Ali

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

The Science of Love, Dogs, and Dog-Love

By guest author John Marble

Over the years, (decades, actually) I came to know Doc Larsen as a fine “cow doctor”. Growing up on the ranch, I got to see Dave un-twist a uterine-torsioned, backward, upside-down calf, truss up a cesarean-bound cow like a Christmas goose and saw the horns off cows until the sweat beads popped on his forehead and streamed down into this eyes. But honestly, my deepest and most reflective conversations with the Doc were actually about dogs. Not just any dogs, of course: my dogs. My red dogs.

You see, over a period of twenty years or so I had a string of Vizsla Hounds, dogs that started out as tiny yellow puppies and turned into magnificent bird dogs. Vizslas are rumored to be pointing specialists, but my dogs wound up being highly talented pointers, exceptional retrievers and long-lived companions. Damn, they were all just about perfect dogs.*

Of course, Doc Larsen took care of all of them, providing routine vet work plus the occasional disaster care that is required when you have high-energy dogs. The thing is, this kind of dog tends to run head-long into hard objects, jump off cliffs, and find porcupines and snakes from time to time. They are what an insurance carrier might call “high risk” clients.

One of those dogs was truly special. Slobodon (Slobo) was a fabulously talented, all-around hunting dog. His second meeting with Doctor Larsen was for removing his wonderful traits from the gene pool.

“You sure you want to fix him? Seems like he shows some real promise.”

“Oh hell, Doc, I never want to be in the puppy business. Anyway, there’s always more dogs out there.”

This, of course, was blatantly untrue.

Six months later, I found myself camped out on the high desert: three hunters, three red dogs, camping in early fall, hunting for endangered Sage Grouse. The irony of that made it even more fun. Slobo was a young, gangly and goofy boy dog. His old Aunty was the senior dog, and his full sister Sarah (same litter) was the third. Sarah’s owner, my young companion Joel, was terribly proud of his first dog, and we were excited to be hunting together. As we were driving to camp, Joel mentioned that he thought Sarah might be coming into heat. No problem, I said. Slobo was snipped six months ago. 

“Still, kind of keep an eye on her, if you can. Make sure she doesn’t get in any trouble if there are other dogs around.”

When we arrived at our camping spot we let the dogs out to run and Joel’s dad and I began setting up the tent. Joel, a very young and soft-hearted fellow, was doing the heavy lifting, unpacking the truck.  It was a lovely fall evening on the desert, the sky was all purple and red. As I finished pounding the last tent stake in, I looked up to find my boy dog Slobo locked up in full-on coitus with his sister, Sarah.

“Hey, Joel, can you get your little slut dog away from my hound?”

Joel was embarrassed, terrified, in fact. He began apologizing immediately, saying how he had planned to watch her closely, but she just slipped out of sight for a moment.

I told him to relax, that it would be alright, and to remember that Slobo was fixed. Next, I walked to the nearest cooler,extracted an ice-cold can of beer, shook it violently, aimed it at the juncture point of the two dogs and popped the top. I remember Slobo looked at me with a face of pure humiliation and after a few moments slunk away to pout.

The next time I happened to be at the clinic I explained the entire scenario to Doc Larsen. I remember asking,

“Doc, how the hell can a dog with no working parts be a successful…companion in sex?” 

Dave looked at me for a moment, pondering, then told me something I will never forget:

“Well, I guess this just goes to show that there is more involved in romance than just the hardware. Something to think about, you suppose?”

Words to live by, I’d say.

John Marble

Crawfordsville, Oregon

*Keep in mind that all hunting dog owners tacitly accept a singular definition of the “perfect” dog. It is always the one they currently have.

A Few Precious Hours

D. E. Larsen, DVM

  I launched the drift boat at the Rock Creek Campground boat ramp. After parking the pickup and trailer. The kids decide that they need to run back to the camp for one last item. 

  “Okay,” I said, “I will pull the boat down by the camp and wait for you there.”

  With that, I got in the boat that rowed down the bank, so it was close to our campsite. Now I just waited for the kids to show up.

  Time away from the practice was precious to me. It was rare that everything lined up in a manner that would allow us a weekend away. Craine Prairie Reservoir, on Century Drive south of Bend, was one of my favorite places to fish. It held large rainbows and was big enough that you could avoid the crowds. It was also far enough away from Sweet Home that it would be rare for me to be recognized.

  When I was away from town, I always avoided any mention of being a veterinarian. Any mention of my profession, even complete strangers, would prompt a long story of their dog, or cat, and their trips to the vet clinic. Being an introvert at heart, I hated such conversations, especially from strangers.

 I pretty much only fly fished. There were times when we would fish with bait, with the kids, and when we could harvest the catch. We had learned that the fish out of Craine Prairie tasted like mud this time of the year. You almost couldn’t use enough tartar sauce to make them palatable. 

  When we were loaded up, I rowed out to Osprey Point and dropped an anchor from each end of the boat. This would keep it from swaying in the wind. I had made fly poles for the kids. I used inexpensive fiberglass rods, 7 and a half feet in length, and rated for line weight of 4. Since kids cannot cast too far, and the most expensive part of a fly setup is the line, I took double taper floating lines and cut them in two. This gave each rod a 33 foot, tapered, fly line. This was almost perfect for young kids

  At Osprey Point, there was a deep hole just off the point and large fish for the taking. It was also an area were the kids could fish with their floating fly lines. By using a nymph, about 6 feet under a strike indicator used as a bobber, they could hook their share of fish. This allowed me to fish the deep hole with a sinking line. I would drag an olive Wooly Worm across the bottom of the hole. This made for wild action most of the time.

  I always believed that when you were fishing with kids, the action was urgent. The quickest way to sour a kid on fishing was to make them sit in a boat, or on a bank, for hours with nothing happening. We hooked fish in the first 15 minutes or a half an hour at most, or we would go do something else. When a kid asks when do they know they have a bite, you have waited too long before going to do something else.

  We managed to get everyone hooked up with a fish in a short time, but that was enough for most of them. We headed back to camp to drop off the kids. Derek was the only one who wanted to fish more. We needed a lunch break anyway.

  When I was ready to go back out in the afternoon, Derek was dragging around a little. 

  “I will wait for you at the boat,” I said as I headed down to the shoreline.

  I was standing there leaning against the side of the boat when I noticed the group of boys. There were 4 boys, walking along the shoreline, coming from the direction of the boat ramp. They looked like they were somewhere around 10 years old. They were checking out everything that looked movable as they came along the bank. One of the boys was carrying something.

  When they reached me, they stopped, and the one boy handed me a bird he had been carrying. It was a Starling. It had a blowgun dart that pierced through its back just in front of the wings. The wound was days old, maybe a full week. There was extensive tissue necrosis around the dart that extended across its back. Its wings were not functional. Even with comprehensive medical treatment at this point, this bird would never fly again. My impression was this bird would not survive, even with medical treatment.

  The larger question was how had this group of young boys find the only veterinarian standing on the banks of Craine Prairie today. Even when I thought I had made a clean escape from town, even when I was as anonymous as it was possible to be, they still find me.

  I knell down, so I am talking at the same level as the boys. This was no rag-tag group. These boys were well dressed for a fishing lake shoreline. I would guess they were all from well to do families. They were probably reasonably well educated. If that can be said for a group of 10-year-old boys when they were grouped with their peers.

  I point out the extent of the wounds caused by this dart.

“I hope the guy who shot this dart is proud of his skill.,” I said, hoping to still some pity for the bird and to just maybe educate the boys on the ethics of killing an animal. “This bird has been suffering for several days, maybe a full week. You can tell by looking at the rotten flesh around the dart.”

  They carefully examine the wound, probably for the first time. I wiggle the dart a bit, to illustrate that the tissue infection has allowed the dart to loosen in the tissue.

  “Hunting, and fishing, is something that we do as a people,” I said. “Some people would say this bird should not have been shot, but it is one of the birds that people are allowed to shoot. But to shot the bird and not finish the kill is cruel to the bird.”

  The boys have some chatter over those statements. Each one of them sort of repeat their interpretation of what I have just told them.

 “I don’t think this bird is going to survive,” I said. “For us to finish the kill would probably be the best thing we could do today. This bird has suffered enough, and we should bring that suffering to an end.”

  So now I was in a corner. With 4 boys watching, how was I going to euthanize this bird?

 One of the boys who, I noticed now, was wearing a cub scout shirt, took the lead.

  “Set him on the ground, and I will get a rock,” the young scout said. “I can crush him with a rock.”

  “That might work,” I said. “But you might miss, that wouldn’t be very fair to the poor bird.”

  “How should we do it?” the young scout asked.

  “I will take care of him,” I said, hoping the boys would continue their exploration of the shoreline.

  No such luck, they all stood there, looking at me for the answer. I gripped the bird in my right hand and held it so the body would not respond. Then I took a firm grip on the head with my left hand. With a quick jerk, I pulled the head off the bird. The body quivered in my right hand for a few seconds.

  “Oh! He pulled the head off!” the young scout said.

  “That was the quickest way to do it here,” I said. “Now, he is not suffering anymore. You guys remember, if you shoot something, you make sure it is dead.”

  Then it is over, the boys continue along the shoreline, I toss the decapitated bird into the grass. Derek comes down from the camp about then, realizing he had missed something, but not knowing what to ask.

  We loaded up and went out to fish for a few precious hours. Surely, they won’t find me out on the lake.

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