It was after a trip to Fort Funston that I first noticed Jasmine Blue favoring her right hind leg. My friend Johnny and his dog, Abe, had come to visit for the weekend. Abe and Jasmine are old buddies, and they love to play hard. Not to mention Abe is a pit bull-greyhound mix, and quite a bit more lithe and graceful on his feet (still working on that diet). All of that aside, Jazzy still felt compelled to try and keep up with Abe as he glided effortlessly through the waves likes a gazelle.
Later that evening, Johnny and I went to the market to pick up ingredients to make dinner. When we arrived home, Abe greeted us at the door with his smile (his upper lip curls and the top of his nose wrinkles), but there was no Jazzy. Every time I arrive home, Jazzy greets me at the door with a “gift” in her mouth – usually one of her plush toys. She circles me; head down, ears back, butt wagging. She offers up her toy, but when I try to accept it, she ducks her head and continues making a circle around me. In all the hundreds of times we’ve been through this routine, I have yet to receive my gift, except the joyful, blue-eyed pit bull wagging away behind the door.
Both Johnny and I were worried, and as we moved through the house calling her name, we heard a whimper from the bottom of the stairs – it was Jazzy. She had gone down to the garden apartment and couldn’t make it back up. Thank goodness Johnny is a 6-foot-3 hulk of a man. He was able (just barely) to carry all 64 pounds of her up the stairs and lay her on her bed in the living room.
The lameness continued through the weekend, so I took her to see her vet, Dr. Sherman Wong, at Blue Cross Pet Hospital. He decided to run some tests and do some x-rays, which came back inconclusive. “I think it’s time to see a specialist,” he said, and referred me to Dr. Andrew Sams, a world-renowned veterinary orthopaedic surgeon in Mill Valley.
After a nearly day-long consult and some more x-rays, Dr. Sams called me into his office and turned out the lights (don’t even go there … he’s married … though marrying a vet isn’t a bad idea). On his computer screen were images of what looked like a pork chop. It was Jazzy’s big, beefy leg.
“She has a torn cruciate ligament,” he said, pointing to her knee. “She’s going to need surgery on her right leg, and eventually on her left.” He pointed out the inflammation and the fluid on the right knee, and then pulled up the image of her left, which showed similar damage, but not as severe.
The surgery, tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO), is done often on big muscular breeds; especially bully breeds like pit bulls who love to play hard (and don’t know when to quit); but Dr. Sams told me that over the last 10 years he has performed the procedure on over 1,000 dogs of all sizes and breeds, and even a few cats. TPLO is a method of treating the instability caused by rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament. “Jasmine Blue is young and healthy and the tears are minor,” he said reassuringly. “I expect her to make a full recovery and be good as new in six months.”
The surgery is expensive, but there wasn’t even a question of whether to do it. I will have to sell a little of my Apple Computer stock, purchased when I worked there during college, but it’s there for a rainy day, and this is as rainy as it gets.
We also have to prepare for the long recovery. My friend and trusty assistant, Steve, and I are moving my stuff down to the garden apartment. We’re breaking the bed down and putting the mattress on the floor so Princess Pork Chop doesn’t have to climb or jump – both strictly forbidden. She will get three 10-minute walks per day, and I’ll have to hold a sling under her belly when she does her business so she doesn’t fall. The first surgery is Feb. 4 and, after an eight-week recovery, she’ll have the second surgery on April 4. She’ll then have another four weeks of recovery and possibly some rehab, including hydrotherapy, at Dr. Sams’s state-of-the-art facility.
I know I’m in good hands, but I must confess I am nervous. Northside San Francisco’s fine food writer and my friend, GraceAnn Walden, as well as Johnny and Abe have offered to distract me the day of the surgery, which I will need. Six months of recovery seems like forever, but it’s just a drop in the ocean compared to a lifetime of running on the beach.
Pit Notes: The “Vick-tims” from the Michael Vick dog-fighting bust, nearly 50 battered, scarred and emotionally bruised pit bulls, made animal welfare history when the federal government and rescue groups lobbied to keep them alive. Normally, fighting dogs are kept as evidence and put down after the trial. They are often referred to as “Kennel Trash” because they are considered unadoptable, and to merely be “taking up space.” When a judge ordered the dogs be saved, Vick was also ordered to pony up the money to take care of them; small penance for his part in the drowning and electrocution of numerous innocent dogs who didn’t want to fight. After temperament testing (all but one dog passed), about half the dogs were sent to sanctuaries and the rest to rescue organizations. The wonderful Bay Area group Bad Rap recently arrived home with 10 of the dogs. Volunteers said that their new charges were far from vicious – even the ones with obvious battle wounds wagged their tails when introduced to other dogs. The pits and pit mixes were, at first, completely fearful of humans, but in just a short time in their new foster homes, they have come out of their shells and started to shine. Bad Rap hopes that after rehabilitation, training and teaching them what it’s like to live in a house (the dogs were kept in darkened kennels in the woods on Vick’s property), they will be able to place them in loving forever homes. To see photos and read about the Vick-tims’ journey from hell to heaven, visit www.badrap.org, and to view video of the dogs in their new foster homes visit, www.dogtime.com.