Saturday, September 13, 2008

Moose Tales and Farewell Trails

So today, a client calls in to tell us she needs her dog looked at because she woke up this morning to find it entangled in its runner cable with a moose.

Yikes. This doesn't sound good. Moose are large and (potentially) quite dangerous and have been known to stomp people - let alone dogs - to death. By and large moose are peaceful, if left alone, but if you piss them off, you'd better be carrying a gun or be really fast - or really lucky.

This is a picture of a cow moose and a pair of week-old calves. I apologize for the graininess of the pictures, but because I don't have a death wish, I took this photo from my second floor window (through a window screen) rather than trotting down to the driveway and asking her to pose. (It was also between 10:30 and 11:00 at night, and my film wasn't quite fast enough for the conditions.)

That's a 55-gallon drum in front of the cow, which she could probably step over without scraping her belly.

The next two pictures (which I took from my back porch, inside the relative safety of my six-foot chain-link fence) are to try to give some perspective; that's my Dodge Sport Cab that she's dwarfing in the driveway (this is a mid size truck, the top of the cab of which is about 5 feet high.)

Mooses is tall!
(Okay, I admit this one is just here because moose calves are sooo cute.)
So, this may give you some sense of my trepidation. I'm wondering how the woman managed to get the dog disentangled from the runner cable so she can bring it in, and if it will be reparable. But when the dog arrives, it walks in under its own steam. I ask the woman how she got it away from the moose.
"The moose untangled itself from the runner somehow," she tells me. "My dog was just laying out there and I thought maybe she was dead, but as soon as the moose walked off, she sat up. I think the moose walked into the runner in the dark and got snarled up, and she tore the runner down and got tangled up in the cable."
I do my exam. Miraculously, the dog has very few injuries. She has a small hemorrhage in the white of one eye - possibly from being kicked, but I can find no bruising in the surrounding tissue, so I suspect it's more likely from being choked by her collar while the moose was thrashing around in the cable. This is consistent with the other injury the dog has, which is a sore neck, which she is (unsurprisingly) reluctant to flex. Her chest is clear, she has no lacerations or fractures, no lamenesses, no neurologic deficits and no broken teeth. This is a lucky dog. I prescribe some pain medication and ask the owners to keep her off a leash, collar or runner for several days until she heals. About this time I notice that the owner is sneezing.
"Are you allergic to her?" I ask. The owner, still sneezing, nods. This explains why the dog was overnighting outside. "Urk, sorry about that," I tell her. "Can you set her up inside?"
"Yes, we'll figure something out," she smiles, sniffling. I certainly hope so; we've been in the room for about 10 minutes, and she's already watery-eyed and congested. Doesn't sound like a fun time ahead for her. I hope she has some good antihistamines.
So this is a moose story with a happy ending. The moose appears to have escaped unscathed and none the worse for wear, and while no doubt shaken up and a bit sore, the dog will be fine in a few days. Not all of them work out so well. The last patient I treated for tangling with a moose was a dog named Toby, who I also saw today. Toby had about a million things go wrong with him in his life; I first met him after a bite wound to his tail had become infected, which resulted in the amputation of about a third of it. Unfortunately, the infection had already spread to his legs, so as a consequence of that he lost a couple of toes about 2 weeks later. He healed up, eventually. But about a year later he developed thyroid disease. However, we stabilized him and he did well for quite a while, apart from some minor dings and boo-boos, and a little touch of arthritis developing in his later years.
Then one day Toby came in swathed in a bloody T-shirt. His owner had come home from church the previous morning and found poor Toby (who was out on a runner in his yard) trying to climb the side of the house in an attempt to escape the moose that was kicking him half to death. She managed to chase the moose off and rescue Toby. He was bleeding from a laceration under his right arm, so she folded up a T-shirt as a pad to absorb the blood and bound it under his arm using an ace bandage wrapped around his chest and criss-crossed in front of his shoulders. This assembly she covered with another T-shirt, tied at Toby's waist aerobics-bunny style to prevent him from walking on the hem of his shirt. He looked kind of CSI stylish in a slightly grisly way, actually, what with the blood stains and all, though (not surprisingly) he was moving a bit gingerly.
So, I took Toby's T off and unwound the ace bandage. The lac immediately began dripping blood. Hmm. This injury is almost 24 hours old, so I'm a bit surprised that it's still actively bleeding. I get a little closer look. There's a ragged tear, bruised along the edges, edematous, but not apparently infected. Just as I'm thinking Toby may have gotten off light, Toby takes as step forward to sniff and the trash can and I hear a moist sucking noise. Oh, crap. Could not POSSIBLY be. This dog is walking around perfectly fine, and has been for 22 hours since he was injured. His color is good. He has no respiratory distress. On auscultation, I can hear airway sounds all the way down both sides of his chest. So he can NOT have a sucking chest wound.
I tell Toby's mom that we'll need to suture him up, and I'll need to get a closer look at the wound before I know the extent of it. She readily admits him to our care and I replace his T-shirt and ace bandage bandolier to hold him while I make space for him in the surgery schedule. Once we anesthetize him and we have his airway under control, I take off his bandolier. Silence. I gently shift the flap of lacerated skin behind his arm about a half inch to the rear. Big sucking gasp as air rushes into his open chest. Toby's color immediately goes south. Crap.
I start bagging him and the tech starts prepping. I still can not believe that Toby's been walking around for a day with only a T-shirt pad and an ace bandage keeping him from dying of a pneumothorax. Not just walking around, but eating and drinking and peeing and pooping and generally leading his usual life, albeit with a slightly ginger gait and a new wardrobe.
Toby goes into surgery and we open up the laceration, lengthening it so we can expose his chest wall and assess the damage. There is a broken rib there - cracked in three places - and biggish tears in the muscles on either side of it. Miraculously, there are no injuries to the lungs themselves, apart from very mild bruising. Hmm. Turns out the easiest way to fix Toby is going to be removing the broken rib - and the lacerated muscles on either side of it, which are mushy and fragile from the crushing force of the blows - and wire his chest back together, one rib shorter. This we do, a tech patiently breathing for Toby while we wire his chest back together and chase the free air out of the space around his lungs, where air doesn't belong. Once we seal up the soft tissues, Toby is breathing well on his own and his color is good. He recovers without incident. I can't believe this dog. He's eleven years old, is hypothyroid and has undergone multiple surgeries, and is missing several of his original parts (such as his testicles, two toes, about a third of his tail, and now a rib.) He's just has the crap kicked out of him by a moose and he's juuuuust fine. Perfectly happy. Thanks for the stitches, and can I go home now?
Toby did great after that for about a year. Then, being Toby, he developed renal insufficiency. But, being Toby, that was not enough to kill him. He toddled along - on his 16 remaining toes - pretty happily on supportive care. I put him down this morning, sadly, because he had abruptly lost the use of his back legs. He was almost thirteen. I don't know if he had a disc blow out (perhaps in consequence of the old trauma of the moose attack, or for some other reason) or if it was more orthopedic than neurologic; his owner, understandably, decided not to pursue it in view of his age and other disease.
I'll miss Toby; he was a good old man, tough and resilient and apparently unfazed by the vicissitudes of his eventful life. I know his mistress will miss him a great deal more. I can never see her without thinking of him; they're kind of a pair, stumping cheerfully along in a sort of calm, hopeful way, with their bright gentle eyes and prosaic manner. I hope she can find another puppy; she's one of those I think really has a gap in her life without a dog.
There won't ever be another one like Toby, though. Happy trails, old man. We'll miss you.


MaskedMan said...

Toby reminds me of an old Vaudeville one-liner: Lost dog; altered male, missing one eye, blind in the other, missing an ear and a leg, also most of his tail - Answers to "Lucky."

Fair winds and following seas, Toby ol' man.

Allie Oop said...

What a sad tale. Toby sounds like he was a trooper (but lucky he survived as long as he did). Condolences to Toby's family.

I think moose are incredible creatures, but I always dread the thought of meeting one on a trail.

Kate's Journey said...

Oh, Toby! That is sad. Hope his owner is at peace.

Marie said...

Godspeed Toby. Thanks for sharing his story. It is amazing the lives some of these animals lead.

Anonymous said...

I remember you telling me about Toby after you pulled the rib and put him back together.

Sad to hear he's gone, and I hope his owner finds another character to trot along beside her.

AKDD said...

Yeah, Toby was a good old man. Just kind of trundled along and took in stride whatever came his way. I know his mom will be missing him, but she had some time to prepare herself that the end was coming (if not that day, then in the next few months, probably); that doesn't make it easy, but it sometimes makes it easiER than it is if it's unexpected. It happens that one of my longtime receptionists (Sharon) lives in the same community as Toby's family. Sharon saw Toby's owner at the store on Sunday - the day after I euthanized him - and said that although sad, Mrs. Toby is doing okay. She (Mrs. Toby, I mean, not Sharon) has a sort of sweetly hopeful demeanor; I really think she'll get another dog to stump along with her. I certainly hope so. Toby gave her a lot of pleasure and was a wonderful companion for her... and in return she gave him a good life. Most of Toby's oddball health issues were unique weird Toby-isms, so I imagine if she gets another dog there will be less of that sort of thing. The only downside to which is that we wouldn't get to see a lot of Mrs. Toby, but that might be a good thing, in a way....