With options on how best to treat Cinder a choice had to be made. Honestly it wasn't much of a choice. If I were to give Cinder the best chance at a normal life with the least pain, I had to opt for the surgery. I'm not going to say I wasn't worried. The though of anyone cutting into my dogs' spine and adding hardware to her terrified me but what choice did I have really? The other options would continue to mask symptoms, ease pain and prolong the inevitable.
The next morning, I again called down to VOSM and scheduled Cinder for surgery. I couldn't help but see the irony when they scheduled her surgery for October 19th. She would go in for surgery on her 4th Birthday.
Time seemed to drag on waiting for the day to arrive. But it finally came, and I was fortunate enough to have a friend of mine accompany for the ride, which I welcomed since we would be driving through the night. At 3 AM I loaded up the car and picked up my friend Jack and we were off to Maryland again.
Arriving at VOSM, I called into the office and informed them again that I was out if the parking. A short time later I was met by a Vet Tech who scooped up Cinder and began walking away with her and I couldn't help but say to the girl, "Please don't let anything happen to my girl, today's her birthday". The girl gave me a smile, told me she will be fine and assured me that they would celebrate Cinder's big day that evening. The moment the door closed behind the girl my heart sank and the worry began. This was going to be a long ride home and an eternity wait until Wednesday, when I could pick her up.
Arriving back at home, feeling exhausted from driving all night all I wanted to do was sleep. But the worry about the surgery wasn't going to make that possible. And then about 4:00 PM my phone rang. I remember looking at the phone number for a moment and preparing myself for the worst when I answered.
Dr. Gallagher was calling to tell me that Cinder did wonderful in surgery with no complications. He went on to say that she had woken up a short time ago and was already wanting to walk around. This was great news and music to my ears. They explained that while there she will have 24-hour treatment and they will continue to monitor her until Wednesday, giving me daily checkups. I laughed when he said a few of his assistants have some special treats planned for her Birthday.
Surgery was over, she did well and now I could sleep.
Let's go get my dog!
Wednesday morning and Jack and I were back on the road. I couldn't drive fast enough. Once we got there, I was met by Dr. Gallagher who gave me some instruction on how to care for Cinder over the next few weeks as well as months. He explained the recovery and how she heals will be critical in this time. She will need to be on strict kennel rest until informed otherwise and only allowed to be out of the kennel to potty. He explained she will be coming out with a technician shortly who will also be bringing me a few medications that cinder will need to take for the next 30 days. I laugh at that statement now. A few medications consisted of:
- Carprofen 75 Mg 1 Tablet every 12 hours(Anti Inflammatory)
- Gabapentin 300 Mg 1 Tablet 3 times a day (Nerve Pain)
- Codeine 60 Mg 1 Tablet 3 times daily (Pain Killer)
- Cefpodoxime 200 Mg 1 ½ tablets 1 time daily (Antibiotic)
- Methocarbamol 750 Mg 1 Tablet 2 times daily (Muscle Relaxant)
Ten pills each day at various times. I had to draw a chart of squares on a piece of paper with all the times. Each night I would prepare the next day's pills by putting them in the squares. I was so worried about missing or skipping one.
After a few more minutes out walked Cinder with the tech. I was so happy to see her and so heart broken when I saw her back. I sure hope I made the right decision. How is this dog even walking with this eight-to-ten-inch scar running down her lower back? She briskly walked toward the car pulling the tech across the lot and walked right up the ramp. And we were off.
The doctor explained that once I get home, I can remove the bandage they had placed on her back and I could expect some fluid and this was normal due to her seroma. Applying heating packs over the first few weeks several times a day would slowly reduce the size.
The next three months
When I got home, I was almost afraid to remove the bandage. It had been leaking all the way home and I actually called VOSM to make sure this amount of leaking was normal and that she didn't pop a staple. They assured me it was fine, and I took it off and put her directly into her kennel. I spent the rest of the evening preparing my lower-level family room into a mag shift office / bedroom since this is where I would need to spend all of my time for the unforeseeable future.Air Mattresses may work for a few nights, but I can tell you after the first few weeks they don't do your back any wonders.
Each day consisted of Heat or Ice Packs, Medication and figuring out new ways to occupy Cinder's time. The first few days weren't to bad but as the medications that kept her mildly sedated ran out and her energy levels began returning, her boredom also increased.
Four weeks into the post-surgery and it was time to return to VOSM for her first checkup and Xray. This was to check for any infection and see if the hardware has stayed where it needed to stay. Again Dr. Gallagher came outside to talk to me and told me everything was looking great and there were no visual problems with anything. She would still need to be restricted from steps, but she could come out of the kennel for a few minutes a day provided she was limited on movement. So, looks like another month of Air Mattresses.
A few days before Christmas at 8 weeks post-surgery, we headed back to Maryland and again everything was on schedule. Dr. Gallagher said she could now begin to slowly walk up and down stairs to go outside and on a leash. She could also walk around for up to 5 minutes on a leash outside, weather permitting since it was December, snow and ice could cause an injury and set us back. Cinder would also be able to stay in my office with me while I work provided, she wasn't allowed to run as well as return to Cold Laser Therapy and Underwater Treadmill to assist in the healing process.
When we finally reached the 12 weeks post-surgery point, Cinder was ready for it to all be over. It was becoming increasingly harder to keep her calm and she just wanted to be mobile. Dr. Gallagher informed me she was clear to graduate and be released. He said within reason I could again slowly let her be a dog again. Following a few visits to therapy Dr. Crabtree also released her saying she didn't see a need for Laser or Treadmill. I was given a list of exercises to continue with to keep rebuilding Cinder's core strength but there was very little muscle atrophy during her down time. I remember Dr. Crabtree saying, "You got you dog back" to me on our final session.
Several weeks following Cinder's release I did start noticing she was offloading her weight on her right leg. Contacting everyone from VOSM to Nikki they all assured me this is expected, and conditioning is a process. This could be from a number of factors from Cinder becoming accustom to always walking in that manner that she has to relearn how not to, or this is just her new walk.
As I am writing this article it is May 28th, 2021, over a year from Cinder's injury and six months since her release from surgery. We are making progress and I would rate her conditioning at about 80% of where she once was. Will she every be 100%? Well, that's the goal but she and I are taking it one day at a time. Her days in Shutzhund are over, not because I don't think she could every return but because should she get to that stage, I would much rather have a happy healthy dog able to play and lay on the deck enjoying the sunshine then a trophy on a shelf. We aren't working toward IPO3 these days. Now we are working toward getting my companion back that I could take anywhere. We may return to obedience but more because it was always fun for her.
Cinders current conditioning consists of several exercises to build her core muscles back without injuring her groin. She does these every other day for about 20 minutes twice a day. On the off days she has a treadmill that she walks on for several minutes each session twice a day. I have introduced several supplements daily into her diet including Cosequin and a product I have just found called Extend. This seems to be working as I am noticing less offloading in her stance.
If I could make a recommendation to anyone who read this entire story it would be this. First and foremost, get pet insurance on your dog. I know my thought was insurance isn't needed right now, I'll get it later she's young. From injury to this moment correcting a single second in time has cost over $16,000 and we aren't done yet. Secondly and even more important it's not secret dogs love to chase a ball. But dogs love to do anything as long as it's with you. Be mindful of the unnecessary impact you put on your dogs' joints. Buy a ramp for the car, roll the ball across the ground or better yet skip ball throwing all together and take them swimming somewhere.