After scheduling Lucy’s amputation surgery for tomorrow (Monday) morning, I’ve been doing some reading and research about three-legged dogs. Although several people made jokes about changing her name to “Hop-a-long” or “Tripod,” I’ve discovered that a lot of people with a three-legged dog use the term “tri-pawed” or “tripawd” when talking about their pet — it’s become shorthand in some circles. Please note, I am not changing Lucy’s name to any of these terms; if anything, I would call her “money pit.”

One of the items I’m looking to purchase is a full-torso harness with a handle on it. The handle will allow me to lift and assist Lucy over rough terrain and rocks as well as up and down stairs and into the truck. Many tri-pawed owners recommend the Ruff Wear Web Master Harness and I think I’ll purchase one of these for Lucy. She’ll still jump in and out of the truck and run up and down steep hills, even if she shouldn’t, but she will certainly need some assistance for the first few weeks after the surgery. There is also a D-ring in the harness itself, situated midway on the back that will allow her leash to attach instead of on her collar — I’ve read that three-legged dogs need to have a leash centrally-located to keep them from being pulled to one side and losing their balance.

I spent the day today playing with the dogs and taking them for a long walk in the nice weather (shh, don’t tell our vet we took a walk). We’re headed to the pet store in a while to grab more dog food and probably some special treats, too. Lucy deserves a good day before losing one of her legs.

We Tried


After two and half years of fighting Lucy’s leg injury with bandages, a toe amputation and an arthrodesis surgery, we’ve come to the point where a decision had to be made: continue spending time and money to “save” the leg (and potentially suffering from an untreatable infection the next time she cuts her paw open), or remove the leg and let her live a more normal life. It’s a tough decision.

I’ve been told by many well-meaning people that three-legged dogs do just fine. They run and play and don’t seem to notice they aren’t like the other dogs. I’ve seen this myself as there are quite a few three-legged dogs in the area. I like the thought that Lucy will be able to play and go hiking and camping without the concern that she’ll lose the hiking boot she wears and cut her paw open (again). We won’t have to worry about bandages and the eventual resistance to almost all types of antibiotics and downtime healing up her paw. The money saved on many fewer visits to the vet for exams and bandaging and re-bandaging and more antibiotics… well, that would be nice too.

The hard part is making the decision… making the decision for a family member who cannot make the decision herself. It’s not a decision I am making lightly, either. If somebody came to me and told me that for everybody’s benefit I would need to have an arm amputated, I’m not sure how I would feel. I know dogs don’t have the mental capacity to reason through this process and I shouldn’t anthropomorphize their “feelings” into the decision, but I can’t help it. It’s a “life-changing” decision for her and for me. I’ve made the decision and I have to convince myself it’s the right thing to do.

We have a consultation with one more specialist tomorrow afternoon, and while I don’t want to go into the appointment with my mind pre-determined on the course of action, I’m unsure what he can say that will change my mind about the amputation. I’ve also decided that I don’t want any kind of prosthesis for her — all of the dogs I’ve seen with an amputation seem to get around quite well without any prosthetics.

Pending some miraculous and game-changing treatment option from the specialist tomorrow, we’ve tentatively scheduled the surgery for Monday 28 November.

Lucy update: 01 March 2011

Lucy’s surgery to remove the titanium plate from her leg was yesterday and it went well. She was very groggy from the anesthesia when I brought her home last night but today she is more alert and acting like herself again. I’ve had no issues so far getting her to ingest her medication, and the day has been very warm and sunny so she’s spent a lot of time in the yard sleeping.

The infection should subside soon with the removal of the growth medium (the plate) and hopefully in about six weeks she’ll be a “normal” dog again.

Lucy update: 29 September 2010

Lucy has been doing very well and this week the veterinarian removed the splint from her leg. She now only wears a full-leg soft bandage and appears to get along just fine, despite concerns from the vet that she may have difficulty walking without the extra support. To the contrary, Lucy has been running and jumping and wrestling with Fabi — until I catch her doing those things and calm her down.

I was hoping she would be able to do a little hiking and perhaps even a camping trip this week but I need to remain patient. She’ll be doing that stuff within a month or so, and I must wait.

Lucy update: 7 September 2010

We just returned from yet another visit to the veterinary specialist hospital where Lucy had not only a bandage change but also a follow-up appointment with the surgeon. He gave us some good news: The ulcer on the bottom of Lucy’s paw has healed up much better than expected.

The original ulceration was larger than a quarter in size, closer to the size a fifty-cent piece. Today, the ulcer is as small as the tip of an adult male’s pinky finger. What this means is that by the time the bandages and splint are removed (“the cast”), Lucy possibly won’t need the tissue graft surgery. She will have built up enough healthy scar tissue that the grafts won’t be required, and let me tell you that is a big deal. After eight weeks of recuperation from surgery #1 I wasn’t sure if we could hold out another four to six weeks for healing from surgery #2.

Of course, I don’t want to set my hopes too high and be disappointed. The surgeon was very excited (almost giddy) when he spoke to me so I will continue to keep her as quiet as possible to promote further healing of the ulcer. With the metal plate and fused ankle bones she should not roll her foot and cause another ulcer to form, and we’ll be at that mythical place I’ve been searching for over the past 16 months: healthy.

Arthrodesis of the right carpus, and other amazing tails

Her favorite chair

Originally uploaded by bad9brad

Lucy had surgery last Monday to help correct her “leg posture” so she would not continue to roll and slap the foot down which creates an ulcer on the bottom of the foot. The ulcer grew larger and consumed part of the large pad on the foot, and because she still cannot feel the bottom of the foot it only gets worse with every passing day. Once an infection set in we had to make a decision about how to move forward with her medical care: surgery or amputation.

Operation Expensive Dog is comprised of at least two steps:

1. Arthrodesis surgery (competed). This surgery fuses the bones of the ankle into a more upright posture, with a little bit of “pigeon toe” thrown in, to prevent the rolling and slapping of the foot when Lucy walks. There’s a titanium plate screwed to the bones to hold the leg in the correct posture and facilitate the fusion. Healing time is approximately six to eight weeks.

2. Skin graft. About two weeks after the first surgery is deemed successful, Lucy will go back for tissue grafting. The surgeon will take cartilage from the ancillary pads on each front leg (the pads that don’t touch the ground) and graft the tissue into the area where the large pad has worn away. Hopefully it will only take one surgery but if the ulcer has not healed enough there may be a second graft required.

Lucy will have an “altered gait” for the rest of her life, but she already had a funky gait anyway because of the way her leg moved. I’ve been told she will be able to run and jump and do all the things normal dogs do, but we’ll have to always take extra care of the foot since she won’t ever regrow the nerve endings that allow her to feel what’s under foot. Lucy definitely will wear her hiking booties when we’re out in the wilderness, and that’s okay with me.

The difficult thing about all this medical work (beyond the incredibly high costs) is that she needs to be “quiet” for the next three or four months. Try telling an 18-month-old Labrador Retriever mix to be quiet! We’ve already had some issue with her jumping on and off furniture and the bed, all of which is forbidden by the doctors. She could displace the plate or cause the bones to not properly fuse together, and I’m really not ready for the alternative.

Lucy has been in good spirits today and even has her appetite back. She wants to play! now! Oooh, look a squirrel! I’ve stacked objects on her favorite chairs and ottoman to keep her from perching on them to look out the windows, and closed the bedroom door to keep her off of the bed, but she still finds ways to get into trouble. Clearly this is going to be more difficult for me than for her.

Fabi is staying with Mike and Antoinette and Emily until tomorrow, but when she returns I know I will have to watch them both like a hawk to keep them from playing and wrestling in their normal fashion. Perhaps I can call our vet and see if she will prescribe some sedatives for both of them.