Saturday, January 4, 2014

Kelso's Christmas Wish

This is Kelso. 

He was found roaming as a stray dog in Harford County, Maryland. He is an unneutered, ear cropped, Cane Corso. Someone bought him from a breeder, spent a few hundred bucks to crop his ears, and no one came to claim him.

Like all stray animals, he was brought to the county shelter to await is parents. In Harford County, MD. he has 5 days, if he doesn't have a county tag, 10 if he sports the county tax mans bauble.

Being a found dog his fate follows a few simple state mandated rules. He is held for three to five business days, which allows his family a chance to find him in the designated animal holding facility. After this time his fate becomes the decision of the Harford County Humane Society manager. Should I ever be sentenced to serve a punishment for crimes against society this is where my worst nightmare job resides. I would rather work on a chain gang or clean stadium urinals for the rest of my days, than be the executioner for a public animal shelter. To have to decide who lives, who dies, and have the pressure to keep "available kennel space" at all times for the unpredictable but inevitable influx of surrendered or abandoned animals is a decision I could not make.

For as uncertain as Kelso's plight was, those pets that are surrendered by their family have it worse. There is no mandatory holding period. They are simply at the mercy of the manager. Whether they chose to admit it or not, your fate is a lot like those veterinary school hopefuls being judged whether they are worthy to attend vet school..their decision is based on their looking to find a reason to exclude you. 

For those in the shelter system their fate hinges on any of the following;
  • perceived behavioral issues
  • age
  • breed
  • illness
  • deformity
  • available space
  • amount of time in the shelter

I have spent a significant portion of my life abroad. I understand the necessary evil of a public shelter. But they are still incredibly sad places to be. The public's perception that "humane societies" are 'humane', or "no-kill" is delusional denial. Their purpose is to provide a facility for unwanted, lost, or abandoned pets. Sadly, in this country there are millions of pets that are euthanized every year because shelters lack the room to house all of them until they are adopted.

Kelso arrived at the shelter on December 15, 2013 carrying his rear left leg. He was what we term "essentially three legged lame." That bad leg was there but it wasn't much use to him. Upon intake at the shelter he was vaccinated, given a behavioral assessment, and placed in a cage. Days later his limp was still evident so he was seen by a vet on site.

Here are some of the things I look at when I assess a bad leg;
  • I look to see how much the leg is used to ambulate. 
  • Does the foot touch the ground when walking? 
  • Is the foot placed normally? 
  • Do the toe nails on that leg look normal?
  • Is there normal muscle tone to the leg?
  • Are there any obvious defects to the leg?
I then examine the dog, and identify the source of the problem.

Kelso's diagnosis was fairly straightforward. He had all  of the clinical signs of a cranial cruciate rupture; a swollen knee, and both tibial thrust and drawer. 

The vet who saw him offered to do the surgery for $800 instead of the normal $1200. 

Dr. Hubbard is one of my associates. She is also a volunteer at the Humane Society. When she went to the shelter a few days later she inquired about Kelso.

She was told that he had been seen, been diagnosed, and that they were awaiting a plan for him.

She called me when they mentioned to her that they were considering amputating the leg as a cheaper option to repairing the cruciate ligament rupture.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I can get a bit incensed. I am Italian, passion, fury, and drama are hard wired in my DNA. It is a breed defect.

I understand that the shelter has many mouths to feed, many pets with their own individual needs to address and a budget to provide these. I do not quite understand where the notion of amputating a limb to fix a problem to save money came from, but does anyone really want to give up their leg to save them from fixing the problem?

There's no do-over once that leg comes off.

I have done twice as many cruciate repairs as I have amputations, but collectively they number in the hundreds. Ask me which is easier to do? And without hesitation I will say "a cruciate! No doubt!"

But the simple fact is that more vets know how to amputate than repair a cruciate.

I told Dr. Hubbard that "I would repair the knee for free if they promised to never consider amputation over trying every other option fixing the problem again?"

Scheduling Kelso was not easy. It was the week before Christmas. Everyone has last minute gifts to buy, or wrap, and family gatherings to prepare for.

I called another associate, Dr. Morgan, she and Dr. Hubbard agreed to come in the day before Christmas to cover the exam schedule, and I called my husband to see if he wouldn't blow a gasket when I asked him to reschedule our anniversary plans?

Kelso arrived on the morning of December 24th.

I gave him a full exam: 4-5 years old, intact, mild calculi, eyes, ears, nose, throat normal, mild DJD bilat elbows, good coat, heart, and lungs, significant muscle atrophy to left rear leg, significant swelling/effusion to left stifle, decreased range of motion and painful on manipulation of both hips.

Kelso went to the x-ray room for the next step in his preparation for surgery.

Every cruciate that I do is required to have a full blood work profile, fecal, urinalysis, and x-rays of both knees and hips. I cannot underscore how important these are. Don't skip these pre-ops. In the last half dozen knees I have done (all were referred with bloodwork and no urine) I have found two undetected urinary tract infections. To drive the significance of this, an infection in your joint is a really, really, bad thing!

For Kelso those x-rays allowed us to diagnose him with hip dysplasia. IF he had had his bad back leg amputated he would have had to put all of his weight on his right hip which is already significantly diseased. I don't think he would have lasted another year.

Kelso's knee was by far the worst I have ever seen. His joint capsule was so thickened and angry that it made exploring his stifle joint almost impossible.

He is not my proudest work. But, he regained the stability in his knee that he has been without for what I think must be about 4 years.

Kelso's knee took me so long to repair that I had to postpone his neuter for a different day. And, as is typical of me, I didn't make it back home by noon as I had promised my husband. I thought I could be in by 9 and be home by noon when the clinic was closing. (Such a cocky surgeon!).

I left at 3. "Happy Anniversary, honey!"

Kelso recovered very well in spite of my extra long, extra difficult time in surgery.

He will stay with us until he has been neutered, and we will help the Humane Society find him a home.

He is a big gentle boy who is wonderful with all other pets, and people. He loves attention, to play, and will make someone a fantastic companion. He needs someone to teach him manners, but he will reward you with more smiles, tail wags and love than you can ever get mad at him about.

Greeting clients at the front desk.

Playing like a goof-ball as we put on his e-collar.

Surrendering to the cone.

Showing off his accessories.

Those eyes say it all.
This year Jarrettsville Vet gave Kelso a new knee for Christmas. Next week we will give him a neuter, and then he will be available for adoption through the Harford County Humane Society.

If you are interested in him please call the Harford County Humane Society

If you want to meet him in person please stop by Jarrettsville Veterinary Center. If you have any questions about his medical concerns you can ask me at the clinic.

A big THANK-YOU to both Dr. Morgan and Dr. Hubbard for their time, care, skill, and compassion in helping Kelso get his surgeries and to all of the staff at JVC who have helped him with all of his post-op care.

If you have any other pet related questions you can ask them for free at, or find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

Please consider adopting your next pet at a local shelter.

Update, January 10, 2014

Kelso was neutered yesterday by Dr. Hubbard, and went to his new home today! What a wonderful ending to a Christmas wish.

Tragically Kelso escaped his parents arms and was hit by a car in late January 2014. His time with his new family was short but they loved him deeply and dearly and miss him very much.

I don't know why it took Kelso so long to find his forever home, but he was loved far beyond his short time with them and was lucky to have been a chance to be someones true love.

We send our deepest and fondest sympathies to the family who loved him so much.

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