Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jack's Injury

As I've previously mentioned in some of the daily updates, Jack, the German Shepard / Doberman mix that lives with us, recently sustained an injury that we have been treating. I wanted to do a post detailing his injury and treatment, especially since one of the posts where I discussed it was accidentally deleted.

It is very common for Jack to disappear for several days at a time. While I do believe that he thinks of our place as home, I suspect that he has at least one other place that he also thinks of as home, or at least a part time home. About a week and a half ago he disappeared for three or four days, then came home with a limp. I was able to find a wound on the upper part of his hind leg, which I suspected was either from a bite or from being in a fight. He was clearly in pain, and wouldn't let us really look at the injury.

Andrea took him to the vet, and they determined that the injury was caused by a gunshot. The x-ray revealed a .22 caliber bullet imbedded in his leg. The bone was also fractured from the impact of the gun shot. We were given a two medications for Jack, a anti-inflammatory and an anti-biotic, and were presented with a couple of treatment options.

The first treatment option was a surgery during which they could remove the bullet and shrapnel, and set the broken bone so it could heal. The vet indicated that if his dog were in the same situation he would choose to have the surgery.

The second treatment was to let the fracture and would heal on their own, and then have the bullet removed at a later date. The primary risk with this approach is that the bone may not heal back as well as with surgery, and could result in Jack having a limp for the rest of his life. Also, with this approach, the bullet could be removed, but it is likely that some shrapnel would remain.

With either option it was recommended that we keep Jack contained, to keep him off of the injured leg as much as possible. We considred our options, and decided that the best way to do this would be to provide him with a place outside where he could sleep and be contained. The dogs normally sleep on the front porch, but that wasn't a good option due to the fact that it would require him to walk up and down the steps to relieve himself.

We purchased an extra large plastic pet carrier to use for the containment. The carrier is large enough to serve as a doghouse, and already has a door that can be secured to keep him inside. We really should probably have already owned a carrier, as there are surely going to be situations in which we need to transport one of the dogs in back of the truck. We'll also likely use the carrier for transporting chickens this spring, so it will have several uses beyond Jack's containment.

Our initial plan was to move forward with the surgery. Based on the vet's recommendation and the fact that the surgery would increase the chances of a full recovery we felt this was the best thing to do. However, we quickly began to question that decision, and as we gathered more information we began to lean more in favor of the other option.

Before begin Jack's confinement, we let him use the carrier as a doghouse to get use to it. We did this for two nights, and everything seemed to be going well. The morning after the second night, however, Andrea went out to check on him and discovered that he was gone. I was working in the office that day, so wasn't around to help her look for him, so she set out on her own trying to find him. Eventually she stopped at the old quarry a mile up the road and starting calling for him. She began hearing barking in response, which gradually grew louder. Eventually she spotted him, in a field across the creek from where she was standing. He worked his way down a steep hill, to the creek, but was stranded for the moment since he hates water. Eventually he apparently decided that getting to her was important enough to risk it, and he jumped in the water, swam across the creek, and ran, limping, to her.

That evening, when I got home from work, we installed the door on the carrier and began his confinement. It was clear that a broken leg wasn't going to be enough to keep  him from getting out with his friends. This was when we first questioned the plan to have the surgery, since we are concerned that if he continues his old ways he could end up getting hurt again, and he seems to be more than willing to take that risk.

As Andrea did more research she learned that the recovery period from the surgery could be several months, which we believe would be hard on Jack since he enjoys his freedom so much. She spoke to the vet and he indicated that there was an increased risk of Jack doing further damage to his leg if he were too active following the surgery. He had also learned, from talking to the surgeon, that the initial cost estimate he gave us was low, by several hundred dollars. The increased cost was because the surgery would need to be more complex than originally believed, and may even require the use of an external pin to hold the leg together. These factors made us even less certain that the surgery was the right course of action.

Andrea expressed our doubts to the vet, and asked several follow up questions. Our biggest concern was making sure that Jack not have a lifetime of pain if we chose not to have the surgery. The vet assured her that he would be in no more pain from the leg if we allowed it to heal naturally, even if it didn't heal completely straight. He also said that not removing the bullet and shrapnel should not cause him any pain, and should cause no future complications, although he did suggest having the bullet removed anyway, once the leg healed.

After considering all of the factors we have decided not to do the surgery. We want to minimize the time that Jack has to be contained, since he is obviously much happier when he can roam free. I suspect that many people will read this and wonder why we would ever let him return to roaming freely if we suspect he could be injured again. Our view on this stems from the way we view the animals, not as "pets" that require humans to protect them, but as wild creatures who choose to live alongside us. If running free is what makes Jack happy, and I think he has shown that it is, we would prefer to allow him to do so, even if it ultimately reduces his life expectancy. We believe that quality of life is preferable to quantity.

Jack is adjusting to his injured leg, and is getting around well without using it. He has recently started to run and play more, and even attacks Luke from time to time to get him to wrestle. They have been enjoying playing in the snow today. Jack is much more active than Luke was when he hurt his front paw. I think its safe to say that Jack will be just fine, even if the leg doesn't heal as well as if we chose to do the surgery.

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