As a trainer, clients often ask me my opinion on different toys and chewies. There are always stories about how some dog, somewhere, who died or needed major surgery as a result of a toy or chewie. The Lab who ate the tennis ball. The Llasa that choked on rawhide. The Poodle who died from swallowing magnets. It’s tough to know how to reply to owners who want the best and the safest toys. I own four border collies and I am constantly aware of their mortality. My youngest boy, Tallysen, will run straight into a tree or flip in the air in order to catch a ball. I have watched him torque his little body so severely…I just turn and cringe. I have seen my dogs collide into one another while playing. Most of you know I have seen one of my dogs, Kai, literally choke, die, and be resuscitated after sucking down a chunk of pot-roast.
So, the question is…where is the line on how protective or how laissez faire to be with our beloved pets? Truthfully, almost anything can kill our beloved pets. In an instant, things can change from fine to final. Yesterday, I was playing fetch with Leelah Bean and she ran back to me and I could instantly see that something wasn’t right. No blood or anything obvious but her gait just seemed a little off. She came over and I checked her out but couldn’t find anything amiss. She tucked her head into the grass and moved her paw across her jaw so I opened up her mouth to see if I could find anything in there. Nope. I had her trot a bit to see if she was lame. Nope. She pawed at her mouth again and I looked inside and this time I saw it. A stick. Was it stuck in her teeth? It was a thin stick and it looked to be under her tongue. I reached for it and it was not moving. I could see about two inches of the twig and I realized that it had impaled the soft tissue under her tongue. I had no idea how much was in there and if it had cut through anything vital. Those crisis moments are just so scary, at least for me, because I tend to just react. There isn’t a lot of time yet I still run through a million scenarios in my mind. What if I couldn’t get it out? What if I DID get it out and it resulted in something worse like opening up a crucial vein. Still, in a matter of seconds, I had my hand in her mouth with a firm grip on the twig. I pulled and it was an awful sensation to feel the resistance of how firmly lodged it was. And when I pulled it out, it was EIGHT inches long. Bless her sweet soul for being so good with allowing her to handle her (HUGE plug here for all dog owners to practice handling exercises for times like this)!
I fretted over her for the rest of the evening. I am still fretting. What if more is stuck in there? What if it gets infected? A million what-if’s. But that’s the thing of it. There are always those what-if’s and there are a million choices for what we allow or don’t allow with our animals. Should I stop playing fetch with her?
I obsess over my animals endlessly and I know I am undoubtedly fanatical in my love and devotion to them. But I refuse to inhibit their joy and their zest for play, I refuse to stifle their (sometimes reckless) enthusiasm for life. I don’t mean to suggest that I will be irresponsible or encourage unsafe behavior. But I choose to indulge their happiness with toys and chews and activities that have the inherent risk of possibly damaging them. I know that perhaps one day this will lead to an irreversible tragedy and I will mourn and suffer sleepless nights and horrid guilt. I’m willing to carry that burden if it means that 98% of the time I can watch them with their utter and unfettered love for all things play.
Just like with Kai’s choking incident, there also is no replacement for being prepared. Knowing CPR and first aid, having a kit on hand…these things make a huge difference. And, of course, having a vet you trust and feel comfortable with ( as well as knowing where the nearest emergency hospital is located). With Leelah, I was lucky. I flushed out the wound and she seems to be ok. It’s swollen but her temperature is normal, she’s bright, alert and responsive and I feel comfortable making it through the weekend before taking her in to be checked out.
So, no easy answers. But pulling the stick out from Leelah Bean’s tissue made me, once again, think about our relationship with our canine companions and the choices we must make each day. I’d love to hear how others define their comfort level and find the right boundary line for how much freedom to give your dogs and how you do or don’t reconcile your decisions and the risks they carry.
Because, for sure, with our precious pets sticks and stones can most definitely break bones.