Table Manners for the Old Dog

D. E. Larsen,DVM

   Frank pushed through the door with Harley. Harley was an old yellow lab, very overweight, and suffering from arthritis due to all the extra weight.  

   “I need to see Doc, right away if possible!” he said abruptly. “Old Harley, he is not eating much since Kara passed. I’m not eating much either, for that matter.”

   Frank and Kara had been very close and worked together on their small farm out at Liberty. Harley was always happy to see me when I would make a farm call, but in the office, he knew he was the one to get the shot, not the cows. Today he sort of looked confused, like he was not sure what was going to happen next. 

   “Let’s get a weight on him, and then I will get Dave to get him up on the table,” Sandy said as she started for the scale at the end of the hall.

   “Harley, you have not lost any weight, you still weigh 108 lbs,” Sandy said, patting Harley on the head as she ushered them into the exam room. “I will get Dave, it will just be a minute.”

   I came into the exam room and swooped Harley up with both arms under his chest and belly and landed him on the exam table.

   “One of these days, you won’t be able to do that, Doc!” Frank said.

  “What brings you and Harley in to see me today?” I asked Frank with some concern in my voice. I knew things must be hard on both of them, Kara was the world to both of them.

   “Will, I am telling you Doc, old Harley here is not eating. I tell you that, and Sandy tells me he is not losing any weight. Now, how can that be, Doc?” Frank asks.

   “He must be eating something. Maybe he is cleaning up the grain after the cows.” I said.

  “No! He doesn’t eat a bite of his dog food. The only thing he eats is what he begs from me at the table. Maybe I give him more than I figure,” Frank says.

   I do a full exam on Harley, something I do with every patient. Start at the nose and end at the tip of the tail.

   “Everything looks fine, he just needs to lose some weight, like ten pounds for a starter,” I said as I lift Harley off the table. He is happy now, no shot, and he knows a treat is coming. He snatches the treat out of my hand, and it is gone in a second.

“One thing I never understand about dogs,” I said, “that treat touches his tongue of a tenth of a second, but he thinks it is the best-tasting thing in the world right now.”

   “One thing I never understand about you Vets,” Frank says, “you tell me he needs to lose weight, and then you feed him. Now, don’t you go and try to sell me some of that damn expensive dog food you have. He won’t eat a bite.”

“I won’t sell you any dog food. You just have to stop feeding him from the table. And I give him a treat so he will like coming back here. You know I have some patients who don’t think well of me.”

  “Okay, Doc, I will quit feeding him from the table. But you know, Kara has been gone for over a year now.  There is not a lot of joy in our house, for Harley or for me. Feeding him from the table is something we both enjoy.”

   “I know you guys have gone through a lot in the last year or more, but you want this guy to be around for a while. Don’t kill him with kindness. You eat your dinner, don’t look at him, or put him outside. Then you go outside and throw the ball for him a little. Don’t get so vigorous that he tears out a knee, just a little exercise. Then you sit on the front porch with him while he eats his dinner.” I explain.

   “You think that will really work, Doc?” Frank asks.

   “It might take a few days or a week or so. If the ball isn’t his thing, go for a little walk with him. What you do is not important, just spend a few minutes with him. It might even make you feel better.” I reply. “Now you do that, and then you come back in a few months, and we will talk again while Sandy gets a new weight on Harley. It doesn’t have to be an office visit.”

   As is often the case, it was over a full year before I heard anything from Frank. He had called, wanting me to look at a cow that was not coming into heat. Frank had a small place and maybe a dozen cows. He usually borrowed a bull from one of his neighbors. Not the best practice, but they were all small farms, and most of the herds were very stable. So there was not a significant risk of introducing a reproductive disease. It also meant that he needed to get his cows all bred within 2 cycles, 3 cycles at the most. He had not seen this cow in heat since he picked up the bull almost 2 months ago. If she didn’t cycle soon, she would miss her chance to get pregnant, and Frank would have to send her down the road to the sale barn.

   When I turned into the driveway, I could see Frank and Harley down by the barn. It looked like they had the cow in the small corral. Frank did not have a squeeze chute, we would have to rope her and tie her head. That would make the job a little more difficult.

   Frank’s farm was neat as a pin. Spoke of his German roots. There was nothing out of place, any manure in the corral would be quickly picked up and placed in the manure pile at the back corner of the barn. When Kara was alive, I would have to be watchful when I was working on a cow. She would be picking up manure as it fell, I would have to dodge the pitchfork as best I could. The house was close to the road. It was a small house with a large front porch, painted off white and with new black shingles on the roof. The yard was large, both front and back, and unlike the majority of farmhouses around here and where I grew up, the front door was used as the main entry. Today I noticed a new car, a little blue Ford, parked outside the garage behind the house.

   Frank and Harley were quick to greet me when I pulled up to the corral. I opened the back of my truck and pulled out the rope.

“How are things, Frank?” I asked. “It looks like you and Harley are a little brighter than when I last saw you at the clinic. Harley is trimmer, too.”

   “Yes, things have been going pretty good lately. Old Harley expects me the throw the ball a little every night, just like you suggested, Doc. I think it’s has helped us both,” Frank said.

   “Let’s get this cow looked at,” I say as I crawl over the fence with my rope in hand. I toss the lasso at the cow as she turns to the left to avoid the throw.  The rope neatly falls over her head. I pull it tight and throw the free end over the fence to Frank.

  “Take a wrap around the post there and take up the slack as I pull her into the fence,” I say as I start to pull the cow toward the fence. She probably has a name, I think to myself. She is tame, almost seems halter broke, and getting her snubbed up the post is not a problem.

   “Give me some slack, Frank, and I will get a loop around her nose, so she doesn’t choke herself,” I say.

   Frank lets out some slack, and I pull a loop of the rope through the lasso and loop it over her nose. This essentially makes a halter and prevents the noose from tightening around her neck and choking her.

   “Okay, Frank, if you could grab that other rope in the back of the truck, I will sideline her so I can do a rectal exam without chasing her rear end.”

   Frank hands me the rope, and I thread it around her neck and between her front legs, so when I closed the loop with the quick release latch, it includes her right front leg. This also is to prevent her from being choked if she struggles. I string the rope down her right side and take a wrap around the next fence post. When I pull it tight, it holds her left side against the fence. This will allow me to do a thorough rectal exam with my left arm. I am right-handed, but we were trained to use the left hand for rectal exams, so your right hand would be free to make notes or whatever is necessary.

   “What’s her name?” I ask Frank.

   “Kara called her Flossy. She was a favorite of Kara’s. That’s one reason I am anxious to get her pregnant. Will, in reality, it probably doesn’t matter Doc, I wouldn’t sell her anyway,” Frank explains.

   I pull the fingers off a plastic OB sleeve and pull it on my left arm. Then I put on a latex exam glove on my left hand. Then I pull the fingers off another OB sleeve and pull in on. This will give me full digital sensitivity and protect my hand and arm from manure. 

   After applying ample lube to my gloved hand, I grasp Flossy’s tail with my right hand and ease my left hand into her rectum. I remove several handfuls of manure from her distal colon. Then I insert my hand and arm up to my elbow. Then I sweep my hand over the brim of the pelvis. This is going to be an easy exam. The uterus is full. Flossy is pregnant, judging from the size of the cotyledons, those ‘buttons’ where the bovine placenta attaches to the uterus, I would say she was 4 months pregnant. I remove my arm and pull off the sleeves, being careful to turn them inside out as I remove them.

   “That was quick,” Frank says.

   “What is the most common reason a cow doesn’t cycle?” I ask Frank.

   “How the hell do I know, that’s why I hired you,” he replies.

   “Flossy is pregnant, probably 4 months along,” I say.

   “Impossible, there hasn’t been a bull on the place since last year,” Frank says emphatically.

“There is no question about the pregnancy, and time will confirm that. Just have to wait about 5 months. So there had to be a bull here somehow. Are you sure a neighbor’s bull didn’t jump the fence?” I said.

   “No way, there is nothing here except the cows and a couple of steers. They are getting near market weight,” Frank replies.

   “How were the steers castrated?” I ask.

   “I banded them when they little, they are about 2 years old now,” Frank replied, a little defensive now.

   “You must have missed a testicle on one of them. That is a common error, you think have both testicles in the scrotum, then when you release the rubber band, one testicle slips through the band is above the scrotum. The majority of retained testicles will not be fertile, but in reproduction, 100% certainty is difficult to obtain,” I explain.

   “That is sort of academic now. Flossy is pregnant, and you might find you have one or two the other cows calving early this year. The steers with be at market soon, so that issue is fixed. Next Spring, give me a call and I will show how to castrate young calves with a knife. That solves this problem as long as you can count to two. Plus, you end up with some nice mountain oysters to fry up,” I say.

   “I don’t know about mountain oysters. We have enough problems with regular stuff around here anymore. Peg has been doing the cooking lately,” Frank says.

   “Peg?” I ask.

   “Margaret McFadden, we call her Peg, me and old Harley,” Frank replies.

   “Yes, I know Margaret. Her and Hank used to come into the clinic. I think Hank died a few years ago,” I say.

   “My neighbor talked me into going to the Senior Center downtown. You know, a man can’t walk into that place alone without being jumped on by half the old women in the place,” Frank says as he explains their meeting. “Anyway, Peg was sort of quiet, like me. We hit it off pretty well. She has been coming out here and trying to get things straightened out.”

  “So that must explain that new little car up at the house,” I say.

  Peg was a short woman, thin but rather striking for an older lady. Her gray hair still had streaks of black in it, giving a hint to her jet black hair as a younger lady. Her facial features were almost stern until she smiled. If she had a defect, it was the prominent mole on the right side of her jaw. I often found myself looking at it rather than at her eyes. I am sure it bothered her some because she would usually cover it with her hand when she was talking. I often wondered why she didn’t have it removed.

“Yes, that is Peg’s car. She doesn’t like to ride in my old farm truck. She is sort of a city girl, you know,” Frank says. “For the most part, we get along fine. We have been talking about getting married, or at least living in the same house. But you know what they say, a skinny woman probably doesn’t like to cook. You go into a restaurant operated by a skinny woman, and you get good salads,” Frank said.

   “You might have to do the cooking, Frank,” I said

  “Now, I’m not saying anything about her cooking, but she sure cured old Harley from begging at the table,” Frank says.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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