At 17 months, our puppy Lucy was diagnosed with Luxating patella, a genetic condition that sounds like a fancy hi-tech washing machine but actually refers to a displaced knee cap. It can vary from mild to severe. Her case was severe.
Surgery after-care included keeping her confined either to the living room or her crate for eight weeks. She could only go outside to potty and only if on a leash.
We were sent home with three types of drugs—from mild sedation to the doggy equivalent of oxycodone. After witnessing the dramatic way the oxy pill relaxed her, we named it after a local street drug dealer. (Don’t ask me how I know him, I just do. In my wanderings around the streets of Fort Bragg, I see things.)
In the event you ever find yourself dealing with this type of surgery, let me offer a few survival tips:
Diagnosis: Your puppy is an orthopedic wreck. You need to subject her to a horrendous surgery and lengthy recovery. Cry and whine to anyone who will listen. When they respond with sympathy, pretend that you’re handling the situation with courage and grace.
In reality, you’re a wienie. The universe knows this and accepts you unconditionally.
You hate the universe.
Rearrange the furniture in your living room. Everything that can conceivably be jumped on has to be blocked. By the time I finished, our living room looked like the morning after a drunken frat party—overturned ottomans, dining chairs blocking sofa access, an air mattress leaned against the front windowsills.
After Surgery: This is the worst. You dropped off your happy girl in the morning. Late afternoon, you pick up a drugged, confused puppy with no hair on her right leg and a sutured gash along the side of her knee.
When Lucy saw me in the waiting room, she cried and dropped to her side on the doormat. Vet tech Phil crouched down, petted her, and cooed as she involuntarily pooped on the mat. It was heartbreaking. He carried her to the car where she leaned against my husband Gary in the back seat and screamed out her bad-awful-horrible experience on the ride home.
The First Night: Sleep on the floor on an air mattress next to her. No matter how many times she tries to climb onto the mattress and cuddle (i.e., force you off), maintain that this is your space by saying, “No. Leave it.”
Wake up out of a deep sleep to find that you’ve rolled onto the floor and the dog is sleeping comfortably on the air mattress. Curl up on her doggy bed and finish out the night.
Days 2-29: Life as you knew it has come to an end. Your puppy’s mobility is restricted to being in a room under your supervision or confined to her crate. Each time she has to potty, take her out on a leash and coax her to get her business done so you can go back inside. As she gets better, she’ll realize these are her only outside moments and will procrastinate as she sniffs the entire yard. This becomes even more fun when it’s raining.
Begin to longingly eye her drugs.
Days 29-55: Each night, gently coax your puppy into her crate. (Lucy required a tractor pull to get her out from under an end table.) It helps to use candy as a bribe.
Don’t tell me that candy is bad for a dog. You’ll earn that right when you’re in the midst of an eight-week stint of recuperating puppy lock-up.
(Lucy’s “candy” was Canine Carryouts. After purchasing, I discovered the second ingredient—after chicken—is corn syrup and the thirteenth ingredient—before beef—is sugar. Ingredient number nine is something called animal digest. Yummy!)
After four weeks, you’ll be told to stop the pain killers. (This applies to the dog, not you.) However, in a couple weeks, she’ll start feeling a whole lot better. She’ll think she’s training for the circus as she races around the living room. Slip her a half Doggie Oxy in the evening so you can have some quiet television time. (Don’t tell the vet.)
She’ll also start spending many more hours in her crate. At six weeks, you won’t allow any misstep to harm that fragile knee.
Day 56: Take your puppy to the vet for x-rays. When she shows them to you, say “Oh. Hum. Aw,” like you understand what you’re looking at. When she says, “She’s good to go,” blubber your thanks. At the car, instead of lifting your puppy, let her jump in.
When you get home, take her on a short walk. Watch her trot down the alley, tail held high, like it was only yesterday—not several weeks ago—that she sniffed along this path.
You and your spouse have risen from wienies to survivors.
You love the universe.
Life is good.
Go inside and undo the wreck of your living room.