Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Meet Matilda

By Beth Guerra, DVM
During my first week at ACCES, a stray bedraggled poodle came in through the ER. She had been found roaming the streets injured and a Good Samaritan contacted Seattle Animal Control to pick her up. She was initially assessed at another animal hospital before being transferred to our clinic to treat her injuries. She had no microchip or other identification, and after 3 days no owner had been found.
I was on a receiving shift when she came through the door. She was dirty, covered in fleas, and had bandages on both forelimbs. She was extremely shy and not making eye contact. The left forelimb had a degloving wound over the paw and wrist, but when I unwrapped the right forelimb, I was in for a shock. The limb was hanging at an odd angle, indicating a fracture, and the tissue was missing right down to the bone. The area was covered in dirt and fur. Although she was obviously in great pain, she tolerated an exam with no protests.
It must be said that I have a thing for small dogs, especially poodles. Our childhood dog growing up was a poodle, as was the dog my mom had before she married my dad. I already had one dog, a yorkie mix that I rescued from a shelter in Chicago, but my fiancé and I had just discussed getting a second dog to keep him company. We were planning on visiting the local shelter, and then this poodle landed in my lap.
That first day, we gave her some pain medications, antibiotics, and started her on IV fluids. X-rays confirmed that the limb was shattered and the joint was a mess. Extensive surgery would be needed to fix the limb. I got her set up in the ICU for the night, but after I left, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I am quite an impulsive person, and I knew she would be our second dog.
The next day, I came in to find a technician sitting in her cage trying to hand feed her some kibble. She saw me and gave a wag of her tail, just a rhythmic thumping of the very end. The tech seemed surprised as she had given no other show of emotion so far. I immediately decided her name would be Matilda (I have no idea where it came from) and called Seattle Animal Control to inform them I would adopt her and assume responsibility for her medical care. I consulted with our surgeon about the wounds that day. There were two options; fuse the joint and repair the missing skin with a graft, or amputate the limb. For me, the decision was an easy one.
Three days after her right forelimb was amputated, I was brushing my teeth after a swing shift and she was following me around the house. It was 3am and I had no lights on. I heard a jingle and a series of thumps, and looked around to find she had descended a flight of stairs to chase after our cats. Then she came right back up the stairs without hesitating.
Since then, Matilda has been unstoppable. She jumps onto the bed with much more ease than our 4 legged dog. She goes for two mile runs without tiring. She uses her remaining forelimb to scratch at the door, or my leg, or whack our other dog on the head. We even have sweaters with one sleeve removed to accommodate her new form. When we are on walks, people often ask what happened to her leg. We make up stories that she was in a skiing accident or victim of a shark attack while surfing. People are surprised that she gets around so well, given that approximately 70% of a dog’s weight is carried on the forelimbs. She has adapted to life as a 3 legged canine. I realize that not everyone would make the same decision, but I do use Matilda as an example for my clients who may be faced with the same difficult decision.
If you are faced with having to decide whether an amputation will be the best decision for your pet, there is also a really useful website -

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