A Very Dignified Thing to Do – Part Deux

After my last post, I received a comment asking me to talk a little about my decision to amputate Greta’s leg  and her mental state while adjusting to her new lifestyle. I hope she doesn’t mind that I share her comment before answering her question.

I stumbled across this blog very recently and completely by accident but how lucky that I did. We have a young (4years old) pit for whom amputation has now become a very real possibility. He has some orthopedic issues that make walking painful for him and recently he has gotten to the point that he is no longer able to tolerate the pain meds that made his issue bearable for him. We’ve had a couple of orthopedic evaluations done on him and are awaiting one more to be done in a couple of weeks at our local veterinary college… then we’ll have to make some sort of decision as he cannot go on as he is.

Clearly just living in daily pain is not an option but we’re a little on fence about amputation. He’s young, he’s vibrant, he’s active… I’d rather euth him than have him live life just getting by. It appears Greta may have gone through some mental adjustment to her new tri-pawed-ness and come out the other side a happy girl. I was wondering if you could share some more details about how that period was for Greta. I guess I may be worrying more than I need to… after all if my dog had to have an amputation due to an accident I wouldn’t think twice about it but somehow the situation we’re in makes it feel almost like a “voluntary” (for lack of a better word) amputation and that just bothers me more than I can say.

I want so much to make the right decision for him – the choice that is in his best interest not mine – and I’m almost paralyzed by the fear that I’ll make the wrong choice. Any info you care to share would be much appreciated. Thanks so much!

To put it simply, having Greta’s leg amputated proved to be the best decision I could have made for her. When I first adopted Greta, she was this little ball of energy with the most amazing personality. For the first year I had her, we did so much together – went on runs and long walks around the neighborhood, played countless games of fetch at the school down the street, had playdates and went to doggy daycare. Then, out of the blue, she began limping on her left front leg in late October of 2009.

Over the next couple months, it got worse and she lost that ‘spunk’ that she was known for. She seemed really unhappy and couldn’t do a lot of her favorite activities. We took her to the vet and she even had a biopsy, but the vet was unable to find anything to give a proper diagnosis. She prescribed some pain meds and anti-inflammatories, which helped a little as long as she took them regularly. One random day it just seemed to go away. We enjoyed two pain-free, awesome months together and it made me realize how bad things had been.

Then, the pain came back with a vengeance…along with a hard knot that continued to grow on her shoulder. Soon, there was absolutely zero sign of that fun-loving dog and it grew harder and harder to watch her suffer. She could barely get up and down the stairs and often times we had to carry her because she was in so much pain. Our regular vet was baffled and recommended we see a specialist, which was how we discovered her cancer.

When presented with all of the options, amputation seemed like the logical and ‘best’ option, but it was still an incredibly difficult decision to make. It weighed on me so hard to think of her living the rest of her life without a leg, but I couldn’t bear to see her in any more pain. I asked the oncologist, who had mentioned that she had several dogs herself, “What if it was your dog…what would you do?” She replied, “Without question, I’d have her leg amputated.” Decision made.

The next couple months were rough because of some complications after the surgery – illustrated by some of my previous posts like this ONE and the few that followed. Many of my posts concentrated on Greta’s medical status as opposed to how she was physically and mentally dealing with the loss of a limb. Honestly, after the pain subsided, she adjusted perfectly. She was going up and down the stairs instantly and it wasn’t long before we were able to take short walks around the block. Soon we were back to playdates and fetch and everything we used to do before, she isn’t phased a bit. Everyone who sees her can’t believe how awesome she is doing and how well she still keeps up with all her doggy boyfriends.

The whole process was pretty strange and humbling – in my mind I was terrified that she wouldn’t be able to cope with her loss or it would inhibit her physically, but in reality she has no trouble at all. When Greta woke up with one less leg, she didn’t worry about what the other dogs were going to think of her, she just dealt with what she had…as she’s been doing for her entire life so far.  Dogs are amazing in their resilience…they aren’t self-concious beings, they are survivors. And given that they don’t get to make a lot of their own decisions, our animals rely on us to make the right ones for them.  I cannot tell you how happy I am to have my little G back…this is a decision I would make a million times more.

I hope this helps my new reader with the decision that lies ahead of her. I’ll leave this post with the same quote that I included in my first post on this blog back in August…it made me feel much better when faced with the decision to take Greta’s leg.

“Allowing your dog to live a quality life, no matter how short or long, without pain, is a very dignified thing to do.”

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18 Responses to A Very Dignified Thing to Do – Part Deux

  1. What gorgeous dogs you have. Greta clearly has such a strong, beautiful character, I loved reading your blog. I too just “stumbled” across it and I’m stoked that I did. I am a veterinary nurse and get such pleasure reading about amazing dogs like her. I look forward to more.

  2. Fantastic post, so many good points – especially “given that they don’t get to make a lot of their own decisions, our animals rely on us to make the right ones for them”. It’s so hard for us to know what is right, but like your example, what is right was what kept Greta going strong.

  3. susan frye says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Even though my mind told me that losing a leg would not be the end of my dog’s world my heart wasn’t so sure. Hearing the same thing from someone who has been through it already really helps to reinforce that this will not be the end of the world for our little man. If indeed (as I suspect) we get confirmation that this may be the option that is best for him I will feel much more at ease knowing that he should come out the other side still being the same silly dude that he has always been. Again, thank you so much for opening up your life and sharing with the rest of us!

  4. claudia says:

    “When Greta woke up with one less leg, she didn’t worry about what the other dogs were going to think of her, she just dealt with what she had…as she’s been doing for her entire life so far. Dogs are amazing in their resilience…they aren’t self-concious beings, they are survivors.” what a great thought, and really a great way to reframe many situations in people life.

  5. Emma says:

    Great post and I really like your quote.


  6. Em says:

    The question makes me think about this pup (http://stubbydog.org/2011/08/what-a-beautiful-pit-bull/) who had her back leg amputated when she was 6 and lived a full life and many happy years afterwards. Sadly, I learned this morning that her family had to say good-bye over the weekend – at age 14 – see http://loveandaleash.com/2012/03/12/when-its-time-to-say-goodbye/.

  7. Rebecca Hengen says:

    I recently adopted a six month old pit that had been surrendered to a shelter with injuries (probably hit by a car). One of his front legs had been amputated only a week before, and when he came home with me he was a ball of energy. I had to keep him from playing too rough with my other dogs until his staples were removed. Then it was discovered that he had a very bad diaphragmatic hernia, and he survived that surgery. He is the most happy, lively dog, and plays as rough and tumble as any of my dogs. I also have a deaf pit and I don’t think he even realizes that he is different. I have another pit that lost an eye after having been shot in the face with a shotgun before I adopted her. Each of these dogs amazes me with their lack of self-pity. Dogs seem to truly live in the moment, savoring each happy thing in their life with no regrets for past events. They don’t worry about how they look, or what others think of them. They are grateful for the life they have, and give back so much love and joy each day.

  8. Chris says:

    Great post. I have dealt with 2 dogs that have lost limbs, one a back and the current a front. You are so right …they just deal with it, it is their owners that worry too much about it. With an older (10yr) large breed (Rottie) having a front limb removed is a bit more difficult, but our Lily has adjusted. While she can’t go on long walks she is the queen of our little cul-du-sac! And we enjoy her everyday…………

  9. Vuthy says:

    I came across this site after googling for that dreaded “H” work. I do believe you did the right thing for Greta and I’ve encountered many three-legged dogs that act (and move) as if they have all 4 legs!

    We just lost one of our dogs to hemangiosarcoma. They say it’s often only detected when it gets really bad and that’s what happened in our case. Our dog went from being reluctant to walk and limping on her front right leg to showing pain in her rear right hip to not being able to walk and then getting very sick. This was all in the matter of a week and a half. We had to end her suffering this past Wednesday, at home with our 10-year-old pit nearby saying goodbye. We are grateful though, that we were saying goodbye to our 14-year-old Rottie-Mutt mix; she had lived a great long life. It’s still very painful losing her, especially how sudden it was, and though I know it was the right thing to do, the “dignified” thing to do, it’s going to take a while for it to sink in. I’m glad you were able to find a way to give Greta her quality of life back and I hope you’re able to give her many more years.

  10. Dot says:

    Also a Mom to “special needs” pitty – (Skye is deaf) but she has no idea she has any impairment and certainly this is one pitty who requires no pity!
    Kudos to you and yours for your tremendous dedication to your fur kids. Greta and her siblings are very lucky – and I wish all of you better times and good health!
    If Greta could speak – she would say “thank you Mom”. But I’m sure her happy, pain-free face says it all.

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