It was a regular Wednesday afternoon. I was expected at my ER shift by 2 p.m. and walked into the UT Veterinary Medical Center no later than 1:45 p.m. I strolled through ICU and into triage where I placed my things in the same corner that had become my little niche. What caught me by surprise was the small, shaggy dog wearing one of those cone collars and holding up its right rear leg. The dog ran to me as if we had known each other our whole life, wagging its tail and practically smiling, despite the badly swollen right hind limb that told me the poor thing had some sort of fracture.
“Who’s this,” I asked the fourth-year veterinary student on ER duty that day.
“This is Sara. She may have been shot in the leg, which I’m guessing is why she is limping,” he said quietly. He told me Sara’s story and how she came to need our services. She had been out roaming a property where there was deer hunting activity and came back with the injured hind limb. She had weaned puppies at home and lived with many other dogs. Her owner wasn’t too certain about the last time she’d seen a veterinarian.
I knelt down next to her and began my examination. She immediately cuddled up to my chest and, despite the Elizabethan collar, began licking my face. She hardly minded that I touched her injured leg and looked at me with eyes that seemed to reach deep inside.
“It’s OK girl. We’ll take good care of you from here,” I whispered, relieved that I didn’t find any other abnormalities besides the leg and some fleas. I went to discuss things with Sara’s owner, at which time we found finances were a major concern. An X-ray confirmed her right femur was fractured as I suspected and would need orthopedic surgery, including placement of a metal plate to repair the femur. As much as she loved Sara, the owner was not able to provide this type of care for her.
“She’s such a good dog. I just wish there was something we could do,” the student said quietly as we walked back to our triage area. I patted his shoulder and shook my head in agreement. I thought about how she had looked into my eyes and how loving she was despite her obvious pain and knew this couldn’t be the conclusion of her story.
This turned out to be the beginning of Sara’s next chapter in life. That Wednesday was the day Sara became mine. She’s got a brand new life and brought new meaning to mine. One just never knows what a normal day will bring in my line of work and that day it was a blessing in the form of a shaggy, smiling dog.
(Dr. Amanda Rainey, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center in Knoxville, Tenn.)