(For me, dogs are a big part of the outdoor lifestyle. Knowing that Fishpond feels much the same, I’m sharing a cautionary tale about a close call for one of our four-legged friends.)
If Maggie were a cat, she’d have spent the majority of her nine lives recently. Instead, due to the skill and care of a number of fine veterinary professionals and a healthy dose of just plain good luck, she’s lying on the loveseat in my office recovering as I type this.
It’s been a brutally cold and long winter here in eastern South Dakota. Our two rescued Labrador retrievers have cabin fever as bad as any human – and their expeditions have been shorter and less frequent than they’re used to. While my wife and I escaped for a few weeks to the warmth of Nicaragua, Chloe and Maggie stayed home to endure the cold and snow.
The forecast that Thursday a few weeks back called for afternoon temps in the 40s, which would mean a continuation of the melting we had enjoyed and signaled winter was reluctantly releasing its stranglehold. The plan was to take the dogs for an early morning excursion before work, and before the day warmed up, the ground got muddy, and we’d have to take the girls to the dog wash (yes, there is such a thing and it’s connected to a car wash) before allowing them in the house. If I’ve taken my dogs to this particular piece of public land once, I’ve taken them there a hundred times. Having four Labs over the years, all of which have been hunters, I’m no stranger to torn skin from running through a fence or thorny thicket, cut pads on the feet, and other “costs of doing business.”
The dogs were ranging to and fro in the tall grass and trees that line the river. I stuck to the abandoned roadbed while they chased after the scents that drive dogs crazy out in the country. Deer, pheasant, turkey, rabbit, other dogs, etc. At precisely the stroke of 8am, and about ¾ mile from the parking area, I heard Maggie let out a surprised yelp from nearby but out of sight. I called her, and she trotted over to me and lay down on the path. Immediately, I knew the situation was serious. She had a gaping puncture wound on her chest near her right front “armpit.” I used a leash to tightly secure my gloves over the wound and proceeded to carry her (thankfully, she’s a smaller Lab, weighing only 60 lbs) back to the car. Needing to take a few rest breaks, it took 30 minutes to reach the car. I called the vet in the nearest town, alerting them that I’d be bringing in an urgent case, and sped 10 minutes to get there.
When I opened the back hatch on the Subaru, it looked like a murder scene. Maggie was lying down, and our yellow Lab had quite a few bright red blotches of blood on her coat. I hurried Maggie inside the clinic, and the staff immediately took her into an exam room. They admitted later that they weren’t quite prepared for how serious the situation was, but the doctor was at the clinic within 10 minutes and Maggie went into surgery roughly 75 minutes from the time of the injury. The goal of the surgery was to stabilize her condition; we’d worry about infections and other issues later. I quickly cleaned the back of the Subaru, loaded Chloe, called my wife and drove home to pick her up. After a tense few hours of surgery, Maggie was sedated when we were able to see her. The injury had luckily missed her heart, trachea, lungs, and diaphragm. If any of those had been hit, the wound could have been fatal. She had a drain tube in her side that was helping to remove any remaining air and fluids that had gotten into her chest cavity. At the request of the doctor, we returned that afternoon to the scene of the accident to attempt to locate the object that had caused the wound. Incredibly, we found it very easily, spotting the sharp end of a tree limb coated with bright red blood. I later returned and cut up the limb, hoping to avoid a repeat for any other dog.
Looking back, this incident taught us a few lessons that may be of value to other dog parents.
• As the old Boy Scout saying goes, “always be prepared.” I never imagined I’d need to use that leash in a first aid situation, but I’m glad I had it with me that morning.
• Remain calm, and take action, in the face of what is a serious situation. This is admittedly difficult, but somehow I assessed the situation and took what I thought were the right steps.
• Be proactive in preventing injuries. When we hunt, I have our dogs wear heavy canvas-type chest protectors. Not sure why I never had them wear them on non-hunting outings, but that will change going forward.
• Have a veterinary clinic locator app in your smartphone.
It’s been just over two weeks since Maggie’s accident. She received compassionate and professional care from skilled veterinary staff at two facilities. She hasn’t shown signs of an infection, but she’ll stay on antibiotics for another month to be safe. She has a huge scar to show for her close call, but she’s more than ready to resume her active lifestyle. Who knows what a dog thinks, but as her owners we hope she realizes how fortunate she is. As frustrating as our “kids” are sometimes, it’s hard to imagine losing one in an accident like we nearly did.