Saturday, May 10, 2014

Limbs Are Accessories, Until It's Yours.

This is Oscar. 

He is a Rottweiler mix who was found by Harford County Animal Control and brought to the Harford County Humane Society on May 6, 2014. He is about 8 months old, unneutered, unmicrochipped and had an obvious swollen and poorly functional right hind leg. 

There are a few dedicated veterinarians who generously give their time to help the unwanted, forgotten, and lost dogs and cats at the shelter. It is a difficult, often depressing, and sad task to see all  of those sad, anxious, afraid, or desperate for a moment of your time pets. I will be the first to admit that I cannot do it. I cannot face the pets housed there. I will only go to take a pet home, help on a fundraiser day, or to aid in a specific pets care. And, there is a small matter about how I think things should  be done, and my inability to keep my mouth shut. If there is a sick, injured, emotionally suffering pet I demand attention for them. I am not interested in logistics, lack of available funds, overcrowding, or any other encumberence or reality about the difficult predicament and situation that a shelter must exist in.

Upon delivery to the shelter Oscar was processed which  includes scanning for a microchip, assessing for injuries, behavioral problems, and any evidence of where he might belong. Pets are  also vaccinated, de-wormed, given a flea preventative and placed in a cage with an arrival date. Pets that are found as strays have 5 business days to  be claimed or they become the property of the shelter and can be either placed in general adoption or euthanized. Pets are euthanized for a large variety of reasons;

  1. Not adoptable. (Definition defined by organization, labeled by staff who may or may not be trained adequately to do so).
  2. Not enough room. Most shelters have contracts with the local community to keep open spaces for incoming animals. If they do not adopt out enough pets as new ones come in they have to make room by removing the less adoptable, or longest resident, or whatever the staff decides.
  3. Behavioral concerns. Any pet who might be deemed a threat to people is euthanized.

With the small amount of information we have already I am afraid. 

Here's why;
  1. A young dog in a shelter is at considerable risk of contracting a contagious disease. Of greatest concern is parvovirus, distemper, kennel cough, respiratory infection and the cascade of complications any one of them can cause.
  2. Unneutered and concerned about this being synonymous with unvaccinated. Add number 2 to number 1 = recipe for disaster.
  3. Obvious injury makes likelihood of happy ending more elusive.
  4. Broken bones are expensive to treat, and shelters have mouths to feed and already very difficult decisions to make about the healthy uninjured pets.

Oscar is a young sweet gentle boy so he was sent to a local veterinary clinic for an examination to assess his leg.

Even with his gentle nature and the small amount of information we have already I am afraid for him. 

Here's why;
Oscar's radiograph quickly revealed the source of his lameness and swelling.

Oscar has what we classify as a distal diaphyseal fracture of the right femur. A radiograph can give us some answers to a few questions, but Oscar still holds a few. We don't know how long he has been injured, and we don't know if there are other injuries that we can't see so easily. For instance bruising of the lungs, tears or bleeding of internal organs, etc. 

On the lateral (side) view there is a concern about the bottom (distal) part of the femur bone having been pulled up (towards the pelvis) and back due to the muscles that run along the femur. When the bone is no longer rigidly intact the big thick muscles of the leg and thigh will contract or pull the end of the femur up.

Oscar's life was being determined by the vet who saw him initially and the staff at the Humane Society, until Dr. Hubbard saw him.

Dr. Hubbard, our resident Humane Society savior was at the shelter and inquiring about Oscar. She called me to say that the Humane Society was looking for a surgeon to help Oscar or they were going to take the advice of the original vet who stated that it would be cheaper and easier to amputate his broken leg. I have been down this road before. There are very very few instances when cheaper and easier is the right decision. This is an 8 month old dog, and this is a Rottweiler. There is a terrible chance that this boy will need an extra leg by the time he is 8 years old and has osteosarcoma on the left rear leg. Save his right leg as a spare. Rotties need spare legs. (Related article; Kelso's Christmas Wish).

Cheaper? Well, I am going to argue that one too. Seems the estimate the other vet gave was $1,000 to amputate. Someone hand me a paddle. I'll take your $1000 to give this dog fewer options, a longer recovery and I'll fix it for half. I got a little heated. Why are we seriously debating taking a leg off of a puppy without trying our damnedest to fix him? 

Dr. Hubbard and I were on a two woman mission to save Oscar's leg. Dr. Hubbard wanted me to fix it, (in whatever pathetic haphazard way I could). But, I know Oscar needs a bone plate which I do not have, and I leave for a weeks long vacation in one day..Oh, and in that one day I have to pack and celebrate Mothers Day, AND,,, still..I feel obligated, and stressed...very very stressed!!..(oh, yeah, that's why no one else volunteers for these).

Here is where the flood of anxiety, frustration, and feeling of "oh, god, what am I getting myself into this time begins?" For some reason I have yet to understand, I feel as if I am the only vet who is willing to throw my hat in the ring and help. To work for the simple satisfaction of trying to do the right thing for a pet. When did that become such a scarce commodity? I have the same training as my peers, I have had to learn by jumping in the ring. By being comfortable with uncomfortable surgeries. and still, no one else will even try??!! It's incredibly frustrating. 

Dr. Hubbard and I called every surgeon we knew to get Oscar's leg fixed. The  best we got was 10% off the standard surgeon cost of $3,000. Did I forget to mention that this dog is not owned? And is a resident of the Humane Society? UGH!

Now I know I am ranting. Vets get asked every single day to work for free. It sucks, and it is unrelenting. (See previous rant on Compassion Fatigue). 

After numerous frantic calls back and forth, Dr. Hubbard and I decided that, no matter what we were going to;
  1. Try to save Oscar's leg. 
  2. We were going to try to find someone to plate the leg and give him the best possible chance at healing. 
  3. We were going to get him out of the shelter ASAP.
  4. We were going to find this boy a forever home after.
I called a dear friend, client, a fellow Rottie fan. In that one phone call the myth of feeling like Dr. Hubbard and I are the only ones who cares was shattered into tiny pieces. 

I explained Oscars plight and our quest. He said to me, "I just saw Dr W (our local orthopedic surgeon) yesterday with Heidi. He has done surgery on both of her knees and was the surgeon for her sister too. Call him and tell him that Oscar needs this surgery and that I am helping to pay for it. It's only money and this dog needs help."

I cried, I seriously cried. All of the stress, the guilt, the terrible turmoil about going on vacation when there was a dog at the cshelter who needed help slipped away. 

"Oh, Mr. H, that's so incredibly generous of you. We are going to do our very best to help you with this. Jarrettsville Vet will donate, and No Kill Harford will pitch in too. And we will keep asking for help from everyone." I said, trying so desperately to get a clear Thank-You out as I choked down tears.

And then I went back to joyful tears and called Dr. Hubbard to share the news.

Oscar is expected to have his femur repaired on Tuesday. 

We will keep you all posted on his saga and hopefully there will be a happy ending to his tumultuous beginning.

And, just for the record again, amputation is not an option for quick and cheap.

If you would like to help Oscar you can send a donation, or even a Thank-you card care of "Oscar's Fund to Jarrettsville Veterinary Center, or No Kill Harford. Any funds received will go to help a pet in need to help them live a long, happy and healthy life.

May the memory of those we leave behind inspire us to do better for those we have yet to serve..

If you have a pet question, a story to share, an inspiration to help another pet and another person please meet me on Pawbly is all about pet people helping other pet people, and Pawbly is free to use.

Or find me at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, or on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.


  1. You are an exceptional human. I am also constantly frustrated by people that won't just stretch their little 'me bubble' to help others. Well done with Oscar and have a wonderful break. You deserve it!

    1. Hello,

      Many thanks for reading and for the kind words. I know that I am not alone in my fevered desire to help pets, or others. There have been so many people who have come forward to help Oscar, it is humbling, and amazing, and renews my belief that there is inherent good in mankind. Oscar is just only tiny example, and I am so lucky to be surrounded by so many people who want to help.

      I am having the mot magnificent holiday! Thanks!