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Loss of Limb: Wrinkles, the Three-Legged Dog

By Robin Tierney

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Many people think loss of a limb will rob an animal of the ability to enjoy life, but some animals we know prove otherwise. Following is the story of Wrinkles, a sweet PAW dog adopted by volunteer Ellen Oberholtzer, with commentary from Dr. McMichael at College Park Animal Hospital and insight from Cyrus, the three-legged pit bull.

Wrinkles

"When Wrinkles came into the PAW system he had a pronounced limp in his right front leg. It didn't deter him too much, however, and he was a happy dog who ran around with great enthusiasm," says Ellen Oberholtzer of her yellow lab/hound mix.

Dr. Tom McMichael at College Park Animal Hospital x-rayed the leg and also tested for Lyme disease, since one of its most prominent symptoms is arthritis. After testing positive for Lyme disease, Wrinkles was treated with antibiotics. However, the limp remained.

Dr. Goldstein, an orthopedic vet, recommended amputation, since Wrinkle's front elbow had come out of the socket and so much tissue and muscle had built up around it that repair was not possible. Sadly, if the previous owners took Wrinkles to a vet right after the injury occurred, it would have been easy to fix. At this point, though, the problem would worsened had his leg been left alone. So Dr. McMichael performed the operation.

"Within a couple of days, Wrinkles was going up and down the five stairs in and out of the house. He was a bit lethargic for the first week or two, but soon built his stamina back up," recalls Ellen. "Within a month or so he was back to chasing squirrels, with as much success as before!"

Wrinkles now seems happier than ever. "His tail is constantly wagging and he even went to the beach this fall," said Ellen, who plans to enroll him in a therapy program for amputee kids. "He has an excellent personality and hasn't let his disability stop him from enjoying life."

Leg injuries are prone to infection, fractures, nerve damage and/or sores. "If the animal can't feel the leg, it get caught in places," says Dr. McMichael. "He won't be an energetic, since he will be in pain."

Typically, the owner will provide towel support for larger dogs the first few days, as they adjust life with one less leg. Medication is given to reduce pain and inflammation. In less than two weeks, most animals recover and learn how to reposition their legs to achieve balance. For some very small dogs and cats, recovery takes just a couple of days. Dr. McMichael cautions that if a front leg was amputated, watch and help the animal when going down steps. However, the muscle will strengthen to accommodate the missing limb. Something to watch for: nicks and cuts often don't heal readily due to limited blood circulation.

We'll end with Cyrus the happy pit bull's "Top Ten Stump Uses," courtesy of Ilene Reid of Maine. The Reid family adopted Cyrus after finding him in a shelter with an atrophied leg that had resulted from being hit by a car.

10. Lean on it while you dig with the paw you can feel

9. Lean on it to sniff the ground (or if you're real lucky, yucky stuff)

8. Use it like a very short leg if you want to sniff the ground and walk at the same time

7. Use it as well as you can along with your long leg to hold things you are trying to chew

6. Swing your shoulder and use it to tap the person who you want to continue scritching you while you have the paw you can stand on placed on the chair between his legs

5. Lean on it to adjust your position in someone's lap (expect some complaints from the owner of the lap)

4. Pivot on it when running in tight circles or making sharp turns inward on your stump side (think like a hot shot motorcycle rider)

3. Use it as a brake for sliding stops

2. Use it to keep running even after the paws you can feel go through the neat icy crust that forms on top the snow here in Maine (this actually evens up the your leg lengths, but it makes your stump swell up) AND the number one use is:

1. Use it as an ice breaker for making friends before they ask your Mom or Dad what kind of a dog you are (make sure you are very friendly while they pet you and say "What happened??")