D. E. Larsen, DVM

I first met Ali in the Fall of 1976. He was a German Shepherd. At that time, almost all German Shepherds were great dogs. Ali was a large, black and tan male. He was well behaved and a reliable member of the family.

Gene had called me because he was concerned that Ali was vomiting. It was troublesome more than anything else. He was not vomiting all the time, but usually a little bit every day. Gene was worried because he would bring shaker balls home from the mill, and Ali loved to retrieve those balls. 

“Shaker balls are larger than a baseball,” Gene explained. “I don’t know if he could swallow one of those or not.”

“You wouldn’t think so,” I said. “But, I guess we could try to see if they would show up on an x-ray.”

“They probably are just fabric and maybe some rubber,” Gene said.

This was before the clinic was open. I was limited to house calls and a mobile x-ray unit designed for a horse’s leg, rather than the abdomen of a large German Shepherd.  

I got a picture. Ali was a great patient. It was an awkward setup, but he tolerated it well.  I had Ali lay under the x-ray unit that was suspended from a stand. Not many dogs would put with that without some sedation. It was not a problem with Ali. I often found that large dogs, with a lot of self-confidence, were much easier to deal with when the situation was unusual than a hundred little dogs who were afraid of their shadows.

I looked and looked at the film. There was nothing I could see to suggest a ball in his stomach.

“If you are concerned, we could do exploratory surgery,” I told Gene.

“Well, as long as the vomiting doesn’t get worse, I guess we will just watch him for now,” Gene said.

“We might try to change his diet to canned food and feed in smaller meal sizes, several times daily,” I suggested. “If you get concerned, we can do surgery at any time.”

The diet change almost solved the vomiting issue. Ali would now vomit only occasionally. Gene was no longer worried, and we would talk only on an occasional basis.

Then Easter Sunday came along. My folks were visiting us for the weekend. For whatever reason, Easter Sunday was a busy day for me for the first few years I was in Sweet Home. We woke up to a pickup parked in the driveway with a large sow in the back. 

“Doc, I am sorry to bother you on Easter Sunday,” George said. “My wife said I should come early, so I would be less disruptive to your day.”

I had pulled a pair of pants on and an old shirt and went out to talk with George in my slippers.

“I picked her up at the auction on Thursday,” George continued. “She can’t poop, Doc.”

“Give me a few minutes to get a few things and get something better on my feet, and I will get a look at her, George,” I said.

Looking her over, she looked a little full in the gut. On the rectal exam, her colon was a blind pouch on the rectal side. A lot of scar tissue was present.

“Things don’t go anywhere from this end,” I said.

“Makes me mad that someone would send her to the sale for me to buy,” George said.

“This sow apparently had a rectal prolapse at some time in her life,” I said. “Her colon is scared closed. It was probably poorly repaired when the prolapse happened. I can maybe open it with a trocar, but not without some risk, and it will not stay open for any significant amount of time.”

“Ah, I had a pig like that once,” George said. “A long time ago.”

“How did you handle her then?” I asked.

“I took her to the sale,” George said.

“See there, things sort of come back around, sometimes,” I said.

That brought that visit to a close. There wasn’t much to be done anyway. I guess the sow could be salvaged for sausage. Probably be okay if you were hungry enough, but I wouldn’t want to eat it.

It was well after dinner in the late afternoon when the phone rang.

“Doc, this is Gene,” Gene said. “Now I know there is a shaker ball in Ali’s stomach. We had the daughter and her family here for dinner, and after dinner, her husband and the boys were out throwing a ball for Ali. One toss was high in the air, he jumped up and caught it, and they watched it go down. He is sort of uncomfortable now.”

“My day tomorrow is already a disaster,” I said. “Maybe I should meet you at the clinic and plan to do the surgery this evening.”

“I don’t want to disrupt your holiday,” Gene said. “But if you are willing to do it this evening, that would be great.”

  “I can meet you at the clinic in half an hour,” I said.

Hanging up the phone, I turned to Dad. “Are you interested in going to the clinic and watching a surgery?” 

Dad, Sandy, I head to the clinic, leaving Mom home with the kids. Mom probably would have liked to go, but staying with the kids made up for her missing the surgery.

We were pretty well set up by the time Gene came through the door with Ali. We rushed through the check-in process and moved ahead with the exploratory surgery.

With Ali under anesthesia, and prepped for surgery, I made a five-inch incision on his ventral abdominal midline. It only took me a few minutes to be in the abdomen. I reached in with one hand and palpated the stomach. There was a large shaker ball, and then I felt the second ball also. Gene had been correct in his assumption all along.

I was able to externalize the stomach with both balls. 

With both large balls and just a small portion of the stomach hanging outside of the incision, Dad made his observation. “That looks just like a large scrotum and a couple of big balls.”

I made an incision in the stomach just long enough to allow me to express one of the shaker balls out. The first one, then the next came. The second ball had obviously been in the stomach for some time. All the fuzz on the surface was gone. That was the ball that had been there since last Fall.

I turned the gas off as I started to close. At that time, I had a Metaphane gas machine. Metaphane was an excellent anesthetic gas, but it had a prolonged recovery period. By turning the gas off early, Ali should be away by the time we were cleaned up and ready to go.

The closure was simple. I used a double layer inverting closure on the stomach incision, returned the stomach to its normal position. Then I used a routine 3 layer closure for the abdominal incision.

Ali was awake in no time after returning him to his kennel. We cleaned up the surgery room, and I gave Gene a call to let him know things had gone well, and Ali was awake and doing well. And he was happy about the fact that he did, in fact, have two balls in his stomach.

We started out the front door when for some unknown reason, I stopped and said to Sandy, “We have a lot of money in that cash drawer, maybe we should take it home.”

We had been in the practice of only making occasional bank deposits. I went to the cash drawer and took all the bills, I think about $1300.00. I left the change, which could have been close to $20.00. 

About 5:00 in the morning, the police called. Someone had broken out the glass in the clinic door and broke in. I got up and went to the clinic to go through it with the police. The only thing that was missing was the change out of the cash drawer.

Photo by Басмат Анна on Unsplash

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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