A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE – When Bad Things Happen to Good Dog Owners

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‘Twas a few weeks before Christmas, and all through the house,

The Miller family was heading for bed, including the spouse.

I carried Scooter upstairs with care,

Because his tiny Pom legs can’t carry him there.

I returned downstairs for the rest of the crew,

Knowing they wanted to go to bed too.

When up in the bedroom there arose such a clatter,

I sprang up the stairs to see what was the matter…

Okay, my feeble poetry breaks down here – I’ll have to continue in prose. The “clatter” was husband Paul, hammering on a wooden box we were turning into a bed for Dubhy, our Scottie – followed by a yelp from sound-sensitive Scooter as he was startled into flying off the bed. I scooped him up and carried him downstairs so Paul could finish without further Pomeranian trauma. As I sat on the bottom step, waiting, I moved one of the stress-panting little dog’s hind legs and he yelped again. My heart sank. This wasn’t just fear, this was pain.

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When the hammering stopped I carried Scooter back upstairs and set him on the floor. He was on three legs, his right hind leg held far off the ground. My heart sank further as “ACL” leapt into my brain. We’ve been through two TPLOs (Tibial Plateau-Leveling Osteotomies) in past years for torn anterior cruciate ligaments with other dogs, and I knew the cost for surgery runs several thousand dollars, not to mention the extensive follow-up care.

Scooter’s eyes were wide and he was panting heavily. We knew he was in significant pain. We discussed the emergency clinic but his leg didn’t feel broken, so we settled on a dose of Rimadyl and a trip to our regular vet first thing in the morning.

Following a restless, sleepless night for Scooter and me, Dr. Doering suggested two days of pain meds and muscle relaxant. If he was no better, then radiographs. Three days later we were back for x-rays. I reluctantly left Scooter with the tech, and went home to wait for the phone call.

“It’s not his ACL,” the vet’s informed me on the phone a few hours later, “It’s a luxated patella. We’ll refer you to an orthopedic surgeon in Frederick”

I had a brief chat with her when I arrived at the clinic to pick up my little dog. Cost of surgery, she said, probably $1500 to $2000. In answer to my hopeful question, she replied that luxated patellas rarely resolve themselves, and if it hadn’t done so by now…

She left. The tech brought Scooter out and set him on the floor… and… miracle of miracles – he walked on all four legs – as if nothing had ever happened! Tears in my eyes, I stared in amazement. Somehow her manipulations while he was sedated must have popped his knee joint back into place. I sent the tech back to tell the vet, who said to keep him on pain meds and restricted activity for a week, and if it holds – you’re just lucky.

It’s been two weeks now, and he’s bouncing around as if nothing ever happened. I’m still beating myself up for putting Scooter on the bed, knowing Paul was going to hammer Dubhy’s bed box. I should have known better. Paul says he should have known better. But, I remind myself, stuff happens. No matter how much we try to wrap them in cotton wool and keep them safe, bad stuff still happens to good owners – and their dogs – from time to time.

We’re lucky. Scooter seems to have fully recovered with minimal intervention. Sometimes when bad things happen to good dog owners the outcome is much worse. And we always blame ourselves.

Accidents happen. That’s why they’re called accidents. All our dogs ask of us is that we use reasonable care to protect them, and we learn from our mistakes. We are, after all, only human. If something bad happens to your dog, be gentle with yourself. Forgive yourself. Your dog forgives you. I’ve almost succeeded in forgiving myself for Scooter’s bed leap, and I know he’s forgiven us. His amazing recovery is our Christmas miracle. My holiday wish for you is that any and all of the “bad things” that might ever happen to you as a good dog owner end just as happily.

Warm Woofs and Happy Howl-idays,

Pat Miller

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WDJ's Training Editor Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.

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