Lessons of Love from Our Airedale’s Journey to Recovery

February 23rd, 2012 by Robin Reynolds

I know that many of you have been anxious to hear more news about Amber. In the four weeks since her first surgery, I felt that all I had time to do was to cook for her and hand-feed her to try to get her to eat, help her nurse her pain, and take her to various vet appointments to try to find a solution. (Oh yeah, and I had to work and take care of the usual chores, too.) Amber’s pain got so acute that she got into what they call “wind-up” and she would stand or pace for hours, even though we tried everything to get her to lie down. We also tried all sorts of medications, homeopathic remedies, and alternative treatments, but any results were either short-lived, didn’t faze her, or made things worse. All during this time, she stumped the surgeon and vets by not registering any pain when the surgery site was palpitated.

Finally, on Thursday last week, when I took her back to her regular vet, Dr. Wight was finally able to palpitate a knot on the end of the femur stump that made her register pain. Since Amber’s cancer had been confined to the cartilage, it had been decided not to amputate the whole leg, leaving the femur stump to give her more balance. Unfortunately, Amber was the rare dog who constantly moved her stump—in fact, our surgeon, Dr. Monarski, said that he had never seen a dog who moved her femur as much as Amber. In doing so, she built up fibrous tissue on the end of the stump that was believed to be causing her pain. Amber had probably been feeling it long before we could detect anything.

Now we were faced with a painful reality, we either had to put Amber through another surgery to remove the rest of the stump or we would have to let her go. As I sat in the vet’s office and watched her—in spite of her pain— “make her bed” with the big, soft comforter the techs had laid out for her on the floor, I knew she was still not ready to give up, so neither could we. On Friday, we took her back to the hospital and the rest of the femur was removed. The good news is that the procedure went smoothly and she does seem to be in less pain.

Amber’s second release from the hospital came a little slower.

But there is a lot of recovery to go and after another restless night, we are now confining her to a large kennel instead of just a room in the house because we think she tries to be too active just to be with us.

A difficult act of love–confining Amber to ensure her recovery.

That’s the things about dogs; they will do anything to please us—even if it means putting themselves in pain or harm’s way. And always trying to be good dog parents, we do our best to be worthy of their unconditional love.

Perhaps, Amber’s story will light the way for some other pet parent or canine amputee. Or maybe she will be that one atypical case that will help vets better understand how to anticipate and treat post-amputation complications. Or perhaps, Amber is merely enduring this to remind us what true acts of courage and love are all about. Last week, during Valentine’s Day—a time when we also typically mark Max’s birthday—I began to reflect on how recent events exemplify true acts of love. I never had time to finish that post until today. Here is what I have been thinking about:

There is so much hype and expectation around holidays like Valentine’s Day that it can obfuscate genuine gestures of love. Acts of love are actually much simpler than we humans make it as our dogs remind us.

  1. While treats are nice, it is not the flowers, chocolates, or jewelry that will be most remembered. It is the belly scratch, the run in the park, or just the sitting side-by-side in supportive silence that epitomize pure acts of love. In the four weeks since Amber’s first surgery, we have watched our younger Airedale, Krissy, do this for Amber. She has lain quietly outside of Amber’s kennel, just offering her presence, knowing without knowing. As humans, this is a lesson we should note: Love is shown more in a series of small gestures than in big, flashy gifts. Just being present for someone else is the greatest gift.
  2. Love is there when we show compassion. When we respond to another’s experience with patience and understanding, we can help heal the situation. If we simply impose our will, we will be met with resistance. Dogs are very sensitive beings and they know if you are coming from a place of true loving kindness. They may not like the Elizabethan collar, taking pills, or being kenneled, but they will cooperate more if they can feel your compassion. Could we be better humans if we showed more compassion for others’ experiences rather than judging or forcing our own perception on the situation?
  3. Even when we don’t fully understand or when we sometimes disagree, we show our love when we listen. During the last few weeks, we didn’t always understand why Amber couldn’t just lie down and rest and we often felt frustrated that the solutions didn’t seem more obvious. But because we were willing to acknowledge Amber’s experience and respect the veterinarian professionals involved, we could keep partnering for a solution. As humans, do we talk more than we listen in attempt to control the outcome? Sometimes letting go of our position is the most loving thing you can do.
  4. When things go wrong or in unexpected ways, it is an authentic act of love and respect not to blame. Approaching challenges with love rather than fear can keep us moving forward, knowing that each of us is doing the best that we can. As Amber’s recovery went sideways over the past few weeks, it would have been easy to blame the vets, blame each other, or even blame her. But having a scapegoat is a distraction from the ultimate goal of speeding her recovery. Conveying gratitude is a genuine gesture of love that keeps everyone looking for solutions rather than looking over their shoulders.
  5. One of the most heartfelt gestures of love is when we simply help each other. Over the past few weeks, I have talked with my vet as much as I’ve talked with my husband. Dr. Wight calls daily for updates and offers information, advice and support. We’ve laughed together. Cried together. And made and revised plans together. Consequently, I never felt alone or unsupported. And the same is true of my husband. He has partnered through this crisis every step of the way, just as he always has in our marriage. It is true what they say: When you help others, you actually help yourself.

These are the acts of love that have filled my life over the past few weeks and I am grateful that these experiences have reminded me what love really feels like. While it’s true that I enjoy an occasional present, these are the gifts I truly treasure. And I’ll take that over a dozen roses any day. I think Amber would agree.


4 Responses to “Lessons of Love from Our Airedale’s Journey to Recovery”

  1. Phillip Webb says:

    This is such a heartwarming story. What brave souls….Amber and Robin! God bless you both and wonderful vet, too!

  2. barb arnold says:

    many friends including myself still praying for dear, dear Amber

  3. Awww poor girl, but what a trooper she has been throughout all this. With her determination and your unconditional love, I’m sure she will come around this time around and go back to being her happy self!

    Lots of AireZEN your way and a big HUG to Amber!

    Take care,
    Elaine, Sunshade & Jaffa (who are very proud of their Loc Aire relative)

  4. heide hennen says:

    This morning I was wondering how Amber is doing and there you are. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us; they hit home with most all of us I think.
    I am so glad to hear Amber is doing better after the second surgery, my daughters 12 year old Lab mix had the amputation done and recovered real well, being able to walk up/down the steps in the house.
    Give Amber an huge Airehug and a kiss on her big, black nose from all of us.