During my 21 years of practice, I’ve encountered heroic, comical, and tragic situations. I’ve considered writing a 21st century James Herriot set of memoirs, but I thought that I would first begin by occasionally sharing one of my favorite patient stories on PETA Prime. And so here is the first of many animal stories to come.
The Mystery of the 200-Pound Dog
It’s no coincidence that the words “massive” and “mastiff” sound alike. Chumley, a 4-year-old mastiff, weighed close to 200 pounds (I weighed 150 at the time) and was in good shape for his large frame. When I saw Chumley, I wondered: How much dog food must it take to maintain a single Chumley? Who handles Chumley’s poop patrol? Does Chumley sleep in his dad’s bed?
Chumley’s dad’s attachment to his dog was clear right away. “Doc, he hasn’t eaten hardly any food in two days-I tell you, he’s just not right. I think he’s lost close to 10 pounds this week. He needs some help.” Examination revealed a quiet, gentle giant of a dog with no obvious source of illness. I advised a battery of basic tests, including X-rays and ultrasound. This required lifting Chumley from the floor onto our examination tables. I recall joking with my nurses, “Hope you ate your Wheaties this morning!” and thinking that this must be what it’s like to practice on horses.
Our tests suggested an intestinal blockage. I relayed my suspicions to Chumley’s dad and advised surgery right away, as these sorts of things can become life-threatening if not resolved quickly.
One of our nurses took Chumley for a walk to empty his bladder before the anesthesia. When they returned, I asked if he “did his business.” She took me outside to the site where business had definitely been conducted. Apparently, this was an unusual transaction, as an intact 6-foot hemp rope that emitted a foul odor was lying on the grass.
Had Chumley solved the problem without my help? Or did he have some other “surprises” left inside? If he was capable of passing the rope, could there be a stereo system or perhaps a frying pan hidden in there? I called Chumley’s dad and informed him of the good news that we would not have to perform surgery. We elected to send him home for observation, along with a smelly souvenir. A full recovery was reported.
A year or so later, Chumley returned for the exact same complaint. I recall before running any tests that Chumley’s dad remarked, “Should we just go straight to surgery, Doc?” I proclaimed that would be depriving Chumley of his right of presumed innocence before being proven guilty. As expected, testing revealed another blockage. This time, I was not asked to inspect the grounds after the pre-operative walk, and a full recovery was made after surgery to remove a washcloth from his intestines.
While it’s always rewarding to restore dogs like Chumley back to normal, some animal companions don’t get the opportunity to have a specialist perform surgery, and in some cases, the outcomes are not as successful. So what can you do to prevent your dog from “pulling a Chumley”?
1. Dogs like to eat things. The smellier and nastier, the more appetizing it is to them. If I could explain this, I likely would have already received my Nobel Prize. Oh, yes, and after eating these nasty things, they want to give you a kiss! Limit access to all the nasty things that dogs like to eat. This may mean closing the bathroom door to prevent access to toilet paper (my dog Winston’s favorite), keeping the garbage out of reach, and limiting time outdoors without your supervision. As a last resort, you can consider using a basket muzzle for periods when you are not around; dogs can breathe through them easily and even drink water, but they are unable to ingest anything.
2. If you suspect that your dog has eaten something dangerous or undesirable, see a veterinarian right away. Less expensive and invasive measures than surgery, such as inducing vomiting or endoscopic retrieval from the stomach, can be successful, provided that less than a few hours has elapsed since ingestion.
Make your time with your friends and family—including your animal companions—even more meaningful.