Hardwired

Giant Schnauzer

Shotz: Surgery #1

Shotz at the Veterinarian

Saturday, December 2, 2000: The day dawned cold and gray. Shotz loved winter; the cool weather invigorated her. She ripped around the backyard at top speed, happy to have so much room to run free. All morning we had asked her, “Well, what do you want for your sixth birthday?” If she could have answered, I’m sure she would’ve included a swim, even though the thermometer read barely twenty degrees.

Bundled up, my husband and I set to work to clean gutters, the channels overflowing with autumn leaves, cedar debris, and hickory nuts, some ready to sprout. After the morning cleanup, we had plans to take Shotz on a long walk along the trails at Bear Creek in Keller.

In the meantime, she was having a blast tearing through piles of leaves, scattering them everywhere, dragging logs off our woodpile, and dumping them on our back porch.

Years ago, we had terraced our side yard with railroad ties, and there I had planted my vegetable garden. But the only crop thriving in the rows that day was weeds. Once the gutters had been cleaned, weeding was next on our to-do list—but after we three celebrated Shotz’s birthday.

As she had numerous times, Shotz came flying around the corner of the house at record speed, made a U-turn at the pedestrian gate, and started back across this narrow section of lawn. As she reached the halfway point, she jumped onto the first tier of railroad ties, and from there onto the next until she reached the top tier. She leaped across the walkway that separated these two sections. When she landed, she let out an earsplitting cry that cut to my soul, then crumpled into a heap onto the grass.

My husband raced over to help her up, but she stood almost immediately, limped a few feet, then trotted off at a slow but deliberate pace, whining as she disappeared among the shrubs. He ran after her while I checked the area, trying to figure out why she had fallen, but saw nothing except a patch of ice atop one railroad tie. My main concern was to find her and see why she was limping.

I found Dave sitting next to her on the ground. She tried to stand but sat again, all the time whimpering softly. We hoped she had suffered only a bad sprain but later admitted we thought she might’ve broken the leg. However, neither one of us wanted to face that truth.

Dave was covered in mud and dirt from cleaning the gutters, so I agreed to take Shotz to the emergency clinic, less than a ten-minute drive from our house. She could walk, but as soon as we saw her dragging her right leg, Dave picked her up and carried her to our SUV while I went for my keys and wallet.

After waiting for what seemed like hours, the vet at the emergency clinic informed me that Shotz had torn her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and needed surgery. I could hardly believe what he was saying. He mentioned we’d need a referral from our personal veterinarian, since an orthopedic surgeon would have to do the procedure. I felt terrible for her.

Our vet referred us to Dr. Robert Barstad at the Dallas Veterinarian Surgical Center (DVSC) in McKinney. The center also had a satellite office in Southlake, which was right on the border with Keller and in the same building as the emergency clinic. The center, emergency clinic, and our veterinarian’s office were located next door to each other, which made the office visits convenient.

Then the wait began. We made an appointment for a consultation with Dr. Barstad (through our vet), but he couldn’t see Shotz until December 8. In the meantime, our vet prescribed a painkiller for her. The wait seemed worse for us than her; she managed to keep moving on three legs, occasionally hopping using the fourth, but she tired easily and wasn’t interested in play.

After the December 8 orthopedic examination, we did receive some positive news: Shotz had no signs of hip dysplasia and her overall health was excellent.

On December 13 I dropped her off at the surgical center in Southlake and cried all the way home, praying all would go well with the operation and her recuperation. A half hour or so into the surgery, Dr. Barstad called with unfortunate news: Shotz had not torn her ACL but had a “complete tear of her posterior cruciate ligament.”

Because of the PCL injury, Dr. Barstad suggested a modification of your typical tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO), an experimental procedure he felt would benefit her in the long term. However, he cautioned that the De Angelis repair had a poorer prognosis than a TPLO repair or an ACL procedure. I trusted him, so I gave him the okay to perform a reverse De Angelis repair.

In his December 14 notes to our vet, Dr. Barstad wrote: “80 # test monofilament nylon was placed through a tunnel in the fibular head, wound through the straight patellar tendon just distal to the patella, then down to a tunnel on the caudal/medial edge of the proximal tibial plateau. The simple loop configuration was tied in a taut position, advancing the tibia in an anterior direction. The gracilis muscle was freed and advanced forward onto the patella with tension pulling the tibia anterior. It was sutured at the patella with a reverse fascial band that we dissected free from the lateral retinaculum. These two dynamic advancement flaps provided additional cranial thrust when sutured to the straight patellar tendon. A routine closure was performed, and the leg was placed in a padded wrap.”

He also wrote: “I have seen fewer than 20 of these injuries in my career, and the majority of them [the patients] were hit by cars with the blow of the bumper being focused right on the kneecap. ‘Shotz’ evidently self-inflicted that type of force hitting the railroad tie. The reverse De Angelis repair will improve her function and stabilize the knee, but these dogs never do as well as ACL repairs. If we take it slow and start to swim at the 21-day point, hopefully we will achieve satisfactory function of the leg and hopefully consistent usage by 8-9 weeks.”

After the surgery, we followed Dr. Barstad’s recommendations for Shotz’s recovery to the letter, and all went well until February 24, 2001.

 

 

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Shotz: Living With a GIANT

Shortly before her first Christmas, Shotz developed a bad case of diarrhea. We racked our brains trying to think of what she had eaten. The following week the situation worsened. Nothing we tried worked. The condition continued, and her water consumption greatly increased. Now we were really concerned, so I had Dr. C, our vet, test a stool sample. It was negative. No parasites. No infections. Nothing. She prescribed metronidazole. It seemed to work, but the minute Shotz finished the prescription, the diarrhea returned.

When she didn’t improve, I was determined to resolve the problem, so I spent an entire day watching her. Around noon, while I was on the telephone, she slipped out of my study and disappeared into the kitchen. I followed but kept my distance. The door to our pantry had a single lever, not a knob. She leaned on the handle with her muzzle until the door popped open.

On the lower shelf, hidden behind a container, sat an open bag of chili-roasted nuts someone had given us as a gift. They were so hot, we couldn’t eat them, but evidently someone loved them. Shotz helped herself, backed out of the pantry, and nudged the door shut. Then she made a beeline for her water bowl. This is why she became known as The Trickster.


One Sunday we made a run to Home Depot to order blinds for our new house and took Shotz along for the outing. My husband was certain we had been neglecting her. I guess those ninety-minute morning walks and two-hour romps in the swimming pool, not to mention an hour of playing ball every day, didn’t count as paying attention to her.

As soon as we arrived at Home Depot, Shotz was surrounded by kids. She was good with them until one started to shriek at the top of his lungs. Then Shotz headed in the opposite direction, and I went with her.

In the hardware section, my husband deserted us and I headed for the window coverings department, where I tied Shotz to my chair with a long lead my husband had custom-made for her. I didn’t trust the leash because twice Shotz had managed to twist free of the clasp connected to her harness. Hubby had said when told this, “That’s impossible.”

While the saleswoman was typing up my order, I thought, “Gee, Shotz is being so quiet and good.” When I looked down to praise her, I saw her lead lying on the ground with no giant attached to the end. I jumped up and said loudly, “I have to leave.” The woman typing my order must’ve thought I was having a seizure of some kind. I could barely spit out that I had to go find my dog. Now.

As I ran through the store, I had visions of her slipping out the front door and a car hitting her in the parking lot. Frantic, I jogged down the center aisle of Home Depot shouting to everyone I saw, “Have you seen a big black dog?” No one said yes, so I raced to customer service and asked them to announce over the paging system that if anyone spotted a big black dog to grab her by her harness and hold onto her until I got there. The woman behind the counter looked at me in horror. “Grab her? A big black dog? Are you sure?”

“Yes. She’s friendly,” I insisted. Skeptical stares all around. “Okay, well, at least post a person at each door. If she gets out of the store, she might be killed. Please.” They posted a person at each exit.

By now, panic had set in. Then I heard marvelous words over the PA: “Big black dog on aisle five.” I bolted and skidded into aisle five, my eyes sweeping the passage. No black dog. My heart was pounding so hard, I barely heard it when someone bellowed over the address system, “Black dog seen in lumber. Moving fast.”

I sped down the hardware aisle toward lumber and zipped around the corner so fast, I almost tripped over my own feet. After my recent knee surgery, I had no idea I could move this fast, but I had the right incentive. I kept wondering why my husband hadn’t joined the chase, and until then, I hadn’t thought to call his cell. I just wanted to find Shotz—and quick. I made three trips through the aisles in lumber, but no Shotz. I finally flipped open my cell phone to call Dave.

A loud bark. My heart soared. I flew into the next aisle but still didn’t see her. I hurried past the stacks of fence slats, stopped in midstride, and backed up. A big black mass came into view, and that docked tail wagged back and forth so fast, it looked as if she were about to take flight. I climbed onto the pile of fencing, seized hold of her harness, and yanked her out.

The minute I set eyes on her, I burst out laughing. Her ears, muzzle, and beard were covered in dust and cobwebs. What a sight. I started to pick the spiderwebs off her, then reached under her beard to brush off some dust. Something warm and soft touched my hand. I pulled back, wondering what was wiggling in her mouth.

“Okay, drop it.” Shotz looked up at me with those big brown eyes as if to say, “Ah, Mom, can’t I keep it?” Before I repeated the command, she shook her head from side to side, dropped the rat on the floor, and pranced off, obviously proud of herself. I sprinted after her and quickly leashed her, just as my husband came around the bend and asked, “Hey, where have you two been? I’ve been looking for you.” He unplugged himself from his MP3 player and never plugged in again, at Home Depot, or in public period.


All giant owners (all dog owners, for that matter) are fortunate to have a wealth of interesting stories to share, laugh about, and sometimes cry about. We are fortunate, for even when our dogs leave us we have fond memories to draw upon despite how painful it is to see them go. They change our lives forever and always for the better.

 

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Shotz: Her First Road Trip – Part 2

Shotz in Taos

With dusk upon us, our fear bordered on panic as we searched frantically for Shotz. We pondered our next move. No way we’d leave the park, even if we were required to. We would suffer the consequences. I wasn’t about to leave her behind.

“What about coyotes?” I said, just as we heard a short bark. We both jumped off my 4Runner and hurried to the back hatch where the sound had come from. There sat Shotz, looking up at us as if to say, “Well, are we going to be here all night?” Relieved and weary, we drove back to Farmington, grabbed takeout at a nearby restaurant, and called it a day.

Up early, we motored out of Farmington along Highway 64 to Chama, storm clouds chasing us all the way. We lunched in Chama at a restaurant near the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad station, which was built 113 years ago. The sixty-four-mile steam railroad is jointly owned by New Mexico and Colorado and operates passenger trains between May 24 and October 19. Over the years, I’ve taken the train trip several times and highly recommend it. From Chama, we continued on to Taos, our destination for the next four days.

Everywhere we went in Taos, Shotz turned heads or created a traffic jam. “What is she? Some kind of schnauzer, right?” At least they knew she was a schnauzer and not a Doberman or a Bouvier, or as someone once asked, “Big Scottie, right?” People honked and gave us a thumbs-up or pulled to the curb for a closer look. Even in the parking lot of the grocery store, cars would draw alongside us for a glimpse of her. In return, we received plenty of unsolicited recommendations on the best restaurants in town and some great places to stay, but we already had room reservations.

We rented from a Houston couple who had moved to Taos years prior. They had purchased a two hundred-year-old adobe and converted the garage into a twelve hundred-square-foot guesthouse. The spacious accommodations were ideal for our needs and for Shotz, as the fenced property allowed her to run free and bark at the passersby on busy Ranchitos Road. The side yard was terraced with railroad ties, and she loved her high lookout post. And conveniently, the guesthouse was an easy two-block walk to the main plaza, shops, and some of the best restaurants.

Four days later we left Taos and cruised onto Highway 68, headed south for Santa Fe, where we planned to stay for three days. We rented a house a few blocks from town. When we arrived, we discovered “the house” was actually a duplex and the backyard was a “shared” yard, which Shotz certainly didn’t mind, but we did.

The adjacent owners had two small dogs and a dog door. Gregarious Shotz loved the idea of romping with her own kind, but the two chihuahuas were very territorial and not the least bit happy about this large black dog invading their property. They barked, snarled, and growled while Shotz sat there and looked at them as if to say, “Hey, don’t you want to play?” But when they started nipping at her hind legs, we questioned whether she would see her new friends as prey.

Tired of the nipping, Shotz chased after the chihuahuas and nipped back. When they ran for the cover of their dog door, she followed, barely making it into the house through the tight opening. I stuck my head through the pet door to coax her out. Thank goodness the owners worked and weren’t home. After a lot of encouragement, she came bounding to me, leaving the two chihuahuas perched on the back of the sofa, snarling and growling.

On our last day, we crated Shotz in the rental and went to breakfast. On the way back, we strolled through the farmers’ market in Sambusco. As we turned the corner into the driveway of our rental house, the first thing we noticed was the missing blinds from the front windows. Apprehensive, we opened the door to find an exhausted-looking Shotz stretched out on the flagstone floor. How she had managed to break out of her crate, I had no idea, as I swore I’d latched her in.

Four of the blinds hung cockeyed on the windows, and the flimsy sheer on the door had been shredded. We assessed the damage and decided it could have been worse. She hadn’t chewed the legs on any of the tables or the furniture, nor had she destroyed anything else, so we counted our blessings, forfeited our pet deposit, paid for the blinds, and left Santa Fe for the return trip to Texas.

As we tooled along 285, one of my favorite highways in New Mexico for its beautiful scenery, I wondered how Shotz had broken out of her crate. Then I recalled a similar event a month ago when I’d left the house to grocery shop. I put her in the crate and latched the door but came home to find her waiting in the kitchen.

Weeks later, I finally solved the puzzle. I put her in the crate, latched it, and pretended to leave. I crept into the backyard and onto the porch to spy on her. Through the blinds, which were slanted downward so I had a good view of her crate, I saw her stand, then settle down for what looked like a nap. Wonderful. But I remained patient.

After a long five-minute wait, she stood up, stretched her legs out, and arched her back, pressing it to the top of her wire carrier. Then she rocked the crate back and forth until the latches sprung open and she broke free. It was just like a giant: intelligent, persistent, and ingenious—not the breed for everyone, and certainly not the breed for a first-time dog owner.

 

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