Ruth

My next client was an off-duty police officer with a brindle boxer puppy in his arms. She was all of 18 weeks old and her name was Ruth. He placed her on the exam table making the diagnosis apparent immediately, for she was carrying her left rear leg. I could see the intense pain on her face as the distal segment of the fractured leg freely swayed anytime she moved. Yet despite the pain, Ruth’s whole backend shook and shimmied as she tried to wag her nub of a tail to greet you.

As lightly as possible, I began to evaluate the leg which was not touching the ground. Crunch, the crepitation in the thigh caused me to cringe. One sharp end of the fracture could be felt between the superficial thigh muscles. Although she was in extreme pain, all this pup asked for was a little attention and a kind word.

Turning my attention to the owner, he quickly made his position clear. Ruth was a puppy he had purchased for breeding. The economics of the situation were such that he could easily replace the puppy for what a fracture repair would cost. Euthanasia was the only treatment he would consent and pay for. For this officer, Ruth’s medical treatment would be based on a business decision rather than an emotional attachment. He was already aware of what was wrong with the leg and had only brought the puppy in at the urging of his family. Thankfully we see very few situations where owners view their pets as property rather than members of the family. Unfortunately, this was not one of those cases.

Looking into those dark brown eyes, I knew I had to find a way to help her. Ruth had touched my heart the moment I saw her. I must admit that I have a soft spot for puppies, especially those with personality and she was a registered boxer to boot. I quickly decided to negotiate. I wanted the registration papers and he could sign the puppy over as property of the clinic. Although not necessary, those registration papers would help us place her in a better home. In turn, the clinic would only charge for the office call and the equivalent price of what euthanasia would be. “Mr. Personality”, as I dubbed him, claimed a bullet for the puppy would be cheaper, and of course he had close access to one. I had no doubt that he was serious. After some hemming and hawing, the owner finally consented to the deal. I was pleasantly surprised when he returned a few hours later with her registration papers in hand. Maybe he had a heart after all.

The clinic was now the proud owner of a boxer puppy with a fractured femur and a heart of gold. With the negotiations complete and the papers signed, I headed to radiology to find out exactly what I had gotten myself into.

The fracture was mid-femoral (the middle of the thigh bone) and rather routine looking on the surface. With an intermedullary pin and some stainless-steel wire she should be back to normal within several weeks. On the upside, puppies heal rapidly. On the down

Side, bones in this age of a puppy are very soft and quite pliable. The more complex problem was how to her keep quiet enough to allow the fracture to heal.

I couldn’t help but speculate that the fracture was the result of a quick fierce kick to the rear. Unfortunately I could speculate all day, but proving it was another story. Perhaps it was the officer’s failure to deal with Ruth’s fracture that caused speculation among the staff as how the fracture had originally occurred. Regardless, I was determined to provide this particular puppy with a brighter future and a new owner.

Surgeries were already completed for the day and my associate kindly volunteered to take over receiving that afternoon, so I soon found myself in surgery. The surgery was a bit more complicated than expected as she had a large crack down the distal piece of the femur. It required a couple of extra wires, but basically the surgery proceeded as planned. One long pin and four circlage wires later, the bone was back in the normal position. The muscles were then closed over the fracture followed by the subcutaneous tissues and the skin.

Recovery from the surgery was uneventful. Pain relief was given following surgery, and the puppy never once gave any indication of discomfort. Ruth was always glad to see us, and through all the pain never once offered to bite. We could sense that she appreciated all that was being done for her. In return she would always shake that nub of a tail furiously when approached, to the point of a shimmy in the entire rear end. We would try to calm her without success since we did not want her placing all her weight on the newly repaired left rear leg. Ruth was hard to ignore, but we would try and let her calm down by ignoring her when first coming into contact with her, believing in the process we could prevent her from overusing that left rear leg.

Ruth, or “Ruthie,” as she fondly became known, settled down to life in the clinic. We wanted her to keep quiet and not overwork the leg for a six-week period of time, or at least until we had solid radiographic evidence of a complete bone repair. Since she was so excitable, I did not want the leg taking an extended repair time by healing with a lot of excessive motion. Motion causes a callus of excessive bony growth to develop around the fracture site and can even prevent a bone from fusing together. In the end, Ruthie and I compromised: the leg healed but with a lot of extra shimmy motion. The repair was completed on schedule in spite of a moderately sized callus.

The intermedulary pin never had to be removed. As Ruth grew, the pin was permanently incorporated into the leg. After 6 weeks the circlage wires had to be removed allowing for an increase in the bone’s width. Ruth was using the leg as though it had never been broken and there was no detectable limp whatsoever.

A few weeks later, after a very extensive and through screening process, Ruthie was placed with a loving family in a more rural area. She was adopted by a family familiar with boxers, having owned several previously. This family also had a special-needs son and she soon became the center of his universe. Ruthie and the son were inseparable. In fact Ruth became somewhat of a sibling for this couple never had any additional children. The two could be seen walking country roads together several times daily.

On her yearly visits to the clinic, Ruthie never once failed to thank us for her second chance at life. She would greet all her clinic friends in turn with big sloppy kisses and the characteristic shimmy or “cuchi-cuchi” of her back end and nub of a tail.

Thinking back we probably should have renamed Ruth “Charo”, after a famous, flamboyant, Spanish actress featured on such programs as Laugh-In from the 1960’s and early 70’s. The “cuchi-cuchi” boxer style will always be known as her trademark.

Similar entries

  • The day had been rather routine and uneventful, at least until the off-duty police officer walked in. I was suddenly presented with a brindle boxer puppy all of 18 weeks old named Ruth. She was carrying her left rear leg and we could see the intense pain in her face, yet her whole back end shook as she tried to shake her nub of a tail to greet you.

  • The summer was beginning to drag on further. The heat and humidity were relentless. It was the type of day that the air was so humid you could cut it with a knife. No one was moving, or should I say, they moved as little as possible. Most clients and their pets confined their activities around air conditioned areas. Unfortunately, cold air blowing directly on arthritic joints is not what a pet suffering from degenerative disease needs.

  • Opening up my own veterinary clinic was a challenging proposition. One of the nicer aspects of being an associate was the availability of a second opinion—often whether you wanted it or not. When you are a single practitioner faced with a complicated case, it’s sometimes frustrating not having another colleague to bounce things off of.

  • Linda, the clinic’s office manager, caught me in the hallway coming into work this morning. She gave me a rundown of the patients that had been dropped off before I came into work that morning. “Jasper is back for the weekend -- but his owner wants you to check him out,” Linda explained. My heart was suddenly beginning to sink as Linda continued, “He has been vomiting the past several days again.” The day had begun on such a positive note, the sun was shining: I was at work on time, and no major catastrophes had occurred until now.

  • One of the most difficult decisions an animal owner will ever make is when to euthanize a pet. Most owners want to do what is right for their pet and will agonize over the decision whether to euthanize or not. The only criterion that should be used in this difficult decision is if the quality of life is good enough to justify the quantity of life. With people, we do not have the luxury of keeping them from going through those last agonizing moments of life. We are kinder to animals.