arlier this summer my son, Max,
took Sparky on a long walk and noticed our beloved Norwich terrier was limping.
By the time he arrived home, Sparky had
completely retracted his right, hind paw and was walking on three legs.
“Sparky should go to the vet.” Max
“Let’s wait a few days and see if
he gets better.” I reasoned. “Remember the last time he had a limp and it went
Max’s love for his dog knows no
financial limits. “We spent hundreds of dollars at the vet for an issue that
resolved on its own.”
“This time it’s different,” my son
Max called the vet, who told us it
would be safe to observe Sparky a while before we brought him in. The Elisofon
family waited, watched and hoped Sparky’s furry hind quarter would heal.
But two weeks later Sparky still walked with
most of his weight on three legs — much like his nemesis, a three-legged
greyhound next door, whose uneven gait seemed to frighten and annoy him.
Despite the fact that Sparky and the greyhound
now shared a debilitating limp, Sparky had no sympathy.
Instead of friendly barking, or wagging his
stumpy tail as he did with most dogs, Sparky growled and tried an ungainly
leap, with the injured hind leg collapsing as we restrained him.
It was obvious Sparky needed medical
The vet gave us the bad news: Sparky probably had
a torn ACL, but would need an x-ray to confirm it.
The vet prescribed doggie pain killers, rest
and minimal walks.
We were sent off to
wait, watch and hope for another week or two.
Occasionally, the vet said, these injuries heal enough on their own,
sparing dogs and their owners the pain and expense of surgery.
Back at home we administered the
pain pills, carefully disguised as treats.
Although Sparky has a voracious appetite and
tries to devour dead pigeons, face cream, and bubble gum indiscriminately, he
was spitting out the pills unless we covered them in peanut butter.
But Sparky still limped.
Our terrier seemed especially pathetic when rising
from his nap like a stiff, arthritic old man.
With the help of the pain killers, Sparky improved enough to walk on all
But he could no longer jump onto
our bed—and more heart-breaking— he had stopped trying.
He mostly lay on his doggie bed and looked up
at us with sad, soulful eyes.
Despite his inactivity, Sparky’s appetite continued to be enormous.
In fact, it seemed like our 11 year old
terrier was crying for his food earlier each day, as though maybe we were
running an early bird special.
alarm clock, Sparky whined for his meals half an hour before his usual 8AM/8PM
But no matter how much he howled or nudged us
with his furry, red paws, we would not be bamboozled into feeding him earlier
than 7AM and 7PM.
Even Max’s sympathy
for Sparky did not extend to sleep deprivation.
Finally, our son brought Sparky back
to the vet, who suggested an x-ray and offered a referral to a doggie
orthopedic surgeon. “Are you sure we need to do the x ray?”
Max was becoming savvy about vet bills.
turned out, Max was right and Sparky never needed an x-ray.
doggie orthopedic surgeon examined our strawberry blond terrier and immediately declared that he would need surgery
for his torn
you know for sure without an x ray?” I wanted more certainty.
What sane human would agree to have
orthopedic surgery without an x ray and an explanation?
dozens of dogs with this injury every week,” the orthopedic vet explained
“Sometimes I need an x ray if I’m not sure. But
with Sparky it’s obvious.
you’d like, I’ll be happy to
much additional testing as you’d like….”
won’t be necessary. Is it possible Sparky could still heal on his own?” I
not,” the vet answered.
If we decided to go ahead with the surgery, it
would cost about $3000.
happens if we don’t do the surgery?” Max asked.
dog never will walk properly again.
addition, he’ll develop arthritis as he ages.
Further, there’s also a good chance Sparky will tear his other ACL
because he’ll be favoring that leg.”
Is that too old for a dog to have
surgery?” I wondered aloud.
some quick calculations. Norwich terriers—like other small breeds—can live to
be 16 or 17.
The doggie surgeon assured
us that Sparky was in good health and had plenty of life ahead of him. Our family
mascot would enjoy his remaining years a lot more with 4 healthy legs and without
Besides Sparky had no empathy for disabled
canines, judging from his response to the 3 legged greyhound next door. How
unhappy would Sparky feel if he had to hobble around for 5 years?
We wanted Sparky to have a good quality of
life, but the surgery was expensive. The Elisofon family
had to consider the budget our
four humans were living on, and what we would
to sacrifice to pay for Sparky’s surgery.
and Max were strongly in favor of surgery.
I was less enthusiastic.
responsibility,” I told Max.
“If Dad is willing to pay for the surgery and you’re willing to be
Florence Nightingale and nurse your baby back to health, go ahead.
You call for the appointment; you drop Sparky
downtown in the hospital at 8:30AM, and then you pick him up the next day.
You’ll have to remember to give Sparky his painkillers
and tie on his cone to make sure he doesn’t lick the wound. Are you prepared
to watch him carefully and prevent him
from jumping up or down and re-injuring himself?
Will you schedule Sparky’s follow up visits
and take him to those appointments?”
agreed to everything, but
I already knew
I’d end up reminding my son to administer the doggie painkillers, make the follow-up vet
appointments, not to mention negotiating my role as back up nurse.
But Sparky had been a loving family member
since Max was 11, and he deserved the best care and quality of life we could
I also figured that taking
care of Sparky through his surgery would help Max learn to appreciate the time
and effort that always goes into nurturing another life.
had the operation five days ago and came home in a fashionable leopard
The damaged tissue around the ACL
and meniscus was successfully removed, and our terrier was stitched up with the
medical equivalent of fishing line. Coming home, Sparky looked like a sad but
adorable piglet, with his pink-skinned hind quarter entirely shaven except for
Max reported that he was a
great favorite with the medical staff.
But they couldn’t believe how much he ate.
things never change.
appetite is one of them.