Monday, November 24, 2008

Emma Has Surgery

As I handed Emma to Erica, the surgical vet tech, she said, “OK, Emma, here we go.” And then Erica looked at me and said, “ We’ll take good care of her.” I told Erica thank you, but felt myself begin to tear up as Emma looked at me with her large eyes. If only I could have explained to her what was going to happen. If only she knew the surgery on her knee was necessary so she could run agility again and go snowshoeing and running again with Griz and me. I felt as if I were betraying her. But off Emma went and I, too, for a short drive just to gather myself up before running errands. I knew Emma was in good hands and kept telling myself the surgery was necessary for Emma’s overall health and longevity.

Dr. Erik Egger, a small animal orthopedic surgeon from Colorado State University’s teaching hospital, performed Emma’s operation. He also performed the first surgery on Emma’s right knee in March. The procedure, called a medial patella luxation or MPL, is an involved orthopedic surgery. Because the kneecap dislocates, Dr. Egger deepened the groove under Emma’s patella so it will rest properly there. The patellar tendon is then reattached to the top of the tibial crest after a section of bone from that area is sectioned and moved into proper alignment with the kneecap. The patellar tendon is then pinned to that site.

Throughout the morning, I envisioned Dr. Egger’s hands ably conducting Emma’s surgery. I’m never sure if I believe in the power of thought from one human being to another, but I was comforted in thinking it might work. Emma’s rehabilitation period after the last surgery was challenging, but successful. So, I knew I could face the challenges again, if only I knew it would successful again. I didn’t want to imagine Emma lame for life if the surgery didn’t work. It just couldn’t be an option for such an energetic, athletic dog.

About 11:30 AM, Dr. Egger called and said, “Mary, this is Erik Egger.” I knew immediately from the sound of his voice that things had gone well. “We just finished Emma’s surgery a little bit ago. She’s having some acupuncture right now. But she’s doing well and the surgery went quite well. There was some real deterioration on that ridge and under the kneecap, so it was important we did the surgery. I was quite pleased with how it went. You’ll be able to pick her up around 4 PM. Be sure to keep her iced. So, she’ll need eight weeks of rest and then we’ll talk about how to bring her activity along.”

I was relieved to hear Dr. Egger’s news. I always hope a doctor is having a good day when there’s an operation on someone close to me. And knowing there was considerable deterioration in the joint made me feel better about putting Emma through the surgery. My angst about putting her through the surgery began to die out as we spoke.

Before we hung up, I asked Dr. Egger about the use of acupuncture. He told me it was used as an adjunct pain management therapy at my vet clinic. I was pleased again imagining the Asian approach and philosophy somehow seeping into Emma and her knowing she’s being warmly cared for, even though it hurts.

Emma’s home now and quiet, very quiet for Emma. She’s asleep by the desk in my study as I type and she will be for a few days and she recovers with regular applications of ice and medication.

For those interested in another small animal orthopedic surgery story, please visit this site:
Dr. Egger was responsible for the invention of a prosthesis with a rubber foot for a Saluki, saved in Kuwait by an American volunteer. It’s a remarkable story of the power of hope and Dr. Egger’s orthopedic ingenuity.

For more in-depth information on MPL surgery, go to:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Fall Visit From Our Vet

Mike Gotchey, one of our longtime vets, came out this afternoon to tend to several of our horses and pregnancy-check our heifers. After much deliberation, Pete decided to geld a stallion, Dudley, and one of his young offspring, Bob. The process requires some sedation, but is relative quick surgical procedure with a surprisingly short-term recuperation period-a matter of a few days. Even though Pete is satisfied with the prospect of Riggs as our next stud, it was difficult to watch Mike geld Dudley, who has sired so many well dispositioned offspring. But it’s time for a change and Dudley will make an awesome rope horse and all round versatility competitor as a gelding. He and Bob will also, as Mike said, just get to be horses because they won’t have to be isolated from the mares and geldings.

Mike next tended to Allie, a little three-year old filly, who is one of the best
horses to come out of our breeding program. Allie tore her suspensory tendon in February while being boarded in Texas. She was seen by a number of vets from Texas A&M up until July when we brought her home and Mike has been overseeing her recovery since then, which seems as though it’s lasted a very long time. Today, Mike was pleased with her progress. There’s just a small area that needs to scab over. The critical recuperation was in the tendon and he believes she’ll be just fine in terms of having full use of her foot and ankle. After the initial injury, she could not flex her foot, but now her motion appears almost normal. Mike also treated her for a sarcoid on her right hind ankle: a tumor type condition that has been resistive to treatment.

Watching Mike suit up in his protective plastic outfit to preg-check our heifers, is a little like watching an astronaut prepare for launch. There’s the suit, the plastic sleeve, the plastic shoulder apron, and the plastic gloves; protective eye glasses and requisite hat from someone’s land and cattle company. As we push the heifers up the alley, we realize, as we do every year, how big these animals really are. We push each one up into the squeeze chute where Mike can step in behind them. Most all cooperate with his uninvited arm seeking out signs of a fetus deep in their pelvis. All are pregnant save one, the one who’s been wandering in and out of the pastures like she’s looking for someone or something. Now we know her wandering was a search for an elusive boyfriend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Horseback Riding Adventure

Pete and I just returned from a spectacular horseback riding adventure through the Andes, from Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina. We traveled by van, ferry, motorboat, and horse to a variety of wild and remote areas of the northern Patagonia region. We were fortunate enough to ride with a group of friends, all of whom were amiable and able riders. We were led by Open Travel, an adventure tour guide company operated by Cathy Berard and her mother, Francoise Dutheil. Paul Walker, known as a Chilean horse whisperer, personally guided us with the help of Tito, Dino, and Christian, local modern day Chilean cowboys, referred to as baqueanos or those who are experts in the area.

Traveling through a stunningly beautiful physical landscape, we rode 10-14 miles a day on Criollo horses, brought to Chile by the Spanish and prized for their sure footing and enduring physical strength. My horse, Kayak, stood less than 14 hands, and unfailingly displayed a steady mind and indomitable spirit. Wherever the horses went, he went too: across rivers, over rocks and boulders, and along granite trails and root tangled forest trails.

Our starting point was Chile’s Lake District departing Puerto Varas. By van, we traveled over gravel road to the Cochamo Region and into the Rio Puelo Valley where we met our horses and baqueanos. At night we stayed with rural inhabitants who live along the untamed rivers of Chile, at the end of remote alpine valleys, and on the shores of immense azure lakes. Most all subsist on what they can raise: growing bountiful gardens, raising a few sheep, and perhaps a small herd of cattle. They leave their homes only every few months for supplies and power their cabins with a variety of sources including generators, solar panels, and water driven turbines. They communicate with far away neighbors by radio and cooperate to assist one another, whatever the need.

November marks the beginning of spring in Chile so the temperatures were in the 50s and 60s. It rained the first few days of our trip and we were grateful to have packed all our layers including wool and rain gear. However, once in the elements there was an additional sense of adventure and satisfaction in being in the mildly adverse weather conditions. Our entire group was delighted to be on the trail in the care of a good and steady horse and willing and able guides and baqueanos, no matter the conditions. By the third day, blue skies and sunshine greeted us every morning and by the end of the trip, we were comfortable in our long sleeve shirts and for some, t-shirts.

Most days we rode four to eight hours with a picnic lunch stop along the way. We traveled through ancient forests, rich ecosystems; open meadows where old homesteads still stood, and frequently crossed southern Chile’s abundant waters. The horizon above was continually filled with the snow covered Andes Mountains and below our trail, deep azure lakes and glacial blue rivers.

At night, we were hosted by gracious rural residents who prepared the traditional Chilean tea complete with tea, coffee, and sweet breads and pastries upon our arrival. Dinner was traditionally served between nine and ten, often with lamb, fresh vegetable salads, potatoes, and bread. Desserts included cakes and one evening a traditional dried fruit soup with a light syrup and barley. Our evening meal was never complete without our guide, Paul, serving a variety of Chilean wines: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

As we prepared to leave our horses, baqueanos, and our guide, Paul, we reminisced about our days in the Andes. Most all of our group valued the sense of self-reliance we found in our guides and hosts. From making do with what they had, to managing and utilizing energy as needed, and growing most of what they ate, we, perhaps, re-imagined what life at home could be for each of us. Inspired too, by the Andean landscape, for a week we were freed and allowed to experience a moving meditation on the trail each day. The constantly changing trail and horizon demanded our attention and as we focused we thought of nothing else in the world but our horse’s next step and our riding companion’s next story. The lives of those we met left us nourished and inspired and Andean time allowed us to experience a sense of the eternal each day we found our way through the Andes.

For more information on our tour guide company, go to:

For more information on our guide, Paul Walker, go to:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Emma On Injured Reserve

Emma, my Boston Terrier, races through a tunnel at the Maybell, Colorado NADAC Agility Trial in 2007. It was our first and to date, only agility trial, even though we have continued to train off and on with our local agility group here in Steamboat Springs since then.

Unfortunately, Emma required surgery in March for a luxating patella in her right hind leg. In everyday terms, that's a dislocated patella in the knee joint. It's uncomfortable and increases the risk for injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. Dr. Eggers, the head orthopedic veterinarian from CSU, operated on Emma and reports her surgery was successful. Because luxating patellas are often hereditary, if it occurs on one side, it will occur on the other. So, now that her right hind leg is healed, Dr. Eggers will be operating on her left hind later this month. It is a major surgery and requires 4-6 months of rehabilitation and restricted activity.

Facing these surgeries has been frustrating for both of us. Emma is a beautiful and incredibly athletic dog. She has a high level of energy and it was difficult to offer her enough restricted exercise during her rehabilitation after the first surgery. I empathize with her because I know what it's like not to get out and about to run or snowshoe or even go for a walk. So, I'm renewing my commitment to finding the silver lining in our situation after realizing we have two choices: we can be defeated or we can make something better of our discouragement.

So, when she feels better after this next surgery, we will get deeper into obedience training and add on some easy and quiet dance steps too. I know if she is content it will benefit her healing process. Dr. Eggers smiled at me last time I saw him when he knew I was worried about her in the days ahead. He said assuringly, "Don't worry, Emma will back in agility. We'll get her back."
I walked out of his office believing him. With a successful surgery later this month and some of our adaptive training, I look forward to Emma being off injured reserve sometime next spring, just in time for the 2009 Maybell NADAC Agility Trial.