CORVALLIS, OR -- Tigger, a two-year-old Staffordshire terrier mix, hobbled out of Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine's small-animal hospital a free dog Saturday.
The brindle-colored dog, whose snout droops in such a way that it appears like he's always smiling, had to be carried the last few steps to his foster parents’ car. Once tucked inside on the back seat, he gently lowered himself down in unmistakable exhaustion.
Those first seven or eight steps were huge for the dog who has spent the past nine days in the Loise Bates Acheson Veterinary Hospital following surgery to correct the first of two birth-deformed front legs that have always made walking next to impossible for the sweet-natured dog.
After six hours of surgery last Thursday and more than a week of post-operative care, veterinary orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jennifer Warnock and her crack surgical and care team sprang the dog today to recover at home. To facilitate his re-entry into the canine kingdom, the team fashioned Tigger with a temporary orthotic.
“It was remarkable seeing his first couple of steps on it. It was like he has been waiting for the extra three inches of foot his whole life,” Warnock said.
You see, Tigger, who weighs about 55 pounds, has never walked on all four legs. He has jumped like a kangaroo or inched forward on his belly. Hopping like a rabbit has also been a mode of transportation for him. But he has never kept up with his foster parents’ other dogs because his front two legs, which are several inches shorter than his hind legs, were deformed congenitally. His defect is called ectrodactyly, or split hand or lobster claw.
When he was first born, many who saw him said he should be euthanized because of the financial and care burden he would create.
But the Savin’ Juice Medical Dog Rescue group in Brooks, run by Bonnie Graham, ignored the naysayers and took Tigger in. Earlier this year, she tapped Eve Good and Eve’s partner, Troy Riggs, to be Tigger’s foster parents, and the two them tackled with gusto the job of finding first, a surgeon willing and able to do the surgery, and then the funds to make it happen.
“Tigger is a love. I just knew from the moment I saw him, I had to help him,” Good said.
The Statesman Journal first broke Tigger’s story in August, and the Mid-Valley community responded by donating more than half of the $16,000 needed for his specialized surgery. When the story went national via the USA Today Network, The Huffington Post and other media outlets, the rest was collected from dog lovers around the nation in less than a month.
Last Thursday, Dr. Warnock and a veterinary medical team that included three anesthesia students, a board certified anesthesiologist, three anesthesia nurses, two veterinary students, two surgery residents, and three surgery nurses took care to reposition half of Tigger’s foot and also stabilize it with two human-grade plates.
A team at Synthes Vet (part of Johnson & Johnson) helped the team with specialized human-ankle fusion plates, provided at significant discount.
Warnock said once they made one incision in Tigger, they found that the tendons that help move the toes (extensor tendons) were congenitally trapped between the dog’s radius and ulna, so delicate surgery was required to place them in their rightful position.
Dr. Warnock said Tigger has been a remarkable patient. He had some complications with stomach upset, chewing at his Elizabethan collar, splint and bandages, but he was also voted the ICU Dog of the Month, and had his picture taken and added to the hospital’s wall.
“Basically, that means he was the nurses’ favorite,” Warnock said, laughing.
Now the team waits. Tigger must be “very strictly rested,” Warnock said. That means he will be confined to a kennel and separated from the other dogs in the household for about eight weeks.
“All we want him to do is eat, sleep, potty and repeat. You’d be surprised at how helpful other dogs are in uniting to help chew and remove bandages,” Warnock said. “And since Tigger does not do alone very well, we recommend his kennel be placed on a dolly and moved from room to room so he doesn’t have to be alone."
Once there has been more bone healing, Tigger will get rehabilitation therapy and then, if he is comfortable with that, the surgery on his other front leg will be scheduled. It’s probable that he will also need repair work on at least one of his hind legs since his overuse of those legs to compensate for his deformity has led to erosion problems with them. Because of extra time in the ICU this past week, the dog’s medical bills for this first surgery have already gone over budget more than $1,000.
Aki Otomo, a fourth-year veterinary student at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, helped assemble Tigger’s discharge papers and his collection of medications. Good and Riggs were sent home with a pain killer, Tramadol; antibiotics; Trazodone, a sedative (for helping with the time he is confined), and an antacid called Omeprazole. Tigger will require deft deception tricks, Good was told, to get all his meds down, Otomo warned.
Otomo also demonstrated a device called a Medipaw, a Gore-Tex boot with Velcro straps that will keep Tigger’s splint and bandage dry when he has to answer the call of the wild.
“He looks good in black and red,” Warnock said of the Medipaw’s colors. “And he’s OK with it being put on as long as someone is telling him he’s a good-looking dog while they’re doing it.”
“He’s such a ham,” said Otomo.
Even though he's thought to be 3 or 4 years old, Good and Riggs were also given puppy food to help rebalance Tigger's diet. And then the women repeated instructions about his activity being severely restricted.
“He’ll give you a whine, I’m sure,” Warnock said to Good and Riggs, perfectly imitating the pitiful sound dogs make when they want a treat. “But ignore him. No playing at all! And we’ll see you back her on Monday to check his bandages.”
And then the moment the team, which included Warnock, Otomo and students Rachel Reiter, Isaac Cortes and animal attendant Peggy Muths had been waiting for: Tigger’s reunification with Good and Riggs.
Dr. Warnock, quietly singing the “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers” song, clasped her hand over her heart when Tigger first caught a glance of the couple, especially Good.
Wearing an orange Beavers bandanna and orange lead, when released, he limped like crazy over to her and gave her more “kisses” than one human could imagine. With his tail thumping frantically like a turbine on a windy day, he crawled into her arms and just stayed there, licking her face with no regard for anyone else in the hospital’s lobby.
“We’re still figuring it out,” Warnock said. “But this is what it’s all about.”
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