After six years of chasing Frisbees at dizzying speeds, Brodie, my 50-pound Rhodesian ridgeback, started limping one day following a rigorous workout at the park. When the limping continued well into the week, I took him to see the veterinarian.
“Looks like a torn cruciate ligament,” the vet said.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means surgery,” she explained. She referred us to a surgeon who spent five minutes with Brodie before confirming the diagnosis.
“For a dog his size, there are two options,” he said. “The standard surgery, which consists of a metal plate being screwed to his bone, or a clinical trial.” The surgeon explained that if I chose the trial, Brodie would have a type of organic tissue in place of the metal plate.
There was a lot to think about, including the doubts I had about letting my dog be part of a medical experiment. But if we pursued the clinical trial, Brodie wouldn’t need a metal plate, and I’d heard horror stories from people about metal plates. Dogs were left permanently lame; the screws sometimes got loose; dogs were in more pain than they were prior to surgery.
I desperately wanted Brodie to be able to play again. He lit up at the mere mention of the Frisbee, which we called a “Flippy Flopper”. Whenever I said the words “Flippy Flopper”, Brodie lifted his head, raised his ears, and did a dance in front of the shelf where I kept it. I couldn’t let that be over for him.
After careful consideration, I chose the clinical trial, and prepared the house for Brodie’s convalescence. I set up a kennel and filled it with his favorite blankets. I borrowed a futon mattress from a friend and slept next to the kennel through his entire healing process. I kept a close eye on him.
He wobbled when he walked, and seemed uncertain as to why. But in four short weeks, he was putting weight on his leg. Then he wanted to take longer walks. And when the surgeon finally gave us the go-ahead, Brodie was rewarded with a short and gentle game of chase the Frisbee. He wore out quickly, but seemed pleased to start playing again.
Six months later, Brodie started limping again. Opposite knee, same problem. I knew what was coming, but the thought of a matching scar was too much. I asked the surgeon about options.
We didn’t have any.
“Brodie was a model patient,” he said. “The clinical trial worked well for him. But unfortunately, the procedure wasn’t approved.”
“You can still opt for the metal plate,” he said.
But I couldn’t. It still made me nervous for all the reasons it had before.
We went home. I knew Brodie’s Frisbee days were over, but he didn’t seem to be in too much pain, and still wanted to go for walks, so I took him to the park. We stopped to cross the creek when he noticed another dog splashing in the water.
“Ma,” he seemed to say when he looked back at me. “I could do that, too.” He waded out a little.
After that, it was hard to get him to leave, so we came back to the creek regularly for several months. I noticed that the more time Brodie spent in the water, the less he limped later.
I read about hydrotherapy and how it’s used to speed up recovery from surgeries like the one Brodie endured. It required a pool and a treadmill. It was expensive. But the creek offered a no-cost version we could access any time.
And it offered us something else.
Another hobby started to emerge. Brodie wasn’t just wading into the water. He had an agenda out there.
At first, I thought it was a fluke. He saw a rock under the water and started to hit it with his paw. When it moved in the silt, he was shocked. He jumped back. He looked at me as if to say, “Did you see that?” Then he went to work. He kept pawing the rock and watching it move until he’d rolled it over to the bank where I stood, incredulous. It took him over ten minutes, but he stayed focused and got the rock. He looked up at me and whined. I picked it up and brought it home.
I bring all the rocks home.
Brodie has made it a regular thing. He gets in the water and finds a rock for his collection. He favors no particular size or shape, he just works at the ones that strike his fancy. He rolls the rocks through the creek bed until they land at my feet. It’s my job to pick them up and carry them home. I arrange them around his water bowl.
“Let’s go get a rock,” I say, and he dances around in circles while I grab the leash. When I say “Flippy Flopper”, his face still lights up, but there’s no fanfare. There’s no longer a dance for it. It’s clear Brodie has moved on. He’s a rock hound now, wading in the water, taking his time. He searches a little, until he finds a good one. Then he works at it. Like a dog with a bone.