I was in line at Staples a few weeks back, when I noticed that the woman ahead of me was picking up some photographs that she had mounted on posterboard. They were of Labrador retrievers in various settings.
One in particular caught my attention. It was a chocolate Lab, with a Neoprene vest, on a stand just above water level, at the base of a Bald Cypress, in the middle of a Cypress Swamp. It was duck season and this was clearly a dog enjoying his work.
His expression was of studied focus as his pale green eyes seemed fixed. He appeared to strain against the confinement of the vest and was ready to explode off the stand at the first duck to fall.
I introduced myself, and commented that the picture was stunning. I asked if this was her dog. “Not exactly,” she replied. “ I am with Lowcountry Lab Rescue. These are some of our dogs that were adopted and the pictures are for a fundraiser we are holding.” I told her that the photographs were beautiful and to call me if I could ever be of help.
Sooner than I would have expected, she did. She explained that she had a male, black Lab, about 5 years old. He appeared to be a stray, who had been hit by a car, and had a broken leg. I told her that we would be happy to see him.
When he arrived, we learned that his name was Ford; we speculated that this is the make of car that hit him. Ford was a wonderful boy. His beautiful full frame and square head cut a regal silhouette, suggesting an animal of fine breeding.
Closer inspection indicated a picture of prolonged neglect and possibly abuse. His skin was rough, and he had a large, infected, laceration on his head. As the exam went on, the findings got worse. It was apparent that trauma was not the cause of the severely swollen and dysfunctional limb. It was a tumor. Large and destructive. X-rays showed a mass that was consuming the bones that comprise the knee.
This news is bad enough in most cases, but in a case where a rescue organization has to put up precious resources to treat a single animal, who possibly has an aggressive tumor and only a few months to live, the news would come as a death knell.
The board deliberated and made the logical choice. They would give him some time with them, restore some dignity to a discarded life, and then, humanely, put him to sleep. The only one blissfully unaware of the gravity of all this was Ford. As I was hearing the decision, I was looking at him, standing in his run, on three legs, big broad smile and tail wagging.
Our technicians all took to him immediately. His demeanor and personality were infectious and he savored every bit of the love he was given.
It just seemed too sad and unfair that this dog who radiated boundless joy, love and optimism, could be in this situation. For all that is right, this dog should have been someone’s once in a lifetime special dog. That person would have surely taken the chance to treat him, even if the odds were against him, fighting for a pal. But fate had landed Ford without that kind of patron. He had lived a life of neglect and now it was over.
We could not let this happen. I called back and offered to absorb more of the cost. They were delighted. Imagine how hard it is for someone who loves dogs enough to start a rescue organization to have to make these kinds of decisions.
In addition to the discount, I also discussed the possibility that this tumor was not as bad as some. That you never know. We may get lucky and have a low-grade cancer that can be cured with an amputation. They were more than willing to take the chance and the decision was made to amputate the leg.
I have come to realize that there are two distinct groups of people and that will never change. In the Veterinary world, “the cup is half empty” people, are “the patient is half dead” crowd. Always willing to concede defeat. Often underestimating the power to heal and overestimating their ability to predict outcomes.
Then there are “the cup is half full,” or “the patient has half a chance” people. I count myself among the latter. We, too, are at times, wrong. But the rewards we have yielded by going the extra yard, far outweighs any regrets for having tried.
Each case is different, and there is always a weighing of the odds of success against the physical and financial toll of a procedure. Sometimes there is just the feeling that it’s the right thing to move ahead.
I had that feeling about Ford and reckoned that if I was wrong, the worst that would happen would be that he would be rid of a painful leg for whatever time he had left and he could spend a slightly expanded final act in the environment of love that he deserved.
I anxiously read Fords biopsy report three days later. Success! It was benign and he was likely cured by the procedure.
So, now Ford awaits adoption at Lowcountry Lab Rescue, to begin his second act with someone who deserves him and who he deserves.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.