Lady and the Amp
The world, I’ve discovered, can be divided into two types of people. Those who, when they see a huge white three-legged dog galumphing down the street, offer up a sad smile and an “awww…poor guy” and those who instead shake their heads in amazement and say “Wow. He’s really incredible, isn’t he!”
I used to be the former. Any disability in an animal made me want to turn my head. I was sure the animal would have preferred to be whole or dead than mutilated by a human with good intentions and a God complex.
And then our dog Polar was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Bone cancer. Right, front leg.
The diagnosis stunned me. The recommended treatment even more. Amputation. Then chemotherapy. An expected survival of six months. Maybe a year, if we were lucky. It seemed draconian. Lopping off a leg? Really? That’s the best modern veterinary science can do?
I drove home from the vet clinic in a daze. The thought of losing Polar was…well…unthinkable. But amputation? Polar was huge. How would he manage? Or perhaps, more to the point, how would I manage?
Later that day, my head still reeling, I called a dog-loving friend, sure she would agree that amputation was barbaric. Instead, she shared a story I hadn’t heard before about her dog, Cassius, a boxer who had been diagnosed with bone cancer. They had amputated his leg…and he’d lived another full – and active – year. “That’s a long time for a dog,” she reminded me.
Another friend pointed me in the direction of an online group of pet owners whose dogs had bone cancer. I read their triumphant stories. And their tales of heartbreak. But my mind began to open.
We watched their videos of celebrated tri-pawds, as they’re affectionately called. We saw amputees leaping to snatch Frisbees out of the air, performing agility, napping in the shade. Big tri-pawds…and small. Front amputees and back.
In the end, the three-legged ambassadors online swayed us. That and the fact that we had three young children watching us and we wanted to show them that when life throws you a disease, you throw everything you can right back at it. Besides, Polar seemed in no hurry to say good-bye.
The morning I picked up our new amputee, he walked out of the vet’s – less than 24 hours after surgery. Optimism surged.
It was short-lived. I fretted constantly though I tried to maintain a strong presence. My Yahoo group saved my sanity more than once, offering up a blend of comfort and live-to-tell advice that invariably helped.
I took my cue from our other two dogs who gave Polar the full-body sniff when he returned home then pretty much settled back into their routine. His sister, Kira, who’s devoted to him, collected dog toys from around the house and dropped them at his head. Polar slept, surrounded by rubber bones and chewies. She gave him 24 hours to get over it, then began badgering him to play with her, no matter that he was missing a leg.
Polar too seems unconcerned about what he’s lost. Sure he gets tired more easily on his walks. He sometimes trips and falls. But it has been nine months since the diagnosis and eight months since the amputation. Polar completed chemo and is cancer free. We’ve learned that bone cancer has a nasty habit of resurfacing elsewhere in the body. But for now, Polar continues to amaze us…and all who meet him.