Stray dogs, in a rural setting, seem to be regarded as something other than dogs.
I (Henri Bianucci) have had clients who profess a profound emotional bond with their dog. They project every imaginable human trait upon their dogs to the point of humanizing them. Then these same people have told me about the stray dogs they have shot for running on their land. This practice is so common that it’s actually the exception when we do X-rays on a stray from a rural area that it does not have buck shot or bullet fragments in it.
I understand that stray dogs, especially in packs, can be a nuisance, but they are not to blame for being there, and there are alternatives to wounding or killing them. But for their circumstances, these strays are no different than their own beloved dogs. It came as no surprise to me when the Friends of Colleton County Animal Shelter (FOCAS) called and asked for help with a dog who had been shot.
They named her Serenity because she was so brave and calm when they treated the massive wound that had been inflicted upon her. As is the case with most shelters, they are in the business of picking up the pieces of messes caused by human ignorance, irresponsibility, indifference or cruelty.
By no fault of her own, Serenity was forced to make her own way in the world. No two feedings a day or shelter from the elements for her. Nobody was showering her with the affection that a dog of her disposition deserved. Her only choice was to provide for herself and subsist on whatever she could catch or find.
Someone noticed that a strange dog was wandering in the neighborhood. They called animal control, who came out to set a trap for her. When she was found in the trap, a day or so later, it was discovered that she had been shot. The bullet had smashed into Serenity’s left front leg, shattering the bones between the elbow and the wrist.
She was taken to Friends of Colleton County Animal Shelter, where she encountered an entirely different variety of humans than she had been accustomed to. They saw her as the lovely dog that she is, and their every effort was directed at her well-being. They performed initial supportive care, which included food, antibiotics, wound treatment and bandaging, They consulted Dr. C, their veterinarian, and discussed treatment options for the leg. Given the severity of the injury, coupled with the limited shelter funds, the consensus was that amputation was the most reasonable step.
Upon first examining her, I was struck by her physical condition. Despite her recent circumstances, and her injuries, she was in excellent shape. She was only a couple of years old, and a bit thin. But the muscling she had was firm and well defined. This was clearly a dog that spent little time sitting down, and even on three legs, she moved easily, and pulled hard on the leash.
But the most striking thing, to me, was her disposition. Her scarred face had a sweet expression, and her demeanor was so calm and trusting. Despite everything that had happened to her, she still trusted that we were there to help her, and we wanted to honor that trust. I looked at the leg and decided that there was a chance it could be saved. The extent of the bone loss, and the soft tissue damage, made the prognosis for a good functional outcome guarded. A failed repair would mean amputation, meaning another painful surgery for Serenity, and additional expense to FOCAS.
Many would say to just take the leg off. Dogs do fine on three legs, it will cost less, have less chance of complications, and three-legged dogs actually get adopted faster than four-legged ones. I guess that’s a sympathy factor. I agree with all of that. Amputations do extremely well, and given no alternative, I do not hesitate to recommend them. But hind-limb amputations have a better outcome than forelimbs, like this one, and I felt that there was an alternative.
In reference to how well dogs do with amputations, there is an expression that says, “dogs are born with three legs and a spare.” The thing I hate about amputations is that we are throwing out the spare tire, and we never know what's going to happen to the remaining legs later on. So I told FOCAS that I would perform the reconstructive procedure, at a discount, of course, and if it failed, I would amputate at no charge. It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.
The repair was a success. The leg healed well, and despite a limp, it is a very functional limb. During Serenity’s treatment and recovery, Dr. C, the shelter veterinarian, was instrumental to a successful outcome. As she meticulously provided the care that Serenity needed, a bond developed between them, and she adopted Serenity.
Dr. C recently related to me what a special dog Serenity is, and all that they have brought to each other’s lives. Listening to her I could not help but notice that she was describing her in terms that made her seem almost ... human.