My column last month suggested we allow ourselves to learn more from our dogs; specifically how to live a full and healthy life. Dogs, after all, can set some of the best examples with how to overcome hardship while all along maintaining a positive attitude. Furthermore, they can teach us how to restore faith and hope while against the odds. This doesn’t suggest they are supernatural in any way, no more than we are super human. While most dogs are tough when they have to be, they are still built from flesh and blood as we are. Their bones, cartilage, and tissue are equally fragile. The difference, as I see it anyway, is in a dog’s instinctual sense of resiliency. And that natural born desire to survive is second to none.
Last month I wrote of Buddy’s rebuilt back, which turned out to be new and improved so much so that he continued to climb numerous mountains with me. This wasn’t because of the success of his operation nearly as much as it was his attitude and determination to push on. A few years ago, his days of climbing abruptly ended when he ruptured his cranial cruciate ligament while running through the snow. After several soaked-faced visits to the vet, I accepted reality head on with the great help from my partner Charilyn. Option one, which included doing nothing and allowing him to live out the rest of his life withstanding the pain, was out of the question (especially considering the ligament was completely severed). I went with option two, a “Tibial Plate Leveling Osteotomy”. Basically, the surgeon would have to break his leg at the knee and reposition the bones with steel plates. The prognosis is said to be somewhat good but only after a long and brutal recuperation of eight weeks confined in a crate without movement. Buddy had to be lifted to where he would stand on three legs to relieve himself. He then must be carried right back to his crate to lay. Standing was permitted for a matter of minutes, while walking was completely ruled out during this time. Just shy of that eight week mark, Buddy and I would slowly stroll to the mailbox and back each afternoon. Several months later, we set out on daily walks of no more than twenty to thirty minutes, on flat terrain. Even in his final year, Buddy could walk several miles, albeit a somewhat slower pace.
Buddy certainly has overcome his fair share of obstacles, but no more or less than any other dog. Buddy’s partner in crime over the last few years was “LuLu”, who was born when Buddy was thirteen. At just one year old, she fell out of a moving vehicle at about forty miles per hour. She suffered a brachial plexus avulsion has only about twenty percent use of her front left leg. To this day she refuses to allow it to affect her daily life of running and playing. Without a single complaint, you would never know she was affected by her injury. Tug of war, chasing a ball with lightening speed and wrestling with a young and powerful Boxer are daily norms. She might end the day favoring that foot more than usual, but accepts the discomfort for what it is and would never allow it to get the better of her. Still today, two years later, LuLu would never pass up an opportunity, or even hesitate to do anything we’re up for. Her vibrant spirit and love of life as a dog were never shattered, even after losing a toe as a result of the nerve damage. Maybe LuLu learned how to always keep a wagging tail from her mentor and big brother, Buddy. But maybe not. For most dogs anyway, it seems the greater their injuries the stronger their will to survive.
If you and your dog have recently experienced an illness or sudden accident, never question your dog’s resilience. Don’t ever doubt what they can overcome, regardless of the doom that might present itself. While there may be a limit to what any living body can handle, dogs raise the bar somewhat higher. Not because their bodies are built tough, but more so because they have mastered the art of cope and they demonstrate it through their very being. Their fight to continue living with faith in a positive outcome may be, in part, in direct collation with what they live for and love more than anything including themselves …us.