great kids, a lovely volunteer family from Massapequa took Cisco home as a foster dog. He also has a Bichon buddy. He bonded to them immediately, especially his foster Mom whom he shadows. All play is supervised. Whenever dogs have orthopedic work, caretakers are faced with the daunting task of holding activity to a minimum, so not to re-injure the repair. As the dog, especially a goofy puppy, begins to feel better, this task becomes more difficult.

Cisco is so loved in his foster home. Mobility progress had been slow but steady over the last months. About a week before Thanksgiving, he came inside and was no longer putting weight on his leg. More x-rays (are you counting them?) determined that the plate had cracked. He would need another surgery to replace it.

The third operation turned out to be more involved than expected, and after close to six hours, two specialists inserted two plates. Cisco is making a remarkable recovery. His foster family is being extra vigilant, because in the crucial first weeks, sheer exuberance could hurt the leg again. We want to see Cisco run and play. Just, not yet.

Wendy was only supposed to be a home check. A video of this pretty Aussie was posted on the West Virginia rescue network when she arrived at the pound with a limp which would be a death sentence there. The local rescue set up a Chip-in to raise money for her x-rays, and then pulled her from the pound, stashing her in the only available spot- a horse barn. She escaped euthanasia, plus the hay would cushion her falls. “Good, someone else is going to take care of her,” were my famous last words.

In early October, Debra from the same WV rescue asked me to do a home check, and perhaps be the back-up rescue for a potential adoption to a family in N. Massapequa. Small world. The dog turned out to be Wendy. The LI family had applied for her on Petfinder. She reminded them of their dog who had recently died of old age. In her younger days, she had two orthopedic surgeries. They were even willing to pay for the hip operation that the WV doctor said Wendy needed. Homes like this are one in a million!

Before meeting the prospective owners, I asked for Wendy’s x-rays so I could show them to my vet. This is where the plot thickens. My vet felt that Wendy’s hips were OK, and that her knees were more of a problem. He sent the films upstate to a Cornell radiology group who agreed with him, meaning that the hip surgery planned in WV, where the ball is cut off the end of the bone, could cripple Wendy. In good conscience, I couldn’t allow people I had not met yet to pay for the wrong surgery on a dog none of us on LI had met yet.

The LI family turned out to be wonderful. We knew that surgery by an orthopedist in NY would be more costly than surgery by a general practice vet in WV. They wanted the best for Wendy too. Plan B was to bring her to LI as a Last Hope dog, have my vet examine her and then get a consult from the specialist (Cisco’s surgeon). The family would share the cost of the surgery with Last Hope.

We hadn’t figured the storm into the Wendy equation. Last Hope picked Wendy up from the transport the final night of pre-Sandy civilization. Then without power or even gasoline, regular life was put on hold. Wendy’s consult and surgery were delayed several weeks. Finally, the LI specialist confirmed that Wendy’s hips were not the issue; instead she required luxating patella (knee) repair.

Cisco had his marathon surgery Tuesday; Wendy had her knee operation the next day. They spent Thanksgiving together at the hospital. Wendy (now “Bonnie”) went to her new home upon discharge. She’s settling in nicely, and like Cisco, thriving with so much TLC.

However, something else is amiss. Wendy’s new dad said one day her E-collar blocked her view. She thought she was home alone, and let out a strange, mournful cry. He played a recording for me over the phone. It sounded like one of those Fisher- Price toys that teach farm animal sounds. Wendy let out a long MOO. Did she learn how to mimic a dairy cow when left alone in the WV barn?

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