My exuberant, energetic, 70-pound Rottweiler mix, Darby, has accumulated quite a few doggie friends in Cedaredge, Colo. There’s Ace the Border collie and Goose the Golden Lab, who not only chase after her but sometimes play Tag Team by trying to pin her down by the ears and tail. Merv, the long-haired Chihuahua, tends to hide under chairs and nip at Darby’s ankles, while Kiante the Papillion likes to trot along behind her and then dart nervously off to the side whenever she reverses direction. Lucy the Retriever mix is a sucker for Tug-o-War while Gus, an older Australian Shepherd, prefers lying in the shade with Darby and gnawing on sticks.
Unfortunately, all of those fun, energy-burning play dates came to a sudden halt on August 1st when Darby, at a full-tilt race in the country, tore a ligament in her hind leg which required surgery. “You’ll have to keep her quiet,” the vet cautioned afterward as he guided my poor puppy, wobbly from anesthetic, toward the car. “We don’t want those pins and plates getting knocked loose. No running, jumping, climbing or rough-housing for the next four to six months. Just short, slow walks several times a day for rehabilitation.”
Holding several sheets of post-op paperwork in one hand and a bag of pills in another, I stared first at Darby — who was wearing a cone around her head to prevent her from yanking out the stitches — then the vet, and back at Darby, who had by that point had dazedly flopped over in the passenger seat. I dimly listened as he continued with instructions to alternately apply hot and cold packs; massage the damaged joint; keep her separate from other dogs, and again, have her remain as still as possible. When the enormity of our situation soaked in, I suddenly came unglued and burst out laughing. First, because she looked so pathetic in the headgear (with a chunk of her body hair shaved off) and second because I thought that Doc must be joking. Keep Darby quiet? SERIOUSLY? Clearly, he didn’t know what we were up against.
Darby has been chasing, fetching, leaping towards or grabbing everything from broomsticks to tennis balls to rag ropes since she was 10 weeks old and on several occasions, she and I have wrestled so enthusiastically that we’ve actually toppled as one to the ground. Trying to switch gears to something more subdued has taken more than a little patience, creativity and ingenuity ... not to mention countless anxious moments.
In an attempt to keep her busy, I’ve bought around a hundred beef, buffalo and pork hide bones, and chunks of them remain scattered throughout the house. Chew sticks dropped into plastic milk cartons; dollops of peanut butter scraped inside hollow balls; or frozen butcher bones have also been used entertain Darby but there’s never enough to completely slow her down. In fact, the way she continues to forge ahead on three legs makes one wonder if she’s even AWARE of the injury. During those “slow” walks around town, for example, she’s repeatedly bounced backwards with the leash in her mouth. Whenever she sees another dog she’ll drag me towards it, eager to play. At a recent dinner with my friends, she grabbed a dishtowel and nearly pulled one of the guests completely off her feet. My in-recovery dog-daughter has chased cats around our fenced yard; hopped onto the couch to bark at people passing by on the sidewalk; and during one heart-stopping evening even took a running leap towards the bed, landing smack in the center.
It was while we were caretaking one weekend that she REALLY frightened me, however, to the point where I was positive we’d be returning for a second surgery. Heading across the pasture to rescue a goat that had gotten its head wedged in the fence, I suddenly found myself surrounded by a small herd of curious cows. Darby, with her front toes extended, her butt tucked, her tail up and her tongue teasingly hanging out, proceeded to run gleeful circles around them — which didn’t sit well with the bull. Regardless of his head-shaking threats to warn her, my dog continued her full-tilt teasing and there was nothing I could do to stop her. After six weeks of being kept completely quiet, she was totally, outrageously and gloriously crazy ... and of course, that evening she started favoring the original injury all over again.
At her check-up, I nervously confessed what had transpired. “Did she use the bad leg?” Doc asked while he carefully palpated the joint.
“Yes,” I responded, terrified of what he was going to announce.
“Good,” he smiled, straightening. “That means it’s healing. We can start cutting back on her meds now.” Fine, but perhaps he needs to put ME on something soon — specifically, for the nerves. ❖
I thought that Doc must be joking. Keep Darby quiet? SERIOUSLY? Clearly, he didn’t know what we were up against.