When we first met Pettigrew at the animal shelter, we were told that he was missing a claw, but that it would grow back and not be a problem.
It rapidly became clear that it was a problem. Pettigrew’s claw did grow back; however, it jutted up and out, and wouldn’t lie flat next to his other claws. When Pettigrew walked, he irritated the pads on his right front paw.
So he and I visited vet after vet to learn about his bloody paw and his limp. We discovered that before he joined our family it wasn’t only the claw that was affected; a ligament was torn too. To fix it would be thousands of dollars.
During our last visit to a vet’s, Pettigrew made his decision. Upon leaving the office he refused to get into the car. Together we eyed the open rear hatch. I tried reasoning. After all, we were leaving the vet’s office. We were driving away from strangers, odd smells, and fingers that poked and pried.
No, he was putting a paw down, here, now, in this parking lot with the cars whizzing past. Eventually I managed to lift, push, and pull his 60 lb. body into the car. Enough was enough. We would live with the impairment.
Although we weren’t going the surgery route, there were still things we could do. One vet suggested we cover his injured paw with a sock and keep him on the grass during walks. Pack rat that I am, I was easily able to lay my hands on several baby socks, the perfect size. (It’s always nice when my instinct to save things is vindicated!)
We dutifully put the socks on. Pettigrew promptly tore them off. Early mornings became a battle with me corralling my dog, pulling the sock over his struggling, wriggling paw, and then taping it to his leg. Of course we used first aid tape so that we wouldn’t pull his fur when we removed it. Once taped, Pettigrew would stare glumly at me, tentatively try to walk, and with a final backward glance full of his sense of betrayal, he would set off into the cold, dark morning. . . . .and then would refuse . . . to walk on the grass. He knew how to have the last word. If there was a sidewalk, a curb, or a road, he would deliberately walk only there, shunning the spongy soft grass.
We persevered with the sock and tape routine for a while. His paw got better. He stopped leaving bloody paw prints around the house. He healed.
But periodically, something irritates that paw and the cycle starts again. The limp causes consternation in the people we pass on our walks.
“Does your dog have a limp?” people call out to me.
In that one, simple question I always heard a litany of critiques: Don’t you know your dog is limping? Why aren’t you doing anything? How could you be so insensitive to walk him when he is injured? Each encounter made me defensive and I would launch into the whole story. About the missing claw and the torn ligament, the surgery and the sock.
It is only in the past year that I have appreciated that Pettigrew doesn’t care. He’s happy, injured paw or not, to walk forever, bristle and pull at the sight of the mail carrier, and trot over to greet his dog friends. So now when someone asks whether he is limping, I merely answer with one word, “Yes.” That usually does it. Occasionally someone asks a follow up question, like, “will it get better?” I answer, “It comes and goes.”
It’s quite freeing. No subtext. No hidden condemnation of us as Pettigrew’s caregivers. Just the facts. And Pettigrew and I keep walking (or limping) on our merry way.