March 21 will be six months since my gorgeous Meggymoo became a tripawd. I still remember how ridiculously scared I was for her, and thought everything would change for both Meg and how I care for Meg. But, luckily that hasn’t quite been the case. So here is a little list of facts about having a tripawd, for all those where I was six months ago – scared and searching through google for signs of hope that everything will be ok!
NB. I’m going to talk about tripawd dawgs, sorry if you have a tripawd cat, but I’m sure this will still somewhat apply!
1. Your dog will still be awesome
Every dog is an awesome dog. Four legged dogs, three legged dogs, even the occasional two legged dogs who you see going viral on Facebook. Your dog is still going to be the same dog once they lose a leg, actually, if anything they’ll be even better. They won’t be suffering from a leg riddled with cancer or broken bones, or they’ll be free of pain from a traumatic accident. The first few weeks can be difficult, and recovery is different for every dog. Of course, if your dog still needs treatment after the surgery for cancer or any other disease, they might be slightly different to how they were before the treatment started, but they’ll still be an awesome dog – your awesome dog- and they’re doing a kickarse job at trying to stay healthy. Dogs aren’t counting down on a calendar remembering how long the vet said they have left, they just want to live their awesome little lives. Do that with them.
Meg was back to herself within two weeks, once we took her off all of the pain medications. I let her build up stamina on walks slowly, but honestly I don’t think she needed it. Meg was lucky to lose a back leg, which holds much less weight, and have muscly back legs. The only thing that changed was her gait, she has learnt to shift her back leg more towards the centre of her body and her front legs are wider apart. She can still walk and run just as fast, if not faster, when she wants to. She still plays with her toys every day, goes for walks multiple times a day, chases birds, dogs, soccer balls, footy balls, tennis balls etc. She still jumps with ectasy when she is offered a biscuit or see’s you unraveling a believed hose.
If you’re worried that a surgery will change your dog, personality wise or physically, there is a good chance it won’t. Even if its a giant dog losing a front leg, or an old stubborn dog who will throw a tantrum that life has changed, all the tripawds stories I’ve read and videos I’ve watched on youtube says that isn’t really the case. Even if it is, YOU’RE DOG WILL /STILL/ BE AWESOME.
2. Every day you’ll be asked ‘Oh, what happened to your dog?’
Well, what did happen to your dog, you ask? In august 2016, Meg was diagnosed with a low grade mast cell tumour on her left leg, after a mysterious lump had been there for about five months beforehand. After a few sad and stressful days, we decided the best option was to amputate her leg, and the surgery was booked in for the 21st of September. The surgery was successful, and our girl came home the next day. After 14 days with stitches in, she was healed and got on with her life. We were lucky with Meg, the biopsy of the lymph node in the cancer leg showed signs of mast cells, but not cancerous ones. So, with any luck, it doesn’t seem likely the cancer has spread. So Meg is in remission, if theres no sign of new cancer or the old cancer actually having spread for two years she’ll be in the clear. But we’re not to worried about that, I consider Meg to be on borrowed time, so I’m thrilled with every day she gets to live without that horrible tumour.
Thats the summary of ‘the long story’. When you’ve got a brand new tripawd, that story tends to get told a bit, depending on who is asking. But over time, once you realise the questions of ‘oh what happened to your dog/oh, how long has your dog had three legs, oh, she is a rescue? Did you adopt her because she has three legs’ happen every day, you develop the short story. “She had cancer and we needed to amputate, but she’s fine now” is pretty much it. You adjust your story when curious kids ask what happened – “her leg was very sick and we had to cut it off so the rest of her wouldn’t get sick”. Some days I’ll happily tell the story and have a conversation, and watch as the person asking the question be filled with joy or sadness or disappointment. Some people seem to want a gory story about dog fights or car accidents, or simply don’t consider that cancer could take a dogs leg (or why you’d consider it as a treatment option). I understand that, most people have never seen a three legged dog, let alone thought about why they are three legged. That doesn’t help on the days where you just want to walk your dogs or let them run around the park, and not deal with the stares, people muttering to look at the three legged dog, kids screaming to their parents that they saw a three legged dog. However, when those questions come, I will always try to tell the story, long, short, child friendly, whatever, and not be short or negative about it. One day they, or a family member, or even a neighbour might face amputation or euthanasia, and I hope by seeing a happy little three legged chihuahua cross thriving that one day, they might be ok with the scary amputation decision.
I know that first hand, literally 30 seconds before I got the call saying Meg had cancer, I saw a three legged dog hoping by, even that made the decision to amputate so much easier, even without knowing that little dogs story.
But please, if you don’t have a tripawd and see one, and want to know the story, be polite. Strike up a normal conversation first, and then gently ask what the deal with. The bluntness of ‘what happened to that dog’, especially when asked with a patronising tone, gets old. If you’re kid is carrying on, being amazed by the ‘freak’ dog, or even just staring and not treating the three legged dog like another dog, please consider it a good time to teach about how to handle disability and differences in humans. My dog won’t be offended by your kids behaviour, but a human amputee (or any other disabled person) that gets loudly spoken about or stared at, might.
3) Even though humans notice your three legged dog, other dogs don’t
I don’t even think our other dog, Dotti, notices Meg hopping around on three. She knew she was tired/sick/different when she came home from the surgery, but she sure as hell didn’t know why. Dogs just see you’re dog as another dog, they won’t gang up on them, they won’t bully them, they won’t make them feel insecure. Not even other tripawds will care (which disappoints me greatly any time Meg meets another tripawd). Furthermore, your own dog won’t feel insecure, or care, or worry about that missing leg. They just want to sniff another dogs behind and get on with their day!
EDIT: I’ve been told front leg tripawds can actually get bullied – ‘that a front leg Tri moves differently, which can trigger other dogs prey drive. Especially if your Tri is a smaller dog. For my guy, dog parks are a no go for this reason’!
4. You’ll forget you have a tripawd, everyone else will not
After a while, your dog having three legs is a massive afterthought. The amputation is behind you. Your dog is just your awesome dog. This is not the case for literally everyone else, who presumes anything wrong with or new about your dog MUST be because of the three legs, or the cancer, or the accident, or anything to do with #tripawdlyf. I’ve posted videos or photos of Meg rolling about in the grass on a sunny day, or even rolling over for belly rubs, only to get DM’s asking if she fell over because she can’t balance. I’ve told stories of Meg not liking other dogs, or not liking bath time or swimming, only to be told ‘well obviously, she only has three legs’ even though these things were true with four legs too. If you’re dog is being a bitch at the dog park, its because they’re scared of other dogs, because they have three legs. Conversely, if another dog is being a bully to your dog, its because your dog has three legs. Nevermind the four legged dogs being arses. Its all about that missing leg to everyone else but you. People will also ask if your dog is ok to jump up on the couch, climb up the stairs, visit their place etc. They’ll be super careful when petting or holding your dog. They’re being polite and all, its not as if they shouldn’t consider it, but its something you have to adjust to.
Vets and vet nurses aren’t immune to it either. Your special dog will get a lot more attention from the vet reception, (or pet store counters, after you get asked for ‘the story’). Vet nurses have asked me if I’d like to come in with Meg when she gets her nails cut, and even one vet tried to link an eye ulcer to the missing leg – something alone the lines of Meg needs to be careful now she is on three legs. Her sister needs to not be a lil bitch, irrelevant of the amount of limbs involved. I’m sure if Meg ever goes into the vets with stomach issues, even if the cause is obvious, like eating from a bin, the first thing they’ll think of is cancer. So will I, truth be told.
5) Tripawds need special care
Everything I’ve said has kind of been saying you’re tripawd is a normal dog, and they can do anything a four legged dog can. Which is true to a point. People always ask me if Meg struggles with anything or can’t do things she could do before. The short answer is she can’t scratch her left ear, and to this day goes into an ear scratch position and waves her stump around. I leap to my feet to scratch for her. Rear tripawd owners – you’ll feel guilty when you’re not home, worrying that they have an itch that you can’t scratch for them.
Meg can do everything else, but that doesn’t mean I let her. I’ll help her on and off the couch if it looks like the jump is a struggle, she isn’t allowed to climb in and out of the car by herself anymore, and I absolutely hate when she leaps off the bed. You need to protect their remaining limbs, they’ve already lost the spare after all. I’ve found dog physios and chiros for when Meg needs it, I’ve looked into dog injury rehabs, we purchased Meg a special bed so her joints don’t hurt, and we got her a special harness that helps her balance when she needs it. Tripawds cost more money than normal dogs, and you do need to put in more effort. Even if that effort is celebrating that your dog survived whatever caused the amputation, or is living with a shitty disease, spoil them, give them more cuddles, let them have tiny amounts of naughty food.
6) You have a special gift, your special dog brings joy to so many people
Ok. Every dog brings joy to so many people. But tripawds are different, they tell a story of survival and people find that inspiring. That feeling isn’t the same for you, because you live day in and day out with your tripawd, but other people see your dog as a trooper and that helps them, it makes them happy that a dog can thrive after going through a major trauma. People can relate it to their own lives and use that inspiration for their own good. Appreciate when you see someone smiling and enjoying your dog hoping around, after all your dog is making their day better. Thats great.
7) Tripawds are great, and their owners are great
In summary, tripawds are just like other dogs, they’ll make you have to socialise a bit more, they cost a bit more, they’ve survived something other dogs haven’t, but they’re still your dog and they still deserve so much love and care. Just like all dogs. If you’re dog needs amputation or you are considering adopting a tripawd, it will be fine, they’re fine, even if the amputation is just buying time, your dog will love you so much more for helping them in their time of need. You need to be brave to decide to amputate and go through the worry and the financial burden. Likewise, you’re a special soul to adopt a dog, especially a disabled one. Tripawd owners are just as special as their dogs, and at the same time, are just like every other dog owner out there. Enjoy being in a unique club that you might not have wanted to join, but the friends and the lessons you get out of it are special. Enjoy them. Be more dog with those lessons.