Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Alligator Child

Some days you're the hero, some days... not so much.

Last week I had the most adorable little terrier mix come in. I mean adorable. I challenge anyone to see this little dog and not go "Awww...!" He's a seven-pound puppy, about 5 months old, sort of a creamy peach color, with a scruffy little face and mismatched ears, one of which goes strait up and the other of which appears to be tuning in to a radio station from Russia and is as a result half-lopped and set a bit a-kilter on his head. He is wiry and compact, with a lively expression and bright little chocolate-drop eyes and an endearing head tilt. And he has a bump about the size of a marble below his left eye.

Not surprisingly, he has come to see me to investigate this lump. When I walk in the room, he is on the table, sniffing industriously around. His owner, a very pretty, very nice young woman, details his history for me. The lump just came up 2 days ago, it's getting bigger, and he doesn't like her to touch it, although she was able to look inside his cheek to see if she could see any wound on the inside of it (which she was not.)

I listen to the puppy's heart and do the rest of his physical, saving his owie for last. He isn't at ALL sure I should be allowed to touch him, let alone press a stethoscope to his chest (what kind of pervert am I?), but nothing too untoward happens until I try to gently smooth his wiry hair back so I can assess his bump.

All of a sudden, an amazing transformation takes place. What before was a cute charming little pup, if a somewhat aloof one, is suddenly a snarling, snapping, lightning-fast Tasmanian devil of a dog. Hmm. This looks like a job for a muzzle. I make mention of this to his owner, who has a slightly stunned look; evidently this is the first she's seen of this kind of behavior and she is quite shocked at it, and is slightly horrified that I've suggested muzzling her puppy.

"I can't get bitten today," I tell her, sympathetic but matter-of-fact. "It's not good on the best of days, but we're completely swamped today and we need all hands. If one of us has to go to the hospital, a lot of pets go without care. Also, I'm a bit concerned that he'll bite YOU, and I don't want that. He made a dang good try just now, and I'd hate to see you need stitches in your face." She nods, still looking a bit shell-shocked, and repeats that she has just never seen him act this way. I depart for the muzzle drawer, reflecting that it's probably as Sharon, my receptionist (and a dog trainer for over 30 years) says: this kind of thing pretty much never comes from a clear blue sky. The puppy has probably been telling the owner for some time that HE is the one in charge, but she hasn't recognized his signals for what they are. She's not alone. This is not an infrequent happening. I make mention of this to the owner on my return, and she allows that the puppy IS "kind of demanding", which I take to mean that he tells her what he wants and expects her to do it, and that he also tells her what he DOESN'T want, and expects her to knock it off. And he's probably been doing it for a while. Meanwhile our puppy is glaring at me with ill-concealed dislike, and if I move either hand in any way he lunges at me, growling. His owner restrains him and corrects him, but it's not making much of an impression.

We manage, with some difficulty, to get a muzzle on the dog, and I am able to palpate the facial mass. It's a bit firm for the standard abscess, but I do detect a tiny spot where there's some give, so I think that (despite the unusual feel of it) that it is indeed an abscess. I explain this to the owner, and tell her that even in the best of circumstances I wouldn't want to go after an abscess without anesthesia; it hurts, the dog doesn't understand why you're doing stuff to him, and no matter how cooperative or stoic a dog is, I personally don't want to be anywhere near the eye of an awake dog with a scalpel blade. All the dog has to do is twitch and you've got a real problem. Seeing the logic, the owner allows me to hospitalize the dog for anesthesia and treatment.

Now the fun begins.

This puppy has demonstrated a willingness to bite his owner and me without hesitation. I'm thinking I'll get sedation on board before I take the muzzle off. I carefully pluck the puppy from his owner's arms, have her sign paperwork (while he stares at her reproachfully), and take him to the back. Still holding him one-handed (since I suspect that the minute he gets out of my grasp he'll be close to impossible to pick up again), I draw up his pre-meds. I need more hands to hold him while I inject, so I locate a helper in the form of K, a receptionist, dog groomer and tech-in-training. She gets a grasp of our erstwhile terror mix - er, terrier mix - and I insert the smallest needle I have under his skin. The effect is instantaneous. He lets out a loud scream and flails wildly, simultaneously urinating all over K. Somehow he gets a foot out of her grasp and swipes his muzzle off, lunging at her with jaws agape. Sensibly, she drops him on the table, where he begins to pace, looking over the edge to see if he can jump down. K throws a towel over him and gets a grip on him, but with more screaming and snarling and furious wiggling he manages to squirt forward and begins to emerge from under the towel. K regroups quickly, cowls his clashing jaws, and I manage to get his premeds injected, while he shrieks in rage and craps all over the table. See? I told you. The fun is just beginning.

We insert him into a cage, where he calms down instantly and begins to take an interest in his surroundings. He's still the cutest thing you can imagine, cocking his head to watch other patients going to and fro, and as long as we aren't doing anything to him, he's perfectly calm and relaxed. After a while his meds make him sleepy, and he lays sternal, head turning to watch the goings on, eyelids at half mast. I am not fooled, though; this dog is very smart, and I'm pretty sure he's not forgotten that he Does Not Like Us. My suspicions are soon confirmed; when he's up in the lineup for anesthesia, one of my techs, E, lassos him with a leash and coaxes him out. So far so good. She reaches gently to pick him up and he immediately goes into his newly-perfected alligator act: Not waiting for one of us to do something he doesn't like, and having learned from the muzzle experience, he opens his jaws as wide as possible, exposing a lot of sharp white teeth, and turns his head from side to side, covering all approaches. I get a towel and dangle it in front of him, toreador-style, while E takes advantage of his distraction and scoops him up. (I am fairly certain that this move only worked because of the sedation; had be been at full strength, I think we'd still be trying to catch him.)

Now we have to get another muzzle on him. He has figured out that his mouth has to be closed (or nearly so) for me to get a muzzle on him, so he continues with his gape-jawed growling and feinting. I get out a tourniquet, a length of black rubber cord with a metal slip-release on it. I make a big loop. Nope, not big enough. I make a bigger one, manage to loop it over his gaping jaws, and then draw it tight, closing his jaws and temporarily confining them. The tourniquet isn't designed for this use, and is at risk of slipping off the end of his nose, so I put a muzzle on over it and buckle it securely, laying the ends of the tourniquet cord over the top of his head for E to hold onto while I give him his induction meds. He still fights us, but E has a gift for calm persistence, and she ignores his histrionics and holds off a leg for me while I locate a vein and get some anesthesia into him. Ahhh. Everyone can relax now. The Alligator Child is now slumbering peacefully. E takes off his muzzle and tourniquet, we intubate him and start his gas anesthesia. I am now free to examine his mouth at leisure; he was giving me a damn good look at it earlier, but in all honesty I wasn't all that interested in putting my fingers in there to feel around while he was awake. I'm such a coward.

E shaves his bump and I lance it. Hmm. Not much pus (drat! I LOVE pus!). I get some mosquito hemostats and gently explore the pocket. Ahhhh. A foreign body. I grasp it and extract a sizey fox tail awn. Well, no wonder he was crabby. I can hardly believe the awn would even fit in there. It's quite huge. It might not be pus, but it's quite as satisfying.

I flush the abscess out, search it for more awns (finding none) and we give an antibiotic injection. Though I have not asked the owner about this, I elect to use one that lasts for 2 weeks so that she doesn't have to medicate the dog at home. For some reason I'm having a premonition that this would not be an easy task. (Call me crazy.) We recover out little FeistyBoy from anesthesia without incident and I entomb the awn in clear tape for the owner's edification. I call her and go over my findings (she is grateful for the 2-week injection) and we discuss aftercare. I also mention training, and suggest she investigate both a trainer and the NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free) theory of training. Later, when she comes to pick him up, he is back in his cage, alligatoring his mouth at anyone who tries to reach in there. What the hell, it's worked for him so far. Mostly. But when his owner arrives, he closes his mouth and looks rather relieved to see her, trundling out of his cage and consenting to be picked up.

So that's a day where the medicine went right and the dog will get well.... but I'm pretty sure I'm in the "Not So Much" category of the puppy's "Hero" list.


The Girl said...

I really enjoy your blog! I like to get a glimpse into life in Alaska, but even more, I enjoy reading about your practice. Thanks for writing!

MaskedMan said...

We had an intake at the Rescue Farm recently that came along the same lines - not bits of foxtail, but rather people not taking positive control of the dog's situation, leading to an owner surrender for 'aggression.' In a small-ish terrorist, er, terrier, it's fairly manageable, if obnoxious as hell. In a larger dog, like, say, a nice, leggy 45lbm Border Collie, well, that's a serious problem!

Let me add an endorsement of NILIF training - It works really well, and we use it a lot at the Farm - Our 'aggressive' intake isn't aggressive at all - he's simply untutored.

Kate's Journey said...

Vet, you are an excellent descriptive writer, and histerically funny! Hope the owner takes the alligator out of the child. :)

AKDD said...

Thanks, "girl"! Strangely, the world of vet med seems to have a million stories. Or maybe that's not so strange, actually! :)

And, thanks, Kate! That's awfully kind of you to say. I think, if she does the NILIF program, she'll have reasonable success. That puppy is EXTREMELY bright; I think he'll figure it out soon enough. Even pro wrestlers - I mean, pro rescuers, like maskedman believe in it.

(Are you SURE you aren't a pro wrestler? What with the mask and all...?) :D

MaskedMan said...

Has encontrado mi secreto! Me pongo una máscara de batalla y mal en la arena...

Yo soy...

El hombre enmascarado!

Dejar que la lucha comenzar!!

OK, I think my Spanish is still more or less correct. You've busted me - I do the Mexican 'Masked Wrestler' thing on the weekends, when my family thinks I'm off transporting dogs from spot to spot, and what-not. You'd think they'd clue in... I mean, would I *really* wake up early on a Saturday to go scoop dog poop out of kennel runs, when I could just as easily be basking the admiration of my adoring Lucha Libre fans?

AKDD said...

Well, your Spanish might be perfect but I'm not sure, since what I remember after three years of high school Spanish is pretty much "El avion abajo al aeropuerto" and "Mi burro es grande."

I did a lot better with my French. Sigh.

Holly said...

going through your archives.

did this particular patient bring his mommy back in again? Did she do the training?

it will never cease to amaze me how many "tyrants" there are in the dog world. Many being under 30#

AKDD said...

He has been back; I wasn't there that day, so I'm not sure how he did. Interestingly, though, there have been at least two other similar-looking dogs (one male, one female) of a similar age who have also been "caution" dogs. I have to wonder if they're all littermates. Maybe they really ARE alligator mix puppies! :D