57: That Dog Can’t Walk

57: That Dog Can’t Walk

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

That Dog Can’t Walk

The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.

~Henry Ward Beecher

The last thing we needed was another animal in the house. We had enough discord between the two cats and Hoss, our very naughty Dachshund. But Pumpkin was an abandoned puppy, and my daughter Alice adopted her. It was crazy to allow yet another dog into our household, but I guess I’m crazy.

“We’re going to call her Pumpkin because it’s almost Halloween,” the kids informed me at dinner. “She even looks like a Pumpkin. Look how round she is, and her brown patches are sort of orange.”

I took Pumpkin to Dr. Genet, our veterinarian, for a checkup. She greeted the vet with a happy face and wagging tail. You’d think he was her very best friend. She showed interest in everything he was saying. “She’s a very young pup and healthy, but an unusual mix of breeds,” the vet said. “Collie head, Basset Hound body, Dachshund feet. The tail is King Charles Spaniel.” She was quite a funny looking dog.

None of it mattered. What mattered was that we had the happiest animal I ever met. She was delighted to join our menagerie, watching and imitating the other animals, eager to fit in. At first, we wondered if her vocal cords were impaired. She never barked. But after listening to our noisy cats and our other dog, she attempted to join in the racket. What came out of her sounded like a mix of meow and woof, as though she wasn’t sure which language was hers.

When Hoss challenged the cats, Pumpkin pranced about behind him, imitating his dance, learning to be a dog. Pumpkin watched and learned from Hoss, but unlike Hoss, she had a dose of common sense. She’d join him in annoying the cats, but only to a point. She’d help chase them and bark at them, but never mimicked any of the more stupid moves that earned him many a scratched and bloodied snout.

As Pumpkin aged, she grew plumper and plumper and began to resemble an overinflated balloon with a head and tail. People often laughed at the sight of her. “What kind of dog is that?” they’d ask. Listing all of her breeds took too long, so my son created a shortcut. “She’s a hippo spaniel,” he’d say and folks would look more closely. “Interesting. I don’t know the breed,” they’d mumble, and walk away.

Then Pumpkin developed a problem. It showed up one evening when she couldn’t move her hindquarters. My husband took her to the vet on his way to work the next morning. When I finished teaching that day, I met with Dr. Genet for his diagnosis. The news was not good. “That heavy Basset body on that elongated Dachshund spine is the problem,” he said. Tests, X-rays and other imaging techniques indicated surgery.

When, after her treatment, I went to take Pumpkin home, the news was still grim. The veterinarian said they had done what they could, and there was a sixty percent chance she might recover the use of one leg. But in the meantime, to help the healing, Pumpkin needed to be confined. He brought out parts of a large cage for me to take home and assemble.

I carried Pumpkin to the car and put her in the seat next to me. She rested her chin on my lap and looked up at me with her glad-to-see-you smile. My heavy heart was lightened by her happy spirit. I stroked her head and smiled back.

The kids refused to construct the cage as I’d asked. I explained again its importance for Pumpkin’s recovery. They insisted that her being free, where they could hug and hold her and let her know she was loved, was more important than the maybe recovery of some movement to one leg. I relented and Pumpkin remained uncaged.

It upset me to see her dragging her still paralyzed back parts this way and that behind the dancing Hoss, who was busy threatening the cats. My attempts to keep Pumpkin still were unsuccessful. She was so happy being back in the game. She dragged along, adding her meow-bark to the noise and grinning. I let her be.

By the end of the first week, she was pushing valiantly with her right leg, over and over again, trying to make it hold her up. It was hard to watch. Didn’t she know it was hopeless?

By the second week, though, I had to wonder. Each day, she was up on her right rear leg for longer and longer stretches, with the left one now making pushing movements as well. She made progress daily.

A month passed and it was time for Pumpkin’s post-op visit to the vet. My husband dropped her off on his way to the office and I went to get her after work. When they brought Pumpkin out, she dashed over to greet me. I leaned down to attach her leash.

“Don’t go,” the receptionist said. “The doctor needs to see you.” My heart sank. I sat down, dreading more bad news. I should have kept her in the cage, I thought. The vet came out and indicated I should follow him into the examining room. Pumpkin trotted along beside me, grinning up at Dr. Genet, her tail wagging.

He had a pair of X-ray films hanging. Pointing along the first one as he spoke, Dr. Genet explained in detail the anatomy of a normal dog’s spinal column. I felt like I was back in biology class.

He moved to the second frame. “Now this is the X-ray of Pumpkin’s back,” he said, pointing at the spinal cord. Remember what I told you about the importance of this for movement?” I nodded. “Now see where this disc has penetrated into the spinal cord here, practically severing it?” I nodded again. Dr. Genet turned his attention to Pumpkin, still prancing happily about the room, uninterested in his lecture. He pointed directly at her. “That dog cannot walk,” he announced firmly.

He sounded almost angry with her. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but she had cats to chase.” Dr. Genet shook his head and laughed. “Motivation is powerful medicine. It’s one of science’s greatest mysteries. Like love.” Then he leaned down and petted Pumpkin’s head. “Good girl,” he said. “Good girl.”

~Marcia Rudoff

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