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Drake: The Dog With Three Legs

Drake: The Dog With Three Legs

By Lew Olson and Jeff Shaver • Fall 1999 Newsletter
This article is written for those who may have to face the prognosis of cancer in their Rottweiler and deciding if amputation is a method of treatment to pursue. It is not the intent to show amputation as the best decision, but instead to show the outcome of this decision with this dog.

In the last week of June, Jeff asked me to take a look at Drake’s leg. On the right lower hock he showed me a hard lump, about the size of a pea. I was worried that I couldn’t feel around it. It seemed to be either connected to the bone, or go into the hock. We both decided to wait a couple of days, in case it might be a bug bite.

Three days later, Jeff asked me to feel it again, and I felt a sinking sensation in my stomach as I ran my hand down Drake’s leg. It was now two small lumps and was definitely growing. We decided to get him an appointment right away with our local veterinarian.
I tried to remain optimistic, but I could tell by looking at Dr. Hibler’s face that it was not good news. He looked up at me after his examination, and quietly said he wanted to aspirate it and send a slide to the lab. He said he felt it was deep in the hock joint, and it didn’t look good to him.
The lab report came back a day later, with the results showing sarcoma cells. Jeff and I both felt like we had been blind sided, and knew that whatever we decided next had to be done in a hurry. We immediately made an appointment with specialists in our area, both a surgeon and an oncologist in a local specialty clinic.
The first recommendation was to go in after the tumor, have it biopsied and go from there. We were warned it could be grown deep into the hock, and there was a chance he could be rendered lame. This was certainly agonizing news, as Drake is a multi-Best in Show dog, and has his UD, and we were planning on starting him in tracking the next week. But we also knew we had to make haste on finding out what type of cancer this was, and what options were available for keeping Drake alive. So the surgery was scheduled the very next day.
We also needed to get in touch with Drake’s owner, Bob Simmons, who was currently working out of the country in Algeria. Once contacted, Bob agreed to the surgery, and wanted us to find the best treatment available for Drake and the best method for going after the cancer.
Drake came through the surgery without incident, and it was fortunate his hock did not need to be taken apart. However, the diagnosis was synovial cell sarcoma, a very rare form of cancer. It had grown from his hock down towards his foot, and a blood vessel and a nerve needed to be removed to get the entire tumor. Even at that, they were not sure they had gotten it all. They recommended seven weeks of radiation, and several courses of chemotherapy to help prevent the cancer’s spread. They also mentioned amputation, but said they would prefer the radiation and chemotherapy.
We both felt this was very aggressive, and decided to seek a second opinion. Each course of radiation required anesthesia. We felt this with chemotherapy would be very taxing on Drake’s immune system.
We scheduled an appointment at Texas A&M University for the following week. The oncologist we spoke to there recommended amputation, and chemotherapy, but it was A&M’s opinion that radiation would not be effective for this type of cancer. Perplexed, we pursued yet a third opinion…
This was a board-certified oncologist, who also immediately recommended amputation, and also chemotherapy. His opinion concurred with the doctor at A&M, in that radiation would not be effective for this type of cancer.
The idea of amputation took our breath away… While not everyone knows who Drake is, those who do know him, know him for his movement – moving on the end of a ten foot lead with his handler Bobby Schoenfeld, with beautiful reach and drive. While we had thought we could deal with the idea of his surgery leaving him somewhat lame, the idea of taking a leg seemed horribly overwhelming.
Another call was put in to Bob Simmons, and the three of us put our thoughts together with the available information to decide what method of treatment to pursue. Drake is Bob’s dog, and it was his ultimate decision. I will not say it was an easy decision, or that the decision came to us without questions, anger and tears. We went back time and time again to the doctors for more information. We called other Rottweiler owners who had made different decisions with their dogs- whether it was amputation, chemo, or nothing – trying to find information on all methods, outcomes and the satisfaction and regrets of the owners.
In the end, it became a personal decision for the three of us. We all seemed to hold different opinions at any given time… but finally, we agreed the most important decision was in prolonging Drake’s life. His health was good. Although he was eight and half years old, he had no signs of arthritis or lameness, he still had an incredible zest for life, and still enjoyed learning, working and training. His surgery on his right hock had left that leg in pain, and he was unable to use it well. The doctors felt he may never have been able to use that leg properly, and may always have pain in it. So, the decision was made for amputation.
Making that decision left us drained and uncertain. We began to feel guilt even before the surgery. Agonizing hours were spent on whether this was the best thing or not. Were we being selfish? What if we were making a mistake? Our surgeon at A&M reassured us. She told us whatever we decided, it was the best decision we could make at the time, and to not ever look back. We were grateful for her words.
Drake had the surgery on a Tuesday, and came home on a Thursday. The surgery itself took almost four hours. When a rear leg is amputated on a dog, they almost always take it at the hip joint. This is to prevent the cancer from spreading, and not to leave part of a limb or bone for the dog to fall upon and injure. The surgeon carefully cuts around most of the muscle on the thigh, to leave for padding, and the incision is made under the leg. This muscle mass is then reattached under the leg. No scar is seen, and it leaves enough tissue to pad the hip area.
Jeff was out of town the day Drake was ready to come home, so a friend, Debra Pelc, was wonderful enough to come with me. I was fearful of my reaction at seeing Drake with three legs, and also not been able to get him in my van or out of the van once I got home.
We both waited very nervously for the doctors to bring Drake to us in the waiting room. A&M also has vet students, and Drake had an extra special student named Shara, who called me three times a day while we waited anxiously to bring Drake home. Finally, Shara and another student brought Drake out. They used a rolled sheet as a sling, to support his tummy, but he didn’t seem to need it. I stared at the large blue “diaper” type bandage on his rear, and felt tears stinging my eyes, to see his leg gone.
However, Drake appeared to care less. He immediately pulled Shara towards us. He seemed more impatient than anything, and we quickly turned to take him outside to the car. Shara told me he had not urinated yet, and he seemed reluctant to do so. At first I wondered why, but when we took him outside, I saw the problem. He was frustrated that he could not lift his good leg! He hopped, and tried to urinate, and turned, and went around and around the tree, and couldn’t seem to do it. He also seemed frustrated with the bandage and the sheet around his middle.
I decided to put him in the car for a two-hour drive, and see if it might be better at home. I was amazed to find him standing in the van, pushing his toys at me like he usually does, demanding I play tug with him while I drove! It was good Debra was there, as she was able to keep her eye on him while I drove, and play his tug games with him. He also was happy to see the liver treats Debra brought him, as well as the pork bones I brought along.
Once we got home, and I went to place his sling under him to get him out of the car, he backed away from it. I threw the sheet in the corner of the garage, helped him out by supporting him with my arm. He instantly ran to the back yard. He made several attempts to urinate, and finally, with an almost visible sigh, he stood on his remaining leg, and peed… Both Debra and I screamed and clapped, and although he looked startled at first, he seemed to almost act like he had just won a Best in Show!
Everything got easier from there. Learning to have a bowel movement took another day, mostly learning to put his back leg in the center of his body, for good balance. He did have some pain the first two nights, but an etogesic pill helped for that. It is thought that a dog heals in one day, to our seven. It sure seemed true for Drake. The bandage came off on Friday, and the surgical sight was swollen (and shaven, I might add, along with halfway down his back, along his spine). He was happy to have that removed (now even easier to urinate!). The amputation area slowly got smaller each day, and by the end of two weeks, hardly any swelling was left.
One week later, we returned to A&M with expectations of starting chemotherapy for Drake. However, the pathology on the leg showed that it was probable that the cancer was found early, and removed in the surgery. Also, since his cancer was rare, there was no research showing which chemotherapy would be most effective, if effective at all. That was very good news!
It is now almost two months past his amputation. The hair has grown back, and Drake is running and trotting without any problems. He does seem more comfortable in faster gaits than walking, mostly due to balance and only having one back leg. He also had Flair and Tom Farrell visit him at two weeks post surgery, who were trying to decide if amputation was a good option for their dog or not who recently osteosarcoma. Watching Drake run around the house, play catch and demand pets from them helped them see that amputation did not affect mobility or personality of the dog. They decided on amputation for their Rottweiler as well, and Rocko is doing terrific!
On September 18th, less than two months post surgery, Jeff entered Drake in the Friends of Rescued Dogs Obedience Fun Match. They had a special category for veterans, and allowed amputee dogs to compete. Jeff entered Drake in open and utility. Drake was delighted to be at a show event, and showed his wonderful heart and drive. He won first in open with a score of 193-1/2 in open and second in utility. He was awarded High Score in Veteran Obedience. His willingness and desire to work brought tears to most of the spectators.
The lesson we have learned from Drake, is that he doesn’t see himself as a dog with a disability or a handicap. He sees himself presented with a new challenge to overcome, and to prove he is as capable as any other dog. He wakes each morning eager and happy to see what comes his way, with his big Rottweiler grin, and is glad the fuss over him is done. In his mind, he still has a lot of things to do….
While he is not on any cancer fighting drugs, Drake is eating a raw diet, modeled after Dr. Gregory Ogilvie DVM’s cancer starving diet recommendations. He is taking many antoxidant supplements to support his immune system. His outcome is uncertain, due to the rarity of this cancer. Since the front end of the dog supports 65% of their weight, a rear leg amputation has a small advantage over a front leg amputation. We are just glad to have him each extra day, cancer free and pain free!
[Postscript: We lost Drake in September of 2000, but we do not regret the surgery or amputation. This procedure gave him almost two more years of quality life. We miss you Drake….]
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