Saturday, February 18, 2012

The ACL Saga

Our youngest German wirehaired pointer has had long gangly hind legs from the beginning.  About a year ago we noticed she walked a little funny, not bending the hind legs, sometimes dragging her toes during the stride, but she never complained.
     Then last fall, during hunting season, she came up lame, to the point it hurt to watch her walk.  I took her to a veterinarian up where I hunt, and she was at a loss.  My vet back home mentioned possible acl or hip problems, and we x-rayed the hips, which looked fine.
     I started doing my homework, reading everything I could find on acl problems in dogs.  My vet suggested an orthopedic surgeon, who looked at X-rays of the dog’s knees and said he could fix them, at $3,650 each leg.  I went home to see what the options were.
     There are four common surgeries for acl damage.  In dogs, the surgery is used to stabilize the joint so scar tissue can form around the damaged area and stabilize it permanently.  In humans they try to actually repair the torn acl. Two of the surgeries on dogs, the TPLO and the TTA drastically alter the shape of the bone in hopes of stabilizing the joint.  The newer Tightrope and, what is called, the conventional surgery use nylon cords to stabilize the joint, and are much less invasive or expensive.  My surgeon wanted to do the TPLO.
     I stumbled upon a website , which warned of the dangers of acl surgeries, and the author feels strongly the surgery is unnecessarily overdone.  He suggests first trying an extended period of light activity, meaning months on a leash.  The recovery from the surgery would be about the same length of time.  Of course the gamble is that if the rest period didn’t work we would have wasted the time, but I also read a large percentage of the surgeries give less than perfect results, so we decided to give it a try.
     After a week on lead she seemed fine.  After sixteen weeks, Colby is doing great.  For two weeks now she has short periods off-lead, about fifteen minutes, in the woods behind the house.  When she gets up from rest, she does have a bit of stiffness, but it passes quickly and then she walks, trots, and gallops normally.  She never appears uncomfortable.  I am very optimistic that she will have a complete recovery by sometime this summer.
     Things in her favor are her age, a little over two, and she doesn’t have any extra weight on her at all.  I have been giving her extra glucosamine daily, lots.  My older wirehair has benefited tremendously from glucosamine in her diet, almost aging backwards two years, so I am a strong believer in it.  And German wirehaired pointers are pretty calm for bird dogs, so keeping Colby quiet has probably been easier than if I owned a wound setter or pointer. 

     Acl problems seem to be more common lately and nobody is certain why.  A possibility is the spaying or neutering of dogs too soon, before their hormones help with the growth of their bodies.  Colby was spayed at six months of age.  Also, acl surgery is a big money maker for many veterinarians, so that may drive the rise in surgeries too.
     So that is Colby’s saga.  She’s a sweet girl with two seasons of grouse hunting behind her.  I hope she has a dozen more to go.

Monday, February 6, 2012


     About forty years ago, after years of being closed, the season opened up for Atlantic brant along the northeast coast.  The loss of eel grass caused the demise of the sea goose, but with the grass beds returning the birds flourished.
     We used to hunt a salt marsh on the north side of Cape Cod, and we would see the strings of brant trading back and forth out over the ocean.  The thought of getting a chance to hunt them seemed mighty exciting.  Nobody offered brant decoys back in those days though.
     My father owned a tree care business, and one of his crews came in at the end ofone day with an enormous white cedar trunk.  They were going to take it to the dump, but thought somebody might be able to use it.  I snatched the log and found a chain saw, and started whittling away.  Pretty soon there were four brant bodies roughed out.  Using a big sander, I smoothed out the saw marks, and then got down to carving some heads out of pine.  The following day I started painting them.
     On our next hunting trip to Cape Cod, we brought the four new brant floaters, all rigged with anchors and line, and six or eight Canadian geese silhouettes that I’d made a year or two earlier.  The ocean was quiet, and it really wasn’t the classic duck hunting day, but any day with gun and dog is better than none.  Sea ducks and brant were passing back and forth over the ocean, but well offshore.  We found an old washed up log to hide behind on the beach, then set my new brant decoys in the water about ten yards from shore.  The silhouettes we set right where the ocean met the beach, or maybe even one or two out in the water a little ways.
     Hiding behind that log we waited for a flock of brant.  When a bunch of about eight finally passed I gave them one sharp honk from a goose call, not the her-onk that I used on Canadian geese. 
     The brant reacted as if we had them on a fishing line.  They turned and came right toward us and we each shot one.  The Brittany ran into the sea and swam out to retrieve them one at a time.  Things couldn’t have worked out better.
     And in case you’re wondering, they tasted delicious, just like black ducks.