Jennifer was a veterinary student and like many, she was working summers and holidays in our practice, in part for money but primarily to learn.
I (Henri Bianucci) always love the infusion of fresh enthusiasm that the veterinary students and student technicians bring to the clinic, and we have a nearly open-door policy for all who want to come to work, learn and observe.
Jennifer, of course, had a dog. His name was Charlie, and he was a 5-year-old Corgi with an enthusiasm for play, rivaling that of Jennifer’s for learning. They were well matched.
Dogs enhance our lives in so many ways throughout our lives, but never is this more prominent than when we are in periods of intense transition. These are the times that we have to largely isolate ourselves from our families and friends as we pursue an advanced degree, or start a business, or do anything that demands time and focus.
Never is a dog a better companion than these times. They don’t demand our time or attention, but when we are ready and in need of some emotional support, they are there, happily available to supply love and affection.
They force us to regularly disengage and decompress for at least enough time to walk and feed them. Then they patiently await in the interim while we get back to the grind.
Of course, we feel some guilt as we leave them again, but we make them part of the goal. We promise them that we are going through this to ensure us of a better future. We will enjoy the fruits of this sacrifice together.
We all know that sometimes these promises never come to pass. Sometimes we don’t reach our goals, and sometimes we do, but we don’t all make it to the promised land together.
When Jennifer brought Charlie in to the emergency clinic, the situation was grave. Charlie had ruptured a disc in his spine and had become acutely paralyzed in his hind legs.
Dogs of all breeds, but the shorter-legged breeds, referred to as chondrodystrophoid (CD), in particular, can be affected by degenerative disc disease.
Basically, the discs couple the vertebrae together and have a shock-absorbing function. The anatomy of a disc is similar to that of a jelly doughnut. There is a tough fibrous cover (annulus fibrosus), which encloses a gelatinous core (nucleus pulposus). In CD dogs, these discs can begin to degenerate during puppyhood. By young adulthood, they have spinal changes that are similar to those of geriatric animals. The average age for disc rupture in these breeds is about 4 years old.
The disc rupture results range from mild incoordination and pain to complete and permanent paralysis. The disc material can hit the cord with such force that the spinal cord is completely and irreversibly damaged.
Charlie’s injury was the worst-case scenario. It was explained that the odds of recovery, even with surgery, were very poor.
In many, if not most cases, this is the point where euthanasia is chosen.
Jennifer was devastated, and the tears flowed as she sat in the cage with Charlie, who was blissfully unaware of the gravity of the situation and just sat contentedly in her arms.
Charlie would never walk again. He would need assistance to urinate, and his bowel movements would be unpredictable and uncontrolled. To get around, he would require a cart.
I always explain that there are many happy little dogs running around in carts.
Yes, it takes work, but it does get easier with time, to manage their bladders, and bowel movements can be timed. This would take time and commitment that most graduate students cannot afford, but this was not just any graduate program. This was a veterinary student.
Jennifer was unflinchingly resolute. She would not be putting Charlie to sleep. She had made a promise, and they were going to make it through together. That was 11 years ago.
Recently, I was speaking with a client in front of our clinic. As we talked, I saw an old Corgi sail past in his cart. His owner was a woman with his leash in one hand and a rambunctious boxer mix in the other.
When I came back into the clinic, she was at the front desk, and I smiled as I saw this happy old Corgi getting tangled up in the leash and feet of this playful boxer. They were just both happy to be there.
The owner’s back was turned and I hurried past to get into my next appointment. As I entered the room, it all came back to me.
It was Jennifer, who is now a veterinarian practicing in Savannah. In the cart was Charlie, who I would learn during our visit had spent the past 11 years happily at Jennifer’s side.
Managing him, according to her, had been a breeze, and his quality of life was great. They went through their transitions together, and were enjoying the benefits together. Promise kept!
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.