Lola was eight years old when her parents learned she would have to lose a leg to survive. How she embraced life without a leg is inspiring to pet parents everywhere, and hopefully to the many veterans who lose limbs as a result of their military service. It is often said that we have much to learn from the four-legged wonders we call family.
Thanks to our staffer, Susan, for sharing her family’s journey.
Not so happy New Year: Lola will lose her leg
Two dear friends are visiting. We’re watching a movie, The Way, Way Back. It’s funny. The company is terrific. The wine is flowing. Then Lola, our eight year-old rescued German Shepherd mix joins us and I notice a large lump on her rear right hip.
“Bill, look at this.”
My husband hones in on what I’m showing him. We both swear it wasn’t there earlier in the day. We immediately think she got stung by a bee, or bit by a spider. We are wrong. Not even close.
On January 3rd, Lola is diagnosed with bone cancer. By February 3rd, her hind leg and part of her hip are amputated.
Now she’s our beloved tripawd dog who inspires us each and every day with her “buck up and carry on” attitude.
It’s a long, long day.
We don’t hear from the doctor until early evening. Lola was under anesthesia for so long he couldn’t risk taking any extra time to stitch her up so he stapled the incision. She’s resting. He’s exhausted. It wasn’t an easy surgery. He had to remove the part of her hip under the cancer tumor by touch alone.
Day 1: Lola’s first day without a leg
Everyone smiles and tells us how amazing Lola is and what a good patient she is. She sees me and immediately sits up and tries to get to me. Her IVs keep her tethered. It’s definitely hard to see her without her leg, but she really does seem okay, if a bit groggy. Her wound is neatly stapled, her flesh pink and healthy looking. Her surgeon tells us she was outside and squatting to pee this morning. He was so impressed he took a video of her. There she is pulling the vet tech who has her on a leash. She squats, she pees. It’s been less than 24 hours since she lost her leg. We are as astonished as the doctor.
I’m so proud of my girl.
After the visit with Lola, my aunt tells me something profound and soothing.
“We make a contract with our pets that we will safely and kindly see them through life and then to death. It’s the cycle of life. They teach us so much and for all the sorrow when Mary died, Poppy, Fletcher (her dogs) to name a few, I am more grateful than I could ever be sad.”
Day 3: Lola’s resilience
Lola is very anxious to leave the hospital. She is so done with them. Her speed and agility getting out the door is amazing to witness – until we get her to my Honda and realize we have to get her in the back seat.
It wasn’t pretty. We hurt her and we know it.
I’m feeling nauseous because I figure she’s fighting tremendous pain, but she settles down and we make it home without further incident, whereupon she manages to get out of the car pretty easily. She immediately heads for the grass to pee. No problem! Our neighbors all come out to welcome her home, many bearing gifts for her. They can’t believe she’s moving so well.
Lola’s looking at them like she doesn’t get what the fuss is about. All she knows is that she’s peed, it’s kinda rainy and she’d like to go in the house now. We happily oblige.
Here is a sweet photo of Lola just after she got home. Our friends donated the harness she’s wearing, which we use to help her get up and can easily grab when she’s standing, if we need to. She wears a bootie on her remaining back leg that keeps her back end from slipping on our floors. Under the harness is a pretty pink Thundershirt, which acts as a swaddling blanket for nervous animals like Lola. We also use it as a sweater to keep her warm since she’s shaved on the lower half of her body.
Only two days after getting home, Lola’s ready to get back to her routine morning walk. She won’t take no for an answer. Bill obliges our girl. She leads him to her most favorite place to hang out and watch the world go by, a small greenway in our neighborhood. Major surgery is behind her. Time to get back to her life.
Healing, adapting, learning lessons
And so the healing and adapting begins. Between Lola, my husband Bill and me, I’m the weakest in adapting.
I am so nervous that Lola will fall or that we’ll hurt her, I can’t bear it when I know we have to take her outside. She doesn’t share my nervousness. She just does what she has to do, generally with Bill by her side.
I feel so cowardly when she’s so brave and strong, so I really try to do my best to emulate her. Some days are better than others.
In the coming days, she falls once while going to the bathroom and screams in pain. It’s a sound I never want to hear again. She lays there. I’m paralyzed, unable to help her get up. Instead I chicken out and go running to our neighbor to help Bill help Lola. By the time I get back, she’s hopping back to our house like nothing ever happened.
Bill recalls, “I looked at her laying there and I said to her, ‘Lola I have to roll you over to get you up; it’s gonna hurt but you have to help me. She looked at me and I knew she knew what she had to do. She rolled over and it definitely hurt but she got up. After a brief pause, she headed back to the house.”
I have so much to learn from this dog.
It’s February 20th. Today Lola helps Bill celebrate his birthday by not only walking around on rocky terrain on this Bodega Bay, California beach, but by getting right into the water, ready to play her favorite game of stick. This is just over two weeks after her surgery. Physically she’s strong and sure-footed with lots of energy.
Lola is eventually weaned off the pain meds; her staples are removed. She begins six sessions of chemotherapy to eradicate any wayward cancer cells, even though the surgeon successfully got clean margins around the tumor. She becomes strong enough to no longer need the harness on walks. She has moved her remaining hind leg towards the middle of her body to adapt her gait.
Each time she has to do something she used to do easily with four legs, Lola simply figures out the best way to do it with only three. Learned, done, can we go for a walk now? She doesn’t dwell on her loss. Her life is still full of all the things she loves and that’s all she needs. It’s that simple. She continues to be an inspiration to us every single day.
Today and every day we “embrace life for Lola.”