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A Vizsla, an Osteosarcoma and an Emergency Vet all walk into a bar…

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Sep 20

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I have come to find that when it has been a while since I have posted, I typically have nothing but goodness to report…and thankfully, this is currently the case.

Since we all know how much I love lists, here are some of the things we have been busy doing….


  1. Pictures. Lots of pictures. I am lucky enough to have not only a fabulous sister, but a very talented one that happens to be a photographer. A few weeks ago, she took Hank, Adam and I to a lake close to our house for some family pictures. I wanted better memories than some of the crappy selfies I have taken over the last several months. And she nailed it. Kudos Megan Alvarez Photography….I will cherish these forever.hank2016-1 hank2016-13 hank2016-15 hank2016-18 hank2016-32 hank2016-48 hank2016-54
  2. Daily hot dog binges. Hank’s diet has pretty much consisted of about 80% hot dogs (and not even the nice ones….I am talking about the cheap $0.89 packages you buy at the grocery store that contain god knows what-chicken spleens, pig eyes, pork nipples, whatever), 10% McDonald’s Cheeseburgers, 5% ice cream and 5% dog kibble. This wasn’t really done on purpose (minus the cheeseburgers and ice cream- that I absolutely did on purpose), but now that he is back on a bunch of medications, he stopped eating Pill Pockets and shoving meds in hot dog pieces became the only way he would take them. Then, he started liking the hot dogs so much, that in the morning, he would eat all the hot dog pieces and leave everything else with actual nutritional value (i.e real dog food) behind in his bowl. So what do I do? Hot dogs for breakfast. I am now going through about 3 packages a week. My veterinary guilt used to get to me for this, but after about a couple of weeks, my I-dont-give-a -shit-o-meter started working again when I remembered that he has cancer.
  3. Prarie dog chasing galore. For those of you who aren’t familiar with prairie dogs, they are these rodent type creatures that live in big clans and in Boulder county….they are everywhere. Whats funny, is that not only are they destructive to the environment (they dig HUGE holes and tunnels underground over spans of several acres where they live), but they carry fleas and a little thing called THE PLAGUE. They also don’t have many predators around here (aside from coyotes which we have some of, but not enough to keep the prairie dog population under control), so they are again…..everywhere! In most parts of the country, they are considered vermin, a nuisance, good for target practice, etc., but in Boulder, there is a huge group of people that love these gross little things. Don’t get me wrong, I am clearly an animal lover and never want to see any kind of animal harmed (and they are kinda “cute” and display social behavior among their colony members which is pretty neat) , but its not like prairie dogs are endangered, although in Boulder, you would think they were. There was actually big news here recently when a developer bought a big parcel of land with plans to build a housing development, but this particular plot of land was home to a “colony” of a hundred prairie dogs. Initially, the prairie dogs were going to be…um….”exterminated”, but people literally protested and rallied to “save the prairie dogs” and eventually forced the developer to pay some god awful amount of money to have the whole colony relocated to a different area.  Did I mention they carry THE PLAGUE? Anyway, there is a fenced off field near our new house where a large colony of these critters have settled and while I was walking the dogs a few weeks back, I noticed that Hank had found his way inside somehow. Back when he had 4 legs I would have been horrified (ummm….they carry THE PLAGUE), but with 3 legs, he wasn’t quite fast enough to actually catch one, so I stood back and watched him. And it was like the biggest, most awesome game of “Whack-A-Mole” I have ever seen. A prairie dog head would pop out of one hole, he would run/hop as fast as he could to that hole, stuff his entire head down it, then the prairie dog’s head would pop up in another hole, he would run to that hole, stuff his head in….you get the point. And he would literally do this until he could barely run anymore and I would have to drag him from the field. This has become at least an every-other-day occurrence (I finally got a video). And he loves it. 🙂
  4. Car rides. Lots of them. Hank has always been a good traveler and loved it until I finally bought a grown-up car in 2013. Prior to that, I had a 2003 Ford Focus with almost 200,000 miles on it, more dents than I knew about, peeling paint, ya know..a real junker. But, it was paid off and I didn’t care. The best thing about that car was I never used the back seats, so I always kept them down so Hank had lots of room in the back to move around and this also meant he could rest his muzzle on my shoulder while we were driving. This used to bug me because not only would I get covered in dog hair, but he would drool on my shoulder, pant in my face and pull on my seat belt which would choke me while I was driving. A goal I had when I finally bought a new car was to have a back area big enough for him that was behind the back seats so he wasn’t in my face. Enter my Subaru Forrester. He hates that car for that very reason. Well, when we recently moved, I put the seats down in the Forrester and covered the whole back area with sheets to keep everything clean while moving crap back and forth to the new house, and after taking him to work with me one night like that, I still have yet to move it back. I could care less that he drools on my shoulder, or pants in my face, or chokes me with my seat belt. There is nothing better than seeing his happy face in my periphery (instead of all the way in the back of the car) with his muzzle resting on my shoulder. The only new problem this presents is he obviously has a harder time keeping balanced on 3 legs in a moving vehicle and there have been a few instances where he ended up in a pile on the floor behind my seat after some poorly-executed braking on my part. I am still curious what people think when they see me pull over, attempt to pry a  65-pound, three-legged dog out of my backseat (very ungracefully I am sure) and then go on my merry way. Just a day in the life of a tripawd!
  5. Trying to do yoga, but mostly just snuggling. I love yoga and practice at least 4-5 times per week. This is “my time” and something I have learned to cherish. I have a local yoga studio that I adore and this is typically where I practice, but I have started practicing at home more since having a beautifully shaded patio at our new house. Well, obviously if I am out on the patio, that means that both dogs need to be out there with me and for any of you who have tried to do yoga among dogs or cats, this is not an easy feat. I would explain it, but it is summed up perfectly by this video: Pets Interrupting Yoga . One day last week I overslept and missed my morning yoga class, so I did patio yoga with Hank and after 15 minutes of him rolling on my yoga mat, licking my feet, laying on top of me, sticking his face between my legs while I was in downward facing dog, nose-punching my butt when I tried my head stand, etc.,  I eventually gave up and just laid down on my mat….and the photo below is how we ended up. I like to call this pose Doggie Shavasana.img_3950
  6. Begging and couch lounging. I will admit that I used to really hate dogs that begged for my food and took over my couch, so Hank was always really well trained to not do these things. Until now. He usually shares whatever it is I am eating, and if I don’t share, he rests his face on my leg and gives me the most pathetic, “can’t you see I am starving to death?” look until I fork it over. And even though I let him on the couch when he was recovering from his amp, it was almost like he knew he shouldn’t be doing it, so he never really asked to be on the couch after that. Nowadays, whether you want him to or not, he will slowly wiggle his way directly onto your lap on the couch (very much the Vizsla in him) or covertly glide onto the couch next to you without you even knowing it like he has been doing it for years. Usually by the time I notice he has done this and try to get his attention, he will typically raise his head enough for me to see his eyes saying “Yea? And what are you gonna do about it?”, then he will promptly go back to sleep. I never knew bad manners could be so much fun.img_3976

So, its been a great several weeks. He is happy and most days, I forget that he even has another tumor. His leg isn’t swollen, he rarely limps or acts painful and he is the same ‘ol Hank. I guess I expected things to just kinda slowly go down hill over a few weeks since I found Hank’s second bone tumor. Probably because most of the dogs I see with OSA are either at the end of their lives and ready to go, or have just been diagnosed- its rare I see the “in between” so I had no idea what to expect. So I have been spoiling, and spoiling, and spoiling Hank and it has just been the best. If anything, I feel so unbelievably lucky to have this time. I see so many people in ER practice whose dogs/cats go from being fine one day, to dying the next and it is awful- they don’t get the opportunity to do what I have done. They don’t get the opportunity to let them eat whatever they want, dig wherever they want, roll in whatever they want …they don’t get the opportunity to kiss and snuggle and play…or soak up every extra minute they can.  It brings tears to my eyes when I meet these clients at work and although I am still mad that it is “my” dog that has to be taken from this awful disease, if he had to be taken in any way, this is the way I would chose.

Until next time,


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Aug 16

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I feel like the title to this post sounds like it would make a really great title for a children’s book. Although teaching kids about narcotic administration would probably be frowned upon. Anyhoo….

Back to Hank and another humorous moment in our journey……

The day after Hank’s second radiation session at CSU, he seemed a little mopey and wouldn’t eat….and I about became unhinged.  Again, exit common sense vet brain that would tell me that it was because he had been schlepped for over an hour in the car, anesthetized for several hours, recovered, schlepped home another hour only to repeat the same thing for second day (also while we were in the middle of moving to a new house and at night he was being moved between our old house and my mothers house), and enter my emotional owner with a dog with a terminal illness brain that told me it was because the radiation hadn’t worked and he was in awful pain….. despite the fact that I had him on the highest doses of practically even pain medicine I could give him (tramadol  carprofen, gabapentin, amantadine) and he was getting massage and acupuncture at home. But no….I thought he was in pain and dying and this was it. Just typing this I want to smack myself. Of course he was mopey- he was obviously exhausted, and clearly so was I to have come up with this ridiculous hypothesis.

So, as you can imagine, when I went to work that weekend (the day after coming back from CSU), I was grasping at other pain relief methods that I could find to help keep him comfortable for what I had convinced myself would maybe be another week because he wasn’t himself and this meant his pain was just so, so bad. Then, after digging through our pharmacy at work at 3 am one morning a day or two later, I found my light-in-shining-DEA-packaging. Fentanyl patches!!! Yes!! This was it!! Who wouldn’t want to be given a constant infusion of Fentanyl (an opiate narcotic that is 10 times more potent than morphine) when in pain? It sounded awesome to me, so I was going to try them on Hank. Since he wasn’t eating well and I was struggling to get him to take all his oral pain meds, this seemed like an easy fix: pain relief without having to hide pills in random things to get him to eat them. So I grabbed him from his kennel (he of course comes to work with me most nights now, although recently Adam told me I had to “share” and I can only take him every other night),  shaved a credit card sized piece of hair from the side of his thorax and slapped on the patch……good job Dr. P- you’re a genius! I was very proud of myself.

Hanging at the Creek



And then started the 48 hours from hell.

When we got home in the morning to our new house, (which was a disaster of boxes and furniture and shit I didn’ t even know I owned) it was the first time Hank had been there and our first morning trying to sleep in a new bedroom/house. Which for someone who works nights, this is stressful in itself because in order to sleep well during the day (and hence not be a stark raving mad beotch from sleep deprivation), your bedroom needs to be comparable to the best hotel room you have ever slept in- dark, cool, comfortable, quiet and relaxing. Our bedroom that morning was the complete opposite- boxes in every corner, bright as hell thanks to a stupid 2 x 2 foot window near the top of the vaulted ceilings that didn’t have blinds, and therefore, it was hot. Very hot. By that time, the Fentanyl patch had been on Hank for about 5 hours and I could see a certain glaze to his eyes that told he me was….well….high. I tried to feed him breakfast, but he wouldn’t eat, so I got him upstairs and into his bed. He fell asleep for exactly 10 minutes- enough time for me to get ready for bed and all snuggled in, and then…..the whining began. I told you about Hank’s ability to produce the most high-pitched, non-stop, slowly-letting-air-out-of-a-balloon kind of noise that makes you want to scratch your ears off your head and shove socks down what is left of your ear canals right?? Well, that’s what ensued. I, of course, then tried everything that morning to get him to shut the hell up- laid with him on his bed, rubbed him, tried to get him to eat, took him outside, moved his bed to different spot(s), let him get in bed with me (don’t tell Adam)  and it wouldn’t stop. It just wouldn’t stop. By this time, it was 2 pm that day, I hadn’t slept and I was about to completely lose it because I was pretty sure this meant he was still in horrific pain, and that the Fentanyl was not working….and if that was the case, well then, I may as well just give up.

We went on like this for another 24 hours….and it was terrible. The kind of terrible that results when your Roomba vacuum runs over fresh dog poop in the middle of the night and smears it all over your house (for those of you who don’t know the story I am referring to, make sure you empty your bladder and please read this: Roomba Pooptastrophe). I would literally leave the house and I could still hear him whining.  Yep, more than 24 hours passed before out of the blue, in a desperate state of sleep deprivation/emotional exhaustion, it occurred to me that next morning at 6 am while I was sitting with Hank on his bed about to smother him with a pillow (because had had me up all night…whining….AGAIN. OMG, I can still hear it) that he had been on Fentanyl after his amputation. And he didn’t do so hot. In fact, he was a BIG ‘ol mess, remember? Well,  the thing about using opiate narcotics in dogs is that in most cases, they work great for pain and don’t cause many side effects. However, there are some dogs that will become dysphoric with narcotics,  meaning that instead of feeling loopy and weird and just enjoying it like they should, they get disoriented, irritable and anxious because they do not like the way they feel- i.e Hank after his amputation.

The thought slowly crept into my mind over the next few minutes as I sat there that this past two plus days of absolutely no sleep, constant worrying about Hank’s level of untreatable pain/complete lack of appetite and seizure-inducing whine torture was all my fault. Well i’ll be….he wasn’t painful- he was dysphoric! Once this realization hit, in a moment of complete panic and giddy relief, I reached down and ripped that Fentanyl patch off Hank so fast that I not only startled him, but I didn’t have time to remember that that stupid patch was held on by a very strong adhesive that took about a 2 cm square surface of his skin with it. And you would have thought I had just amputated Hank’s leg all over again because the facial expression he gave me after this happened would be the dog version of “What the fuck?!” (I know this because I get this look from dogs/cats on a daily basis….although I am pretty sure cats have this look on all the time). He promptly got up, stumbled over me and whimpered his way down stairs (as if to make me feel extra guilty) while I sat there holding this dumb patch in my hand that was now adorned with skin and blood. Stupid devil patch.




Thankfully, over the next 24 hours, Hank slowly came down from his bad Fentanyl high, started eating again, got back on his regular pain meds, stopped whining (thank all that is considered good and holy) and returned to his wiggly, happy, hopping, crotch-punching self that I hoped would still be around for a little while.  So we are now spending our days exploring our new neighborhood while Hank chases prairie dogs, hunts/catches/eats bugs and flies (yes, my DOG does this), swimming, spooning and I take him to McDonald’s at least twice per week for an ice cream cone.  And so far, aside from an occasional limp, you would have no clue anything was wrong; you wouldn’t have a clue that there was a new tumor, you would think his time was ample and his pain was non-existent…… and this is the fantasy world in which I choose to live for now. And its awesome 🙂


P.S. Remember when I referred to Hank’s glorious tongue-smacking-my-face-and-I-love it running style these days in my recent Three-Legged Dog Days of Summer post? I finally got a video…..

Aug 03

When I first started this post, let’s just say I didn’t get very far. Ill take you back to last week, Thursday 7/28…………….

“Right now I am sitting in a Starbucks in Fort Collins, Colorado and there are two things about this that should strike most as odd. #1- Fort Collins is  1+ hour drive from where I live in Boulder, so why would I be here today? #2- it is a VERY rare and special occasion for my to be up before 10am, so there must be an important reason. So,……why?

Well, last week I had noticed that Hank seemed a little sore on his right hind leg. It went away after a day, so I didn’t worry, but this past Sunday, his lameness returned and persisted. So I took him to work with me (all while having this overwhelming sense of worry for him) early on Tuesday night to take some x-rays because this leg is where he had a previous fracture repair done as a puppy before I got him and I was always concerned about him injuring that leg after his amp….”

That’s when the tears started run so uncontrollably that I needed to excuse myself from Starbucks; I went to my car, drove to a park and sat in my car and cried….for 2 hours. Just two nights before, I found another bone tumor (suspected metastatic lesion from his original OSA) on Hank’s right hind femur where he had had his previous fracture repair. Whats worse is I had taken these films right before my 12-hour overnight emergency shift- you’d think I would have learned my lesson from last time, but instead I spent most of the night running back and forth to the bathroom in between seeing patients to wipe my tears and try to collect myself. And then I had to tell all the clients I saw that my “allergies were flaring up” when I went into the exam rooms with a puffy red face and bloodshot eyes.  When I finally made it home in the morning with Hank (who, despite a new and mildly noticeable limp, was thankfully still his wiggly and happy self), I collapsed on the floor and slept with him in his dog bed- yes, I did this….. and it was awesome.

Down by the creek

Down by the creek

Since then, a lot has happened. First, I have continued to run the gamut of emotions that grief has a tendency to produce- anger that this was happening to my dog despite my being a vet and having followed all the treatment recommendations of some of the best oncologists in the country…..the deepest kind of emptiness and sadness thinking that there was going to be a day in the much nearer future that I was going to have to say good bye to my beloved companion….fatigue from having to go to work and be compassionate and empathetic towards people in the midst of losing their own pets when all I wanted to do was go home and grab and squeeze and cuddle my Hank…..and intense anxiety in trying to determine where we would go from there (Do I do nothing? Limb spare surgery? More chemo?)

The day after I found his new tumor, I called the Cancer Center at CSU to see what, if anything, they could do for us and what they thought would be best for Hank. I needed some kind of plan. I was of course, completely a mess on the phone and am still surprised the oncology nurse I spoke with actually understood what I was saying through my sobs. Over the following hour, I got several phone calls from amazing clinicians and nurses, all of whom were recommending 2 doses of palliative radiation of the new tumor (since obviously I cant take two of his four legs…although I did consider it the first day) to help with his pain and quality of life. If he stayed comfortable and the bone did not fracture at the tumor site, we could have 2-4 months with him. Ill take it. And unexpectedly, they re-arranged their schedules to get Hank in that very next day for his first treatment. So the next day, Hank and Adam and I (thanks to Adam’s dog-loving boss, she gave him the day off so he could be with us) made the trip to FoCo yet again, albeit this trip was much more somber than previous. We dropped him off at the Cancer center, cried over Beignets at Lucille’s, shopped for our new house at Home Depot and then polished off a bottle of wine at 2pm at the Welsh Rabbit over a fab cheese plate. And then we cried some more……Nothing quite like your best friend, fried carbs and lots of alcohol when you need help mending a broken heart.

I was on my own the next day when we returned to the cancer center and I had to have Hank there by 8am. Ugh- I don’t do anything  at or before 8am anymore except for maybe get out of bed to pee…and then I go back to bed, so this was a rough morning. It didn’t help that I had worked the two nights prior, had barely slept for 3 days, had to get up early both mornings on my 2 days off to drive, needed to return to work for 5 overnights in a row that Friday night…and, of course, we were in the middle of moving into our new house. So you can image the mess of a person I was at Starbucks that morning while I waited for Hank to receive his second and final dose of radiation. After I cried it out for a while in my car, I napped, got lunch and got the call that Hank was ready to go home at about 1:30pm. I picked him up and he was still really dopey from his anesthesia, which made for some hysterical pictures on the way home…..


Ride home from CSU

Ride home from CSU

Thankfully, this weekend was really busy at work so I was distracted with that and all the unpacking I still have yet to do in our house. This helped my sadness and as of last night, I feel like the acceptance stage is upon me. I have realized that this is the card we have been dealt. And it sucks. And its not fair. And when I think about it I cry.  And I was supposed to have Hank until he was 14 and old and it was up to me to make the decision to let him go. But I don’t want to waste all of our time left together being sad….I want to spend it with Hank doing all the things he has always loved. I want to spend it spooning, cuddling, *swimming*, playing, crotch punching strangers and eating cheeseburgers and ice cream from McDonalds (I did this last night when I brought him to work with me and was praying to god that no one saw me, in my scrubs, feeding my dog fast food in the parking lot of the veterinary clinic in which I am a doctor…I am pretty sure when I took my oath I promised I wouldn’t do such things…..but hey, he has cancer 🙂 ). I want to spend it by the creek, taking pictures and getting dirty. And as long as I can keep his pain controlled and keep him happy, this is what we will do.  And until I can learn to slow down time, I will enjoy every last minute of it.



Jul 18

Yikes….dont judge me….I cant believe it has been so long since I have been able to post! I have the typical excuses of most working people so I wont bore you with those.

The good news is the past month has brought lots of good stuff to the Hank/Piotrowski/Oklesh household. I am a list person (couldn’t you tell?) and my life revolves around lists, how long they are, the elation I feel when I scribble something off one of them, etc.,  so I figured what would be a better way to quickly get everyone up to speed. So here goes….

1.Hank’s 4-week post-chemo met check was CLEAR! He is currently cancer free- the best news of all! I of course took his chest x-rays at my own clinic (well, to be honest, my nurses physically took them while I hovered and stressed about what I was going to see) and then pined over the films for hours on my computer screen trying to convince myself that there was one tiny little dot that was a met and it was all going to be over. So I drank a bottle of wine (by myself) and submitted them to a radiologist for review. Thankfully when the report came back a day later I was a little more stable and accepted that maybe it wouldn’t be worst case scenario as I had imagined. And it wasnt. Yay Hank 🙂 The only sad part about this is that my excuse for every time he did something stupid/ I decided to feed him 4 pieces of bacon/a handful of expensive sausage/half of my lunch because he looked cute or I decided to let him sit on me/the couch/lick my face/drag me on the leash/get dirty in the creek, etc. was to say “Its ok…he has cancer.”  Guess I cant use that excuse anymore….. 🙂


Hank's favorite morning activity- sunbathing on the patio

Hank’s favorite morning activity- sunbathing on the patio


2. Adam and I bought a house….which has produced several pros and cons in terms of our fur family. First and foremost, no more landlords (and therefore no more written restrictions on how many animals I can have), which means I don’t have anyone to tell me “NO” (Adam knows better) the next time a one-eyed, hairless, stinky cat or dog shows up at the clinic and needs a home. But, it has just as may levels as our current house and we all know how much fun I had with that after Hank had his amp. And there are hardwood floors in the main living area. Not great for Hank. Balls. But….I figure its nothing a bunch of area rugs and those goofy little toe nail covers cant fix.

3. Hank has been swimming (and even “real” swimming) at the dog beach at least once a week since May and has yet to drown himself! This is HUGE news! Of course, not without the help of the life vest I now make him wear after we had a few very scary moments when I almost had to go running into the gross dog pond water after he went completely under water a few times. Whats funny is at the time, I don’t think I actually ever thought about what I would do if he were drowning and I went in after him. Do I really think my 100 pound self would be able to swim his 70 pound self back to shore without drowning us both? Ummmm…no. So here is the new and improved Hank swimming away, better with three legs than he ever was swimming with four….who would have ever thought….


4. Adam asked me to marry him and I said yes 🙂  Now he is really stuck with the animal hoard. Poor guy.  Whats funny is now that I am thinking about weddings and things, I always thought it was really kinda cheesy when people dressed up their dogs in tuxes and dresses and made them part of their wedding party. And with Hank now only having three legs, wouldn’t it be weird to have him hopping around in a tux, crotch and ass-punching everyone he can while they are in their best-looking attire? Yes, yes it would. Am I kinda excited to do this now? You betcha.

5. We took the dogs on a much needed camping trip in June deep into the Colorado mountains to climb our first 14’er of the year (Castle Peak,  14,278 ft). It was going to be Hank’s first camping trip (although I was always too much of a wuss to bring him on the actual climb with me- too worried something would happen and I would be stuck carrying him 4000 feet down a mountain) since his amp and I was worried about how this was going to go. Would he be ok standing on three legs for the 4-hour car ride because he is too damn stubborn to lay down? Would he be able to get around at camp and would he be just as excited as he used to be to chase things, eat bugs and cuddle by the fire? Would he be able to keep up with Scout (Adam’s Aussie and our other pup) for a game of fetch? As usual, it was all my own fear and to him, it was as it always had been. He spent the weekend as he usually did on all of our previous trips- sunbathing in the biggest dirt pile he could find, chasing any little squirrel/chipmunk/weasel that crossed our site, barking/growling at anyone that dare walk or drive by, being ready to “go to bed” in the camper the second the temperature went below 60 degrees- it was perfect. But because I am an ass and was clearly preoccupied, I only took one picture of him at camp and it was only because he just happened to be laying by the camper when I was trying to take a picture of our campsite. Oops.


The one camping photo I took- Adam and the pups

The one camping photo I took- Adam and the pups


It really has been a great summer thus far and I cant wait to see what the next few months will bring. As usual, I always feel compelled to write about something new I have learned in this process of being a vet with a three-legged dog who is being treated for a cancer that I diagnose and deal with daily in my patients, and I think it is as simple as this…..

Sadly, for a veterinarian, there is one thing I encounter frequently at work that I really, really don’t like. I was never a fan of really slobbery dogs with big tongues that hung down to their feet and dripped spit on my scrubs while I was trying to examine them (think “Beethoven”- that St.Bernard from that movie in 1992 that drooled half of his body weight in fluid every day) and god forbid they would actually lick me. Ugh. I thought I could never own a dog like that. But…..there is something I have noticed recently about Hank when we go for our daily walks by Boulder Creek now that it is warmer out. Just like any other dog, the longer we walk and the warmer he gets, the more he pants and therefore the further it seems his tongue hangs out of his mouth. Well, add the hopping gait of a tripawd to this equation and by the last 10-15 minutes of our walks, as he hops around, it creates such an exaggerated up and down force that his long tongue stars flapping in the wind so much that it slaps him in the face with every stride.  This in turn makes him drool……. and it is the most glorious sight I have ever seen. There is something about the look on his face when he comes hopping toward me, in a full sprint, with a slobbery tongue whacking him along the entire length of his face with every hop that just makes me smile. Slobber and drool and gross long tongue and all. And he, nor I, could care less.


May 25

Once we started to get in the swing of the whole chemo thing (hmmm…..that rhymes….new song idea?), it became evident rather quickly that again, I had no idea what I was doing.

I was functioning on the idea up to this point that when it came to physical therapy and rehab for Hank post-amputation, that this would be easy for me. Not only was I a vet, but prior to veterinary school, I trained sport horses for Three Day Eventing (combined event of dressage, stadium jumping and cross country jumping). This whole sport revolves around the proper conditioning, training and strengthening of ones’ horse to compete in these three very different events. So I thought I could easily figure out how to do exercises and strengthening routines with Hank to keep him fit, because clearly dogs are just little horses. Typing that phrase makes me even more embarrassed that I thought this would give me a leg up in dealing with Hank’s recovery (no pun intended….actually, that’s funny, so yes, pun intended).

It started a few weeks into Hank’s chemo when after reading these awesome little books I found on this very site, “Three Legs and a Spare” and “Loving Life on Three Legs”, I started to understand the importance of maintaining Hank’s strength and health of his remaining three legs. I did the usual stuff I would recommend to clients- started joint supplements, increased the fish oils in his diet, started increasing his exercise sessions by 5-10 minutes per week, massaging his muscles and joints when we were done, blah blah blah. But a big thing that stuck with me after reading that book was understanding that walks do not build strength with post-op amputees. They only build endurance. So I guess I was going to have to do some research on some exercises to start doing with Hank that would help in strengthening. So, I did what every other veterinarian with loads of information available (I had tons of textbooks in my office, access to veterinary information websites, umpteen medical publications to browse through, colleagues with sport medicine knowledge, etc) at their fingertips would do….I Googled it.

Another very, very bad idea. Within about 1 minute and 16 seconds, I was so overwhelmed with information that I had no idea where I would even start. Enter emotional, insecure pet-parent and exit smooth, confident veterinarian. What to do? That’s easy…make someone else do it.


Hank and Lulu in the most sought after sun spot in the house

Hank and Lulu in the most sought after sun spot in the house

So the next day I called and made an appointment for Hank with our local veterinary rehab group (we are VERY lucky to have a kick ass rehabilitation group with two locations in the Denver area…here’s my blatant plug for them- CRCG) for a post-op consult. I again persuaded my mother to come with me for moral support on the day of his first appointment.  In typical Hank fashion, he dragged me through the door and acted like an idiot.

The building was beautiful- really large and open, with non-slip flooring, underwater treadmills, rehab pools that looked like big hot tubs, lots of toys, cones, etc. We were put in an exam room with rubber floors, water bowls and a huge plush dog bed on the floor in the middle of the room (not too shabby).  The next 45 minutes consisted of the usual stuff: history-taking, an exam and discussion of goals with the rehab veterinarian who saw us that day (we will call her “Sara”) all while Hank sniffed around the exam room, panted, whined, whacked us in our faces with his tail and refused to sit still. I talked about my need for help in coming up with a rehab plan for Hank (since I was inept at coming up with treatment plans unless something was bleeding, a bone sticking out from somewhere, he was coughing/vomiting/dying)  and Sara talked about the things we would start with that day: massage techniques, stretching, some strengthening exercises, and then she said it…..”And then maybe we can get him in the rehab pool today for a quick swim.”

I am pretty sure the noise I made in response to this comment was a combination of a laugh, a “ppppffffhhhhhttt”, a snort and a gasp. Yea right….Hank? Swim? I then had to let Sara in on Hank’s swimming “ability”, but really, it was the complete lack thereof….

I remember in great detail the first time I tried to get Hank to swim, mostly because it is burned into my memory and not in a good way. I lived in Loveland when we got Hank and Loveland is known for all of its local reservoirs and lakes. Since Vizsla’s in general are considered hunting/birding dogs, I assumed that Hank was a good swimmer (my first mistake) and took him to Lone Tree reservoir one hot summer day to see for myself (my second mistake). There was a great little beach at this reservoir with a gentle grade leading into the clear water- perfect for dogs. I even bought one of those orange “dummies”  thinking he could actually fetch in the water. When we got there, I could see two or three other dogs (mostly labs) playing in the water and once I let Hank off his leash about 100 feet from the water, he ran full speed toward the shore as if he was going to gracefully leap into the water and swim off into the sunset. I was pretty far behind him at this point, and all I saw was him try to stop as he reached the water line. He ended up sliding on the sand, attempted to sit down as a result, which stopped his momentum so fast that he went ass-over-tea-kettle into the shallow water. All I saw after that was some flailing of legs and ears, lots of splashing, and before I could reach him, he stood up and hauled ass back towards me with a look of terror on his face that I will never forget. I was thinking he would run to me, quickly forget what just happened and want to go back to the water to try again. Nope. He ran right past me, without so much as a glance in my direction, and ended up back at the car, shaking and completely panicked. He had made such a scene at the beach that few of the innocent bystanders came up to us at the car to ask if he was ok. I think I told most of them that he had suffered a brain injury as a puppy, was therefore “special” and not to worry. And this was only the beginning of Hank’s many embarrassing moments at the swim beach. Thanks dude.

One of those swim beach days- 2011

One of those swim beach days- 2011

I spent the next few years trying to get him to forget this experience, and although over time, he would start to get in the water just up to his paws, then up to his knees, then up to his chest, it was always touch and go. There were a few setbacks along the way- one in particular when he was in the water up to his elbows, acting all confident and bad ass, when out of nowhere, he completely elevated himself out of the water (I still question the laws of physics and gravity after witnessing this maneuver), did some type of acrobatic flip in the air (think Flipper) and flew out of the water dragging a huge mass of seaweed behind him that had somehow gotten tangled up in one of his paws. He again tore up the beach and back to the car where I found him trying to climb under my passenger side tire in an attempt to get away from the sea monster that was trying to devour him. It was months before I could get him back in the water after that debacle and anytime ANYTHING brushed up against a leg/paw below the water, he would channel Flipper yet again, unnaturally levitate from the waters surface, about face and then disappear in the direction of the get-away vehicle.

We started back at square one after that, and then the day came that Hank actually “swam.”  I put that in quotations because although he was in the water, without his feet touching the bottom and moving to some degree, the motion of his legs and body that was being produced was nothing at all that resembled swimming. It actually looked more like drowning. The day it happened, it was a packed day at the swim beach and several dogs were in the water going after balls, dummies, sticks and some were just swimming around in circles. I could see Hank inching deeper and deeper into the water trying to desperately get to those dogs that were obviously having the time of their lives. The moment he got deep enough to no longer be able to touch the bottom, he immediately tried to keep himself upright and as vertical in the water as possible. As you can imagine, in doing so, his front feet were more on the surface of the water and when he attempted to “paddle”, he would splash the surface of the water with such force that he would splash himself in the face with a huge amount of water. This lasted all of 10 or 15 seconds before he promptly turned around and headed back to the shore . Words cannot do justice to how completely hilarious this was and I am pretty sure I laughed so hard and for so long that I peed a little. And this was how it was from then on out- meaning we would go to the beach and he would stand in the water for a while, run around, eventually try to swim, end up almost drowning himself and then we would leave. Not too long ago, I came across a video on the internet of a dog with the same disabilities as Hank when it came to trying to swim….it looked something like this:

“Swimming” Dog video- could be HANK!

So when Sara said the dreadful word “swim”, these memories flashed through my head and all I could think of was although I’d be willing to see how he does, I would need to prepare myself for yet again another embarrassing Hank moment.  Either that or he would drown, but at least I was among veterinarians (because I would obviously have no idea what to do. Remember, my own dog sick= complete brain dump of all veterinary knowledge).  I tried not to stress about it while Hank was getting rubbed, stretched and strengthened, but when we were done, Sara led us from the exam room to show us the rehab pools they had available.

Sara wanted to try Hank in the Infinity pool first (a rectangular pool that generates its own current) which had I known it was 80 degrees, I would have brought my bathing suit. Thankfully they put him in a doggy life vest and there was a hoist over the pool to help him get in and out and to provide some support while he figured out the current. So he was clipped into the hoist, and up he went with a look on his face that I only think can be characterized as “priceless”. He grabbed at the sides of the pool with his one front paw as they lifted him up and over the sides of the pool and once his feet hit the water, he immediately tried to perform his famous vertical paddling technique. But….silver lining time… this was not as easy for him with only one front leg and he was somewhat forced to paddle below the water with his leg because of the current.

And there it was….Hank actually started to swim. For real. With only one front leg. And he wasn’t trying to drown himself either. Who knew?! I was beside myself and almost wanted to cry with joy watching him as hopes of future summer afternoons at the dog swim beach started to creep into my mind. But…again, the look on his face did not quite match my enthusiasm. It was more of a combination of complete terror, worry, yet an intense focus that I have never seen him express…I tried to comfort him but he would’nt even look at me.  It was hysterical.

And so I will end this post with a video (click link) and photo I took of Hank in the pool when he finally started to swim. I find it poignant not only because I have never seen him with this particular horrified expression on his face, but also because I am sure this is how I looked at the moment I realized Hank had cancer, the first day we went to CSU, after his first chemo treatment, etc. During all of these moments I was terrified, yet this was Hank’s first expression of fear since the day he was diagnosed. It made me think of one of my favorite quotes…

“The secret to happiness is freedom…and the secret to freedom is courage.”

Hank Swimming at Rehab Video


In the Infinity Pool

In the Infinity Pool


Until next time…