Saturday, October 16, 2004

Thor's misadventure

The following post was recreated from a series of emails I sent to an email list for Bernese Mountain Dog owners.

Tuesday, Oct. 12, 11:18 a.m.
Subject: Lost Berner in Chicago area

I've been lurking on the list for a few years, and hate to have my first post be this.

Our 9 month old Berner, Thor, bolted from my parents' house late last night in the far-west suburbs of Chicago. He's a small-frame Berner, only 50 pounds, and very shy and suspicious of strangers. He's a BARC rescue.

Unfortunately, we're out of town for the night and I can't get home for another 6 hours at least. We have people looking for him, and have called many of the local shelters and police, but wanted to spread the word in the Berner community as well.

Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1:22 a.m.
Subject: Update on lost Berner in Chicago area

What a horrible, horrible day this has been. But I guess no news is better than bad news.

I went on a quick 36-hour trip and left our two Berners with my parents for the night. Loki, our 2-year-old female, has stayed there many times and loves it, but this was a first stayover for our 9-month-old BARC rescue Thor.

Thor is such a sweet, sweet boy. Happy and adoring. But he's so suspicious of people other than my husband and myself, and a few select people he's let into his confidence, like the dog walker. He's not at all aggressive. He's curious about people, and when feeling confident will come up and experimentally lick them, but he only wants to be touched on his terms. As one of my friend's kids said, we call him Thor for the sound of the knocking of his knees. We've been working hard on socialization with tips learned from the list, such as classes, doggie daycare, trips to PetSmart and the dog park, and all sorts of other things. I thought we'd been making some progress.

At about 11 p.m. Monday night, Thor bolted out of my parents' house, and ignored all attempts by them to call him back in. He didn't go far at first. My parents had sightings of him for the next two hours very near the house, but I'm sure Thor was in a panic and not thinking at all clearly. No one has seen him since 1 a.m. Tuesday.

I was about an hour outside of San Francisco when my parents called me Tuesday morning, and by the time I could get back to Chicago (4 hour flight, and time zone changes) it was already dark. In the meantime, we had our dog-walker and one of her dogs looking for him, and a few other friends, and my parents and friends were busy calling as many places as we could think of. Once I got back to the Chicago area, we printed up flyers, and myself and a group of friends went out canvassing the neighborhood. I'm surprised no one called the police on us the way were searching through yards with flashlights. My parents live in an area with a lot of really good places for a scared dog to hide.

Since it's after midnight now, all I can do is try to rest. All day I've been on the verge of bawling my eyes out. My eyes are red and puffy, and my appetite is zero. This is terrible for me -- I can only imagine what Thor's going through. Perhaps he's trying to find his way home to me. My parents are only 3.6 miles away (I mapped it), but he's only 9 months old and he's never walked to their house. Not to mention the 4 and 6 lane roads between here and there (ie: a US route).

I left the gate open tonight just in case. One can hope. If my phone doesn't ring before morning, I'm in for a long day of handing out flyers to local businesses (dog-related and otherwise), calling and visiting the local shelters again, and walking Loki through my parents' neighborhood in hopes of Thor suddenly appearing. Fortunately, my boss is letting me take a sick day tomorrow. (He was one of the people out searching with me tonight).

Thursday, Oct. 14, 2 a.m.
Subject: Thor is found

Good news, bad news.

We found Thor and he's stable at the vet's office, but he did manage to get hit by a car and is not totally out of the woods yet. He's currently at a 24-hour emergency vet so he can be monitored through the night. He has bruising on his lungs that they need to monitor for possibly up to 48 hours before they can even risk taking good/conclusive X-rays of his dislocated (and probably fractured) left hip. His color is good and he perked his head up and gave me happy tail-wags when he saw me. As two vets told me, we need to make sure the life-threatening condition is under control before tackling his hips. There's most likely surgery in his future.

The X-rays also show that it looks like he ate well on his 5-plus mile journey. Last night was garbage night, and there appear to be a lot of bones in his stomach that we hope will pass smoothly. No complications, please. One of the vets said that his young age, just 9 months, probably helped prevent further injuries.

It's a waiting game right now.

To back up, I spent today plastering vets offices and local businesses with flyers looking for Thor, and receiving wonderful support along the way. Since he's such a shy boy, we were all working from the assumption that he was staying close to my parents' house. But at about 3:30 this afternoon (Wednesday) I finally got a lead from a school girl who thought she'd seen Thor yesterday (Tuesday) about a mile from my parents' house.

About two minutes later, my mother called to tell me that the police had found Thor. He'd been hit by a car near a major intersection in town with several witnesses, and he was being taken to a local animal hospital. That intersection was at least 5 miles from my parents' house and much closer to my house. It appears Thor was headed in the right direction for home, but had overshot it a little bit. He'd also managed to cross two 4-lane roads and one 6-lane road successfully.

Fortunately, Thor's collar was still on, and the police were able to make a quick identification from his tags. The vet they were taking him to was one that I'd visited earlier in the day. I had no idea what condition Thor was in, so I called ahead. It turns out the police had been extremely proficient in contacting me that they'd found him, and the vet's office didn't even know yet that Thor was on his way in. The police had also sent a squad car to my house to make sure I knew. (There are benefits to living in a small suburb in a major metropolitan area like Chicago.)

To illustrate how quickly things happened: A regular customer came into the vet's office to buy dog food and told them that she'd just seen the most terrible thing across town -- a dog had just been hit by a car. Then she looked at the door and saw the flyer I'd dropped off earlier. "That's the dog that I just saw get hit," she said. They were still piecing it together when I called to say I was on my way in. And while I was on the phone, Thor arrived.

Throughout this whole experience, the support I've received from people has been wonderful. Many people on the list have sent helpful and encouraging messages. My phone was ringing constantly with friends and family wanting to know the latest updates and offering to help in many ways. And when people witnessed Thor being hit, it was a Good Samaritan who actually ended up transporting Thor to the vet in her car with police escort.

A little later, I had a postal carrier call to say he'd spotted Thor during his route, and had just returned to the post office where he saw my flyer in their break room. A few of my parents' neighbors also called to say they'd found the flyers and were keeping an eye out for him. I was able to tell them all that he'd been found, but I really appreciated their willingness to help.

I have a lot of phone calls to make tomorrow to let all the businesses and shelters and vets' offices I'd contacted know that Thor has been found.

Thursday, Oct. 14, 6:25 p.m.
Subject: Update on Thor

I'm about to leave work and go visit Thor.

The vets say he's doing really well. He had a good night. He's eating with enthusiasm. He's able to go outside to urinate with the help of a sling.

The bruising on his lungs is a little worse, but the vets say that's customary with bruises. They look worse for a few days before they get better.

They were able to get better X-rays of his hips last night, and it looks like the femoral head on his left leg has broken off and is in two pieces. The current thinking is that his respiratory system won't be able to handle surgery for a few days, so surgery will probably happen on Monday. The strategy will probably be to try to use screws to put the bone back together, but if that doesn't look promising, they'll do the same procedure they do on dysplastic dogs. I'm not sure of the details on either procedure yet.

They did say that because they have to delay the surgery, he'll have started doing a little healing on his own, which isn't ideal. Also, because of his age, there is a growth plate involved. The vet is optimistic that this will have minimal if any impact since by 9 months he should be mostly done growing in height. And, long term, arthritis in the joint is probable.

They did say that if all goes well, we might be able to bring him home for the weekend. We're excited about that, but also nervous at the prospect of nursing such an injured dog, especially with a second dog in the house. A lot depends on how he looks tomorrow.

I guess, considering his injuries, it's fortunate he's such a little guy at a skinny 50 pounds. Less weight on the joint in the future.

I'll know more in a few hours, I hope.

Thank you everyone for all your prayers and good thoughts. I really appreciate the messages you have sent and hope to be able to respond personally to each of you.

Friday, Oct. 15, 2:08 p.m.
Subject: Thor is having surgery this afternoon

The vet just called. She said she just took another chest X-ray of Thor and she is extremely happy. The bruising on his lungs looks considerably improved. Rather than wait until Monday, she would like to proceed with his hip surgery this afternoon. She said this is still the golden time for the surgery, and she'd like to get Thor home and recovering as quickly as possible. If all goes well, he could come home Saturday or Sunday.

The plan is still to try to reconstruct the bone, and if that isn't feasible, to perform the femoral head excision. I'll hopefully know more in a few hours.

When I last visited him, he was so happy to see me and looked so much better. He'd just been outside and was sitting up in his cage. His dislocated leg was at a very awkward angle, but it must have been somewhat comfortable for him. He wagged his tail, gave me happy whines, and hello kisses. But as I sat on the floor petting him, his head would droop and he'd start falling asleep, only to pop back up at the slightest sound. He clearly needed to lay down and sleep, but didn't want to while I was there.

They say he wants to walk and is using the sling nicely when they take him outside.

Saturday, Oct. 16, 6:17 p.m.:
Subject: Thor is coming home tomorrow

Thor is coming home tomorrow. We went to visit him today and he looks really sad with his back leg shaven and up in a sling. He has a really nice bruise on his hip from the impact, and now a row of staples from the surgery.

They were able to reconstruct the bone using pins and the prognosis seems to be good for him. They found a few small fractures in his pelvis, but they aren't in weight-bearing areas and they believe they'll heal up nicely on their own. He is able to stand and walk, but they want that minimized and he's not allowed to put any weight on the repaired hip for two weeks, when we take him in to get the sling and the staples removed.

All told, we're in for at least 6 weeks of keeping him inactive. That'll be a challenge once the really good drugs they have him on wear off and he starts to heal a bit. Any suggestions are welcome. :)
Thanks for all the well-wishes for our little runaway. All those prayers and positive thoughts seem to be working.

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