Thursday, November 21, 2013

State of the Marnie Address

On Tuesday, Marnie underwent her first femoral head ostomy (FHO) surgery on her right hip. With this surgery, the head of her right femur was removed, thereby removing the bone-on-bone action in her hip that has been causing her so much pain. The surgery went well, and I picked Marnie up from the University of Minnesota's Small Animal Clinic yesterday. I even managed to snap a quick picture of her post-operative xrays for you all.

In this xray, you can see on the left how they've take the head of her femur off. To increase her stability on this side, they also moved some of the muscles and ligaments. On the right, you can see her "good" hip. In a dog with healthy hips, there would be a clean, clear line between the ball and socket of her hip joint. In Marnie's hips, however, you can see how blurry the joint is as well as some of the spurring cause by arthritis - that is what a painful hip looks like. According to her vet at Blackberry, Marnie shouldn't be able to walk steadily at all on her hips, let alone run and play ball like she loves to do.

In two weeks, Marnie will see a rehab specialist at the U to get started on a more intensive physical therapy regimen. We're to start physical therapy until then first to give her surgical wound a chance to heal up. Second, this will let the muscles in her surgical hip scar and tighten up a bit to help support the joint (or lack thereof). Until then, we'll be doing passive range of motion three time a day on her knee and ankle to keep them from stiffening up. We'll also be icing her hip four times a day. She go on three or four short, five to ten minute walks per day to encourage her to use the surgical leg (for the next week, these walks will be with the assistance of a hindquarters sling to help her stay stable and keep her from slipping and tearing the weakened muscles on the side of her operation). Marnie is already touching the ground on her not-a-hip leg when she walks, which is a great sign. Other than this mild rehab, for the next two weeks, Marnie will be on complete crate rest - no jumping on the couch, no stairs, no hiking, no swimming, and no ball.

So how is Ms. Marnie doing? Well, she's miserable. There's not really a way to sugar coat that. She's sore, and the pain meds make her drunk, and she doesn't understand what's happened to her. It's hard, when you don't have a way to tell someone that they'll get better, that this was the right thing to do for the big picture. I wish I could have five minutes with her where we speak the same language, and I could try and justify what we've done to her.

But in spite of her pain and confusion, Marnie has never shown anything except kindness to her care takers. Through all the poking and prodding and needles and knives, she's never so much as raised a lip to anyone. In fact, she continues to greet everyone she meets as if they were her long-lost best friends. She has a good soul, this dog, and her new family is going to be incredibly lucky to have her.

Marnie made me promise not to post any picture of her gorked out on pain meds,
so here's a pre-surgery picture for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Long Road Up to Recovery

Okay, so I was all excited to get home and write about Julie Hecht's talks at the APDT conference. But then the day I got back, four of the seven dogs caught a stomach bug, two of my projects had reviews due (like taxes, only these don't give me money back), I got a whole pile of new data to sort through at work, Cannon had his surgery, the husband got hurt at work (not seriously, but seriously enough), I started teaching classes again, and OMG! you guys, this is why I can't write nice things.

So in the interests of writing anything at all ever again, I want to tell you about Jai's yesterday.

Yesterday, Jai facilitated his first Dog Safety Program. We, along with another Laurie and dog teammate Brock, and facilitator Jennifer, spoke to a group of fifteen special needs kids at Tartan High School. This is the first program I've ever done where I wasn't 99.9% certain how it would play out. Oh, I wasn't worried that Jai would do something horrible and we'd make the nightly new or anything. Jai has issues, but I'm not that crazy or ignorant that I'd endanger a group of kids. When I say I wasn't certain how it would go, I mean that I wasn't certain Jai would enjoy it.

Although he's come a long way, Jai is still pretty environmentally sensitive. Sudden environmental changes can still throw him for a loop as well as exacerbating other issues, like his borderline dog reactivity. And while I genuinely believe Jai likes people, he's shown me in the past that he doesn't always trust them not to hurt him.

I chose the Tartan High School kids for Jai's first program with these weaknesses in mind. I've gone out to this school several times, so I knew I wouldn't be worrying about how to get where when. The Tartan special needs kids are a smaller group, and they're always exceptionally well behaved, so I knew I wouldn't need to worry about controlling them. And the room they're in is smaller, which means that Jai would have less space to worry about if he did become anxious. The program itself is also set up nicely for dogs that need a little time to adjust to new places; before the kids are allowed to approach or interact with the dogs, everyone sits down for a while and talks about dog safety and care.

It is important to me that I set my dogs up for success as much as possible in these dog safety programs. Not only because it create a safer and better experience for the kids, but because I want to be sure that my dogs are having a good time as well. It takes more than just good behavior to create a good therapy dog. Therapy work involves just as much - if not more - teamwork, training, and uncommon sense as any other sport you and your dog can participate. And of course, in order to make a great team, you both have to enjoy what you're doing. For example, Maus has all the behaviors and training necessary to do ARLP's Dog Safety Programs - he won't be making the news, either - but he also considers them one of the lower levels of hell, so we don't do them. If he's not having fun, it's not worth it.

As for Jai?

He LOVED it. He whored himself mercilessly for anyone who so much as walked by. He didn't freeze even once, which is still kind of a big deal for a place as stimulating as a high school. He was relaxed and comfortable in the room, repeatedly rolling onto his side for belly massage and putting his head down for naps when we weren't actively working. He didn't react to Brock at all, even when Brock made funny piggy noises. Jai's tail wagged pretty much the entire time. Jai! The dog who, when I got him, I assumed just didn't wag his tail ever because maybe the muscles were broken or something. The dog who pancaked the first time my husband walked into a room with him, and who would flinch every time someone would say the word "no" in a conversation.

Nailed it.

I have so much proud, I think my chest might just pop open and spew happy out into the whole world. I love this dog, who he is and who he's trying to be and how far he's come, so very hard. Good boy, Jai. You're the best.

Photo by Paige.