“UGH! I… just… can’t… UGH!…pry this damn trap open!” my friend shouted and grunted.
After three disconnected calls to 911 due to bad cell reception, I sprinted like a mad woman to the trap with what I can only imagine as fire in my eyes because my friend jumped out of my way. I threw myself on the greasy steel coyote trap. Ella, my sweet boxer puppy, pleaded with me to save her. My arms turned into hydraulic jacks and I pounded the trap open with one monstrous thrust. When I opened my eyes my dog curled up in my arms like a shivering child and buried her face into my jacket.
The hike back to the car seemed triple as long and difficult as our joyful trek out to the property only moments earlier. I carried Ella as far as I could and then gently coaxed her to limp along until blood surged back into my arms. We alternated efforts like that all the way back to the car. Ella toughed it out as best as she could but I could tell she was in horrible pain. Her whimpering subsided to a low pant with the occasional slow lick to her swollen leg. As soon as I reached cell reception I called the vet and he agreed to meet me at my house to give Ella a look.
The verdict was Ella was fine and lucky. She had enough muscle to protect her bone and most likely needed rest and cool compresses for a while. Unfortunately the vet had seen many other dogs who either broke their legs on such traps or were found hours later with their legs chewed up from trying to break free. I called the trap owner to explain the situation and he felt terrible. He also owned dogs and for some reason never considered that someone’s pet could fall for his coyote trap. He removed them later that day and I wrote an article for publication in the Pulse to raise awareness.
As soon as Dave came home from work Ella played up her situation and held her paw in a dainty feminine “poor me” pose. It worked. My husband’s heart melted seeing her sad droopy-lipped face. The two cuddled and watched movies all night. Dave wondered out loud, “So she’s gotten picked up and almost kidnapped, ‘porcupined’, caught in a coyote trap, surrounded by coyotes… I hate to ask what’s next?”
Reader, I promise to share the coyote encirclement story at some point as it’s a very good one, but too long to share in this series.
Well, what was next? No, she never got skunked.
Years later, Ella and I jogged five miles for a simple training run before my Door County Half Marathon event. At this point we lived in Madison and Ella carried on as a young, punky, eight-year-old dog. We finished our five miles in a sprint because she saw a good friend from Door County standing in the sidewalk before our house. She loved Luedke and no doubt recognized his scent before her eyes could define him.
After a cheerful greeting we all noticed blood dripping from Ella’s back foot. I felt awful and assumed she ran over broken glass on our jog, so we carried her to the tub and washed it away. This seemingly benign incident we completely forgot about until a few weeks later when we returned from our Door County Marathon trip and discovered her back paw again bleeding. This time it was obvious that she had worn the nail down to the quick and when we touched it she didn’t flinch. Odd. That Monday we took her to the vet. He assumed she had a diseased disk in her spine and suggested I get an operation (which would have cost over $6,500 all told with only 30% success rate).
My instincts disagreed. I can’t explain it but something told me that the assumed diagnosis wasn’t right, and in any case, a surgery cutting stuff around her spinal cord was not going to happen. What did concern us every day was the new swish-drag sound to her gait. She needed protective boots for her foot so she didn’t scrape her foot to the bone as she walked. So Dave and I elected to, in the least, get her wheels to support her spine, relieve the pressure, and give her the mobility she needed as a willful go-getter dog. Several friends, and friends of friends, and sisters of friends, recommended Eddie’s Wheels.
We measured Ella twice and ordered her wheels online which was followed up with a personal phone call from one of the owners. “Did you get medical evidence, like an x-ray, that Ella has a diseased disk in her spine?” I admitted no, we didn’t spend the money on the x-ray and I spared her all the extra details I’m sparing you right now. She said, “The reason I ask is because many vets don’t know about Degenerative Myelopathy yet, but there is a very extensive study going on and we’re finding that a lot of dogs of certain breeds, one of which is Boxer, are misdiagnosed with a diseased disk when in fact they have D.M. The bad news is it is not treatable. Surgery would not have helped Ella if this is what she has. The good news is it’s a simple sixty dollar test to find out if that’s what she has, and then at least you will know what path you are on.”
You guessed it. Ella’s DNA test results proved she had D.M., which Dave researched extensively online and understood to mean essentially that Ella had ALS for dogs. Dave read all the details and held me in his arms to share the short version with me. He had already spoken with his dad up in Door County (who volunteered at the Humane Society) as well as Ella’s old vet to create a plan for the inevitable. So now we all knew What, we just didn’t know When. The disease took dogs through the horrible stages as fast as three months to as long as three years. I cried uncontrollably, of course, as Dave knew I would, which is why he grabbed the box of tissues before telling me everything I needed to know. Once I could breathe better again he took me through the three stages, simplified: 1) Her legs would turn to wet noodles. Her one leg already dragged, the other would too. 2) Incontinence. 3) Fluid fills the lungs, “…and that’s when the dogs feel the worst of the pain,” Dave explained. “I don’t want to let Ella ever get to that point.” I agreed with a vigorous nod. “I vote that as soon as she shows signs of incontinence we host a living memorial party for her, and the next weekend we take her to my folks house and wait for Jim to come over to put her to rest.” I sobbed into his lap and then nodded in agreement again.
Six months later I spent $300 on groceries: six pounds of locally made organic thick cut bacon, heirloom tomatoes, fresh cut gourmet greens, six grain sprouted grain bread, home made sage olive oil aoili, tilapia, tortillas, greek yogurt, red cabbage, organic vanilla ice cream, organic ice cream cones (I didn’t know they made such things) and the largest blue marlin steak I could find. We called it the “Bacon, Fish, and Ice Cream” party. The back yard filled up with friends and family for Ella, and we told them to feed her as much bacon and ice cream that they wished. Dave grilled up gourmet BLT’s and tilapia tacos for the humans and Ella got to eat the huge raw steak of fish for one last sushi high. Everyone signed her book of photos and cried and laughed. Friends confided in me that they fed Ella “A LOT” of bacon. I chuckled and threw my arms up in the air. “What’s the worst that can happen now?”
Ella soaked it all up, receiving all the hugs and tears with grace. She knew.
The next week she thanked me as she fell into eternal sleep in Dave’s arms while the sun set on the bay.
We officially lost Ella forever. We loved her and saved her repeatedly for almost ten years. She challenged our parental duties. She protected little children like a heart-forward nanny. Ella oozed personality I failed to capture properly in stories. The pain of her loss lingered like a bone-deep bruise.
Dave swore he would never get another dog again.
Three weeks later he called me to him. “Hon? Wanna see something that made me cry?”
That’s when he showed me that happy face he found on PetFinder.com of whom we now call, Iggy Pup. Now this pup… he has quite the story of his own. But we’ll save that for another time.