Tripod dog (hard) lesson
Writing this piece has been quite emotional. I thought I had overcome all this, but it clearly still hurts despite the passage of time and goes back to when Maison Dog was still an idea.
At the time, I had left my office job to get experience in the pet care field. The job was hard, very physical and long hours. I loved my days filled with dogs, but something never felt right.
Frequently, when tripod dogs have had a limb amputated it’s a means of controlling bone cancer and easing the related pain. It can also be as a result of injury and, unfortunately, in Danika’s case, the reason behind Danika’s front leg amputation was a severe trauma arisen from carelessness, a horrendous catalogue of events and plain bad luck. It was three years ago and she had just turned two.
The week it happened had been something of a roller-coaster week for us: on the Monday, cancer won and we’d had our cat Céline put to sleep; on the Tuesday, Selisha (the rescued Weimaraner you often see in my videos) ended her four days trial with us having won our hearts over; on the Friday, fate came to cash in on Danika.
I remember very well everything that happened before the surgery. I clearly remember the facial expression of a friend who first saw Danika (who happens to have a veterinarian education). She said nothing but her grim face said it all: we were needing to save Danika’s life. I remember driving to the vet, one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand constantly searching in the back seat for any sign of life. I remember having to suppress shock and hysteria in order to make the call to my husband to explain the unexplainable. I remember begging the vet to save Danika’s life and getting a bombshell answer “Yes, we will probably save her life. The paw is gone”. I remember my husband and I roaming the streets of Gasperich at night like wandering ghosts, both appalled in the knowledge that in that precise moment, our dog was being “dismembered”.
After the surgery, my mind was in complete black-out. I have very blurred memories of the next days and months as if I too had been sedated as well. Lots of staring at the wound to check for any sign of septicaemia. Going to work. The feeling of being unprepared for this. People’s pitiful stares. Our other cat was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Pain-killers. Human non-sense at its highest level. Lots of (too late) research on prosthetics and calls to the most prominent clinics in Europe, all of this well-seasoned with constant thoughts of what it used to be and what would never be again, a vicious cycle of sorrow, pity, rage, anger and regrets. It took many, many months to shrug off all the pointless thoughts and just enjoy Danika in her new condition.
Dogs do not humanise the loss of a limb. Danika wasn’t sharing my distressed hand-wringing of rage and regrets. This was lucky otherwise my entire human/dog family would have been knocked sideways. Danika is a full-on dog who sometimes drives us crazy. She has one hell of a temperament, is incredibly smart, has no idea of limits and is stubborn. Persistent in applying her tactics, she’ll win you over with her intriguing look then makes a fool of you the second later. It’s like she’s always thinking a couple of moves ahead of you which is, frankly, exhausting!
This persistence became rather handy when ten hours after surgery, she insisted on hopping down the stairs to have her morning pee, going down then back up two flights. Ten days after the surgery, she was in a field and somehow managed to dig for mice. Twenty days after surgery, she was hopping on icy ponds and, shortly afterwards, she’d resumed her previously annoying habit of jumping up at the kitchen counter and stealing everything that happened to be unlocked. I’ve never been so pleased to see her do it. They say tripods dogs make practically the same life as before. Well, I don’t lose my temper easily but if wish to see me really mad, just mention this crap to me because HELL NO! At least, not my dog anyway (especially if you consider that in nine months, I was about to launch my current activity).
My estimation is that Danika’s activities dropped down to 30% of previously. Some days are good, some days are bad. She can stand a 25 minutes off-leash walk every second or third day, depending on her daily condition. Beyond a highly reduced endurance, another major change was that an everyday thing like a leash walk became a taboo. Imagine trying to keep balance on a bicycle if you’re riding really slowly. You can’t, the bike will simply fall over. In the same way, to keep balance, Danika has to walk at a faster pace and the only way for us to keep up is to actually run until she’s had enough and lies down. Danika’s life basically consists of two moves: either she hops or she lies down. A basic position like sitting isn’t easy anymore for Danika. Scratching behind the ears? Not easy anymore. Eating a Kong or a bone? Not easy anymore. Going down the stairs often turns into a sort of “glide” the stairs. Walking on hard surfaces is quickly painful for the overloaded front paw. Training is a challenge as well: trying to keep a loose-leash-no-matter-what-crosses-your-path whilst you run beside your dog and, at the same time, you’re scanning the surroundings to see if bikes, people, cars are approaching. Everything has become either impossible or extremely complex.
So, what do tripod dogs do? They ADJUST. Just as Danika didn’t humanise the loss of her limb, dogs simply don’t have body-image issues after an amputation. I saw the pitiful stares of other people but Danika didn’t. Tripod dogs just go on living their lives as before, re-adjusting to the new condition and they do this amazingly well. I sometimes wish I had this inner strength and lack of awareness so that I could just keep doing my thing without caring about what people say and social pressure that we, as humans, are inherent to. It is said that if you focus on the hurt, you will continue to suffer. If you focus on the lesson, you will continue to grow. Accidents happen in life and no-one is immune from mistakes but there is something profoundly wrong in being selective blind, shutting down our brains and getting stuck in pre-historic beliefs.
Danika fell because of no anticipation, little canine knowledge, poor management and carelessness. But most importantly, she fell because of NO SELF-QUESTIONING and it is this that has been one very important (hard) lesson for me: do not stop learning, do not stop observing, do not stop getting inspired by the work of others, always look for better ways. Oftentimes, I am confronted with people thinking that my job as a dog carer is a sort of fallback for unemployed people, a summer job for students, or just a housewife’s activity to earn a little pocket money. It’s true that in Luxemburg no formal qualification is required to set up such a business, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that one day you’re a maid, the next day you’re a baby-sitter and on the third day, you take care of dogs. Not in a professional and skilled way at least. Most of us dog carers come to this profession from very different worlds, but we are all committed to canine study.
This is a real profession. Every day we deal with individual beings of another species. Dogs come to us with different stories and past experiences, different temperaments, different training levels, different habits, different issues. The composition of the group of dogs changes every day so potentially, the dynamics change every day as well. In this job one needs to make snap decisions in a matter of seconds and the only way to do this is to have knowledge of how best to handle the multitude of potential crises that can come up when dealing with multiple dogs at the same time. We can’t 100% control the environment or situation but we can have strategies to manage it, strategies to minimise risks. Anticipation is a must. Constant looking for cues is fundamental. Avoiding getting to the crisis is the key. One needs to have a good knowledge about dog behaviour and how dogs learn. To do so, one needs to know how to read dogs and have skilled understanding of dogs’ communication. There is a UNIVERSE beyond a simple wagging tail. Having “owned a-dog” or “being a dog lover” is really not enough for this. Professional dog carers have a huge responsibility. Some dogs spend the whole week in regular day-care and therefore spend more time with us than with the owners and very often they come to us as puppies. We have a massive impact on their education and on the experiences they make, bearing in mind that negative experiences form quickly and addressing them is often a struggle later. We must be prepared and skilled.
In this job no day is equal to the following one. Every day we need to adapt to the group and the environment and the only way to do this is with a full load of knowledge, being open minded, constantly questioning ourselves and our way of working, and being flexible.
“Doing something this way just because it has always been done this way” is a deadly trap. ADJUSTING. ADAPTING. Dogs are great at this. Danika, my tripod dog, has particularly shown me this. Why can’t we be?
Dedicato alla mia stella del mattino.