I tried, tried, tried to get at least one photo for this post, but really:
- My camera sucks.
- I have a black dog.
- I suck as a photographer.
Yeah. That means no cute smiling dog photo.
River, our youngest curly coated retriever, is now 11 and a half months old. He was the runt of his litter, so it was natural, when we got him, to call him Little Bit. He was just a little bit of a thing, especially next to Pax and Pflouff. Now the nickname seems ironic — like calling the bald guy “Curly.” He is the tallest of the three and the second-heaviest. And he’s still growing. Little Bit will be our largest dog when he matures. Even bigger than the Newf.
From the beginning I noticed something odd about him. He loved to run, loved to wrestle, but he almost never jumped. If he couldn’t climb up, he put his front paws up and waited to be lifted. That was not normal, not for a puppy of any breed, much less a curly. In March I took him to the vet and had his hips x-rayed. The ball and socket of his left hip joint didn’t fit well.
For the record, I don’t believe this was breeder error. He has an awesome breeder, Dawn Fleming in Ohio, who did all the research and health checks. (No dysplasia in either side of the pedigree for generations.) River was the runt of the litter and developmentally behind his siblings throughout his early life. My personal theory, truly, is that he just wasn’t done baking yet. No one’s fault.
The vet referred us immediately to a specialist, Dr. Byron Misseghers at Puget Sound Animal Hospital. Dr. Misseghers recommended a triple pelvis osteotomy (TPO) on that hip. It shot the budget for working on the house this summer, but we didn’t hesitate — not about money anyway. We were scared to death about the post-surgery recovery process. River is a somewhat. . . emotionally fragile. . . dog. Would he be able to handle eight weeks in a crate? Would I? I was an emotional wreck when I left him for surgery. I understood then why parents fall apart when their children are in the emergency room. He was so frightened, and I was so helpless. I still choke up thinking about it.
He came through the surgery amazingly well. When we picked him up the next day, he was walking without a limp — even the surgeon and vet techs were amazed. I was armed with a bag full of antibiotics, pain pills, and sedatives. A dear friend of mine had been a vet tech at this vet hospital for five years and had a dog go through the same surgery. “Use the sedative,” she told me. “It will make the confinement bearable for both of you.”
I took her advice to heart. The first week was easy — much, much easier than I’d ever dreamed possible — because he was on so many meds and still healing. He was in his crate except when he had to go out to pee, on leash only, straight out and straight back in. I put the crate near my desk, and I moved a mattress downstairs to sleep next to him, so he wouldn’t be alone at night. When he came off the bulk of the meds, we had to up the sedative a tiny bit. He began to get a little more restless and a little more vocal. We followed the vet’s instructions to the letter, though: crate rest, on leash to pee, no stairs, no playing with the other dogs.
After four weeks, he had follow up x-rays. The vet said they looked great, and so he lightened the restrictions. Still no stairs and no playing with the other dogs, so he moved from his crate to an ex-pen in the same area. Through the next few weeks we increased him freedoms gradually. Off leash to pee. Access to a larger area with some stairs. Pax (who won’t wrestle) in the area with him. Despite the added freedoms, those were difficult weeks. He had been a good soldier for the first few weeks, but he was making it clear now: He was DONE. It was time to be a real dog again.
On June 4, eight weeks post-surgery (almost — it was three days early because it got too hot to restrict him to his ex-pen), River was given his final freedom: access to Pflouff. I don’t think they’ve stopped wrestling since. “River, stop torturing your sister!” has again become the most often heard mantra of the house. I and all three dogs have moved back upstairs to the master bedroom with my husband.
What does it mean long-term? I don’t know. I hope it means that he’ll have essentially normal hips and be mostly pain-free throughout his life. He isn’t jumping much, but that could be habit rather than pain. He won’t ever be an agility dog, but I’m okay with that. I just want him to be happy and healthy.
And now that he’s a completely normal teenager again, I want him to grow up and stop torturing his sister. You know, I kind of liked him in the box. . . .