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Willow the Wonder Dog: Caution, high Sap content [Nov. 6th, 2007|08:04 am]
I just made an appointment with the vet to take Willow in -- time for some vaccinations, to deal with her spay incontinence and generally get a game plan for her next couple of years: the bad disk in her back, her teeth, her collapsed metatarsal. "Willow?" the receptionist asked, "Gosh, we really didn't think she'd be back."

This vet is not our local vet, but one of the country's top greyhound/orthopedic guys and he's all the way out in Wheeling, WV. (When making the first appointment and asking for directions, after telling her where I was coming from, the receptionist said "Well, we're you're first exit once you leave Ohio." And for a minute I didn't know what was more appalling, that she thought that Ohio was between here and West Virginia, or that I was going to be driving damn near to Ohio to go to a vet!)

But we'd exhausted our local possibilities. My vet was baffled by deterioration in her metatarsal (it's not her ankle/wrist, technically speaking, but that's what a layman would call it, in terms of geographical relationship to the ground) that was unexplainable. X-rays showed that it was being eaten away but he didn't think it was cancer. So off to a local orthopedic surgeon. Who didn't think it was cancer either, but suggested that we open up the joint and see what was going on, although that would mean a cast. He seemed to think it was either a subtle cancer or a traumatic injury that could be fixed by fusing the ankle.

But I'm already leery of the guy, since he walked out into the waiting room and said "Oh, look at the way she's laying with her leg like that, she's really hurting." And really, she was just laying in that splayed, very normal greyhound manner that looks normal ONLY to people who know greyhounds.

And when someone leaps right onto surgery as an option for a mystery illness without calling for less invasive tests first -- tick panels, biopsies, MRI, cultures...my spider senses were on high alert. Don't get me wrong -- this guy has a rep for being a mechanical genius and if I needed a dog leg reassembled, after a tragic accident, I'd go back. But knife and pins are how he solves problems and I just didn't feel that should be our first thought. Greyhounds don't do well in casts at all. And I knew she had a bad disc in her spine. When I said to him "But I'm worried that she's not sound in hind end and that taking her off of a front leg will make the hind end much worse." And the deal-killer, his answer was "Oh, I'm not worried about the hind end."

So, I asked for the x-rays to take home, said I'd think about it and went home and cried myself sick.

But with my attention span and compulsion to solve problems, I could only wallow for so long. And got some referrals -- one to this vet in Wheeling. And figured, okay, five hours is a long way to travel one-way, for a vet appointment. But if I'm going run up another huge vet bill, it might as well be the best I can get.

And it was -- oh, it wasn't simple and we may well have never diagnosed it correctly in retrospect. A combination of chemo drugs and prednisone eventually suppressed the immune disorder that was eating away at her bones. Or maybe they didn't and it was the near non-stop antibiotics we had to give to take care of the myriad of secondary infections she got taking the immunosuppressants. And along the way, hundreds of dollars of medications and several very expensive emergency room visits. And rides out to Wheeling, crying the whole way, thinking that this would be it. The trip she wouldn't come home from. And eventually, while she was still able to walk, the drugs were taking a toll -- her belly all swollen, muscles atrophied, near bald and we were in a race to see what would kill her first. The last time I had her out there, the x-rays showed that the joint had stopped deteriorating, but that the ligaments had pulled away, collapsing the joint at an angle and even if she could survive surgery to repair it, there was nothing really to re-attach them to. The vet said "Honey, she's looking old. And when a greyhound looks old..." and we went home, the clock winding down.

And then the clock exploded in a shower of blood and vomit in the middle of the night, when the prednisone finally tore her stomach lining right out. And I had to decide to let her go then, or try withholding the pred and see if she would recover, but of course ,the bone-dissolution would be back. So we took her down to a bare minimum dose and sure, enough, she seemed to recover enough to come home. And I kept waiting for the limping to get worse, drawing lines in the sand -- okay, the day she can't get up the stairs on her own, that'll be the day. The day she can't stand up without my help, that'll be the day. The day we can't walk around the block, that'll be the...I've mentally buried this dog a thousand times -- when she'd stumble, struggle up the stairs or out of her bed.

And the guilt -- after a weekend at the dogsitter's, who doesn't have stairs, and Willow would be walking better than ever, and perky -- I'd think "oh, if only I had a one level house, she'd be so much happier." Until the dogsitter confessed that she wasn't able to give Willow her medications. (Willow is an expert "cheeker"; you'd think she spend significant time on the adolescent ward in a psychiatric facility.) So, I held my breath and stopped the meds, again, freaking out with every stumble, every bad day, every....

But after a couple of weeks, she was fine. Better even. A year later, she'd gained muscle tone, grew back her hair, seemed to just feel better. Two years later she runs around the yard; is running short distances after the lure during our shows. Oh, she looks funny, running on the side of her ankle, which sort of collapsed and fused. And I hold my breath, knowing that any kind of major injury for her will probably be it -- that disc in her spine is only going to get worse and she can't afford to put any more weight on the hind end or the bad front one than she already is. But I won't stop her from doing what makes her happy.

So, I'm heading out to WV, two years after what we all thought would be the last trip out there. Sure, I really do want to get a thorough check-up from the man who understands her condition the best -- but truthfully, it's as much a victory lap as anything else.

[User Picture]From: chellebelle74
2007-11-06 01:59 pm (UTC)
Holy Wow. Willow truly is the Wonder Dog. Both of you deserve that victory lap for what the two of you have made it through.

And see, now you've proven that you can not only make me laugh hysterically, you can make me cry too. Give sweet Willow a hug from me, 'kay?
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From: dragonsdagger
2007-11-06 05:13 pm (UTC)


You, my dear, are a genius (and though cynical) a true example of a whole-hearted, intelligent, loving humanitarian.

Seriously, the world could do better if a few people looked to you for an example.

Thank you and good luck to Willow. She is in the best of hands, yours.
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[User Picture]From: ferlonda
2007-11-06 05:55 pm (UTC)
When I die, if I come back as a greyhound, can I live with you?

Willow is a very lucky dog!
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[User Picture]From: pyllgrum
2007-11-06 06:18 pm (UTC)
And you said you're not writing for a living because???

Eloquent and heart touching.
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[User Picture]From: 67_charger
2007-11-06 09:16 pm (UTC)



I have to give you kudos for taking such great care of Willow. I agree, I want to come back as one of your pets.

I'm sure you will keep us updated. If you need help, give a holler. I'm certain that I'm not the only one who would show up.

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[User Picture]From: stonethrow
2007-11-06 10:34 pm (UTC)

Give me a call if you need to talk.
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