Your Bond Will Get Deeper

11 Weeks ago today, Orion flew off the A-Frame with a severe knee injury. My god, this has been a LONG 11 weeks. So much has happened, so many huge life changes all started with that moment in time.

I have learned so much. I learned some new facial expressions that Orion offers when he is in pain, like serious please help me pain. Pupils dilated so his eyes look completely black, facial muscles contorted in a pleading way, body rigid and still, usually ears pressed back, mouth closed tight. I never wanted to see this, I never wanted to learn this but I have. I’m so grateful that he trusts me so much and looks to me when he is hurt, he looks so intently into my eyes with certainty that I will help him, and he is right. I will do anything for him. I’ve learned a lot about canine knees, the anatomy, the angles, how they work mechanically, what x rays of them look like. What surgical options are when they are torn up and how drugs and pain meds work. I’ve learned what Orion is like when he is high, he’s sleepy and glassy and vulnerable. I’ve learned how a dog’s gait looks when knees are compromised, the various ways they can cheat and bear weight on their other 3 limbs if one is injured, especially the forelimbs. How to spot it, even if they are slick about it. I’m still learning about structure, shock absorption, and what to look for in a strong-bodied sport dog, what makes a dog’s body well suited to high impact sporty life. I’m starting to learn in layers about rehab, how to rebuild after injury and surgery, but beyond that how to condition a healthy dog, how to really give them the best fitness possible and how to know what their limits are.

I’ve learned that I love to gather information in a crisis and the more informed I am the better I like it, so I went to multiple surgeons for surgical opinions, multiple specialists for consultations on nutrition, body work, rehab work and pain management. I learned that multiple professionals mean multiple biases, sometimes recommendations that were in harmony and sometimes differing. I had to commit to being the best advocate possible for my dog, when I was super stressed and sad, but my brain stayed on and I sacrificed my well being to make him first priority. I just prioritized him and got to other responsibilities as soon as I could, once he was taken care of. It has finally started to feel okay, 6 weeks post-op.

Then there were the things that I already knew before any of this. I knew Orion could speak clearly to me with his eyes and that he trusts me completely with his whole life. I already knew the awesome responsibility I have, to make choices for him since he is mine. I realized that it is incredibly important in my family to allow my dogs as much choice as possible about everything in their lives, since there are limits to what they have control or influence over, and I think choice is dignity, is joy. I’m not the boss of them but I am responsible for them and that sometimes means I choose for them. I hate it though, sometimes I really hate that they cannot choose. I already knew how much he loves to sing and shout, run and jump, and what a training machine he is. He loves to use his incredible, brilliant mind to problem solve and learn new things. I already knew that he and Loba have a beautiful, very tender relationship and they always have each other’s backs. I already knew that he and I are really tight, and he can rely on me and I can rely on him, we will be a solid team even if things are scary and the stakes are high.

Sometimes people say your bond with your dog will deepen if you go through an injury, surgery and rehab together but it doesn’t feel that way to me. I feel like we have gotten more mileage on the most beautiful and deeply loving relationship ever. I am more sure than ever about him and me, about how well we understand each other, how well we communicate, how deep it goes. It hasn’t increased our bond but it just brought a bright light out and shined it harshly on every aspect of teaming up and doing something awful and painful and life changing together. The result was still the same, we are a team and we love each other beyond how much we can love and then it just continues. This didn’t deepen our bond, it just reaffirmed it. I can’t even believe how awesome it is, I’m so incredibly grateful. So much love for you, small merle giant who fills my heart and life. I fucking love you, little Bro.

 

Support for these times

Can you put us in touch with other people who have been through this? The nice young couple were just getting their first consultation about their dog’s TPLO surgery and they were worried, and they asked the receptionist to connect them with others who had experience. No I cannot share other clients personal information she said, appropriately, I suppose. But really damn, we need to help each other through this. Watching your dog have a serious injury is traumatic, and scary, and it is hard but you do what you have to and get them to the vet, to the specialist, to the surgeon. All the while you are going through all kinds of pain. Personal, financial and professional impacts are immediate, not to mention the heartbreak you go through watching your beloved dog suffer day to day. He can’t walk or stand, he tries to get comfortable to sleep but struggles through the night and gets his feet tangled in blankets then it’s too painful to stand or get out of the blankets. You lose sleep to watch out for him, to make sure he’s comfortable, to keep him safe. You lose your appetite and struggle even to go to work because you really cannot stand leaving him. If you have a multiple dog household now you’re really in trouble, because you will have to walk them all separately, keep them from getting too playful and bumping into the injured one, and still make sure all their needs are met. Your own needs will go to the back burner during the crisis. It’s going to seem like time stands still. You will start counting the days, days from first injury, days until surgical consultation, days until surgery, days until sutures come out. You will struggle with how to safely train and handle your injured dog, how to confine him, how to lower all the furniture so he cannot hurt himself jumping up or down, closing the blinds so he doesn’t run toward the windows barking, confining him in an ex pen or crate and with a cone on. Which cone you use is another puzzle to solve, hard plastic see-through? Soft opaque one? Inflatable? Will you put him in a onesie to keep the sutures safe? You can try all the options and see which ones are most comfortable and keep him from licking at his sutures. The surgery cost thousands of dollars so now is not the time to go soft, you have to make sure it heals nicely without incident. You get a monitor and watch him when you leave the house to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself, to make sure he isn’t screaming and howling from discomfort. Meanwhile you are supposed to keep going to work, taking care of gas, groceries, errands and bills, and taking care of yourself while this huge new crisis is taking over your life. Make sure to reach out to friends because they can help and don’t kid yourself, you need help to get through this. Lets just throw in the possibility that you are a dog trainer and your injured dog used to be your helper in classes and private consultations, so now you have to work without him. Oh also lets just say you were an avid dog sports competitor and when your dog is out of commission you feel this huge loss of that part of your sport, your hobby, your professional life. Competing in dog sports can be a whole lifestyle and the friendships, the constant training, the fun and the ribbons are such a thrill, and an injury takes all of that away. Once the surgery is over you get some discharge instructions and they have little to no information. Administer these medications, take 2 very short walks a day, don’t let him jump or do anything vigorous. These are radical changes to the previously very active life you led on hikes and beaches and trails. It is incredibly isolating, waiting day after day to see if he is feeling better, if he will bear weight on it, if he will poop. You look into your dog’s glassy druggy eyes and cry cry cry knowing it is temporary but it feels like forever and it hurts to see him like this.

We cannot provide diagnosis, treatment or rehab for each other but we really need a support group, to share what it has been like for us, to help normalize what is going on and help each other through it, to comfort each other. Good lord, this is so scary, stressful, and difficult.

I was tidying up tonight in the garage and looked at my agility jumps. There was a brand new spiderweb that stretched from the jumps back to the brick wall. I don’t blame the spider for choosing this location, really this is the perfect place for a spiderweb. it is warm and dry and dark and has great airflow. Angrily I grabbed a weave pole and destroyed the web, then dusted off my poles and jumps with loving care. This is my stuff and it won’t be sitting idle for long, we just need some time to heal, and for the bones to mend, and the tissues to close back up, and the trauma to subside. Please spider, go somewhere else to make your home, this agility equipment won’t be out of commission for long and we will be strong again, we will be back.