Tommie’s Evaluation at Auburn

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My blond dog, Bodie wasn’t the only one of my Border Collies that needed to go to Auburn University’s Small Animal Teaching hospital. My young black and white girl, Tommie, has struggled with an ongoing limp that needed a more definitive diagnosis than my local vet could give.  Our appointment in Auburn, Alabama was set for Tuesday, the 7th of February.

The night before I would leave for the four hour drive north from Pensacola, Florida to Auburn, I received a call from one of the University’s fourth year student vets. He wanted to review Tommie’s case that night over the phone so at the actual appointment he could spend the optimum amount of time with Tom.  I was impressed.  But then he mentioned that he was from the Oncology department.  What?  Oncology??  Cancer?  Why hadn’t my local vet told me that he suspected Tommie had cancer in his leg?  I was mad and hurt and scared. It didn’t make the long drive up to Auburn easy.  Now I might possibly have to make a major decision, one I dreaded.

If Tom’s leg was cancerous could I, should I, have it amputated? For some reason the thought of making such a change to my young dog’s life did not cause me to sob uncontrollably.  I was in shock.  What would I do?

For four hours as I sped north on Interstate 65, I thought of the many people, including well-known dog obedience and agility trainer Terri Arnold, who made the decision to amputate their dog’s cancerous leg.  As I recall, in Terri’s case her dog survived for many years before the cancer returned and the dog was put down.  But many times the cancer is successfully stopped because of the amputation.  A three- legged dog does not feel sorry for itself.  Dogs adopt with what we humans see as a disability, not seeing themselves as less than perfect.

I never made the final decision over that long drive. How could I NOT save the dog and do the right thing.  What kind of person would I be to euthanize an otherwise healthy, young dog?  But I had not yet convinced myself that there was a right answer.

When my three dogs and I arrived at the small animal hospital the student vet promptly discussed Tom’s problems with her leg. Then he took her in the back room where her case was discussed with the student vet or vets and a staff vet, while I sat and talked to other dog owners.

In a relatively short time I was called back into the exam room.  Three vets stood across from me, staring me down.  Why, one asked, did I come to the Oncology department with Tommie?  I stuttered that it was not my decision which department evaluated her.  We were all at a loss for words.  Then the staff veterinarian said that there is no orthopedic surgeon at Auburn.  The nearest one was in Birmingham, Alabama or Maryland.  Hold the show, I thought.  Maryland?  Too far, especially since Birmingham is a mere five hours from my home.  As they described their thoughts on Tom’s diagnosis, I finally interrupted and asked if there was any cancer.  The best answer I could receive was given, that there was absolutely no evidence of cancer.

As I left the University I sighed with relief. For now Tommie has to remain in her crate for two weeks and take an anti-inflammatory drug.  Then I can make an appointment with the surgeon in Birmingham.  The actual decision to amputate her leg if she HAD been diagnosed with cancer was itself amputated, removed.  Gone.  Any other decisions were easy after this.

Or so I thought…….

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