Rene Agredano and Jim Nelson tell us how the Tripawds Foundation supports pets faced with losing a limb.
From the Dog Words archives:
0148: A Dog Named Beautiful with author Rob Kugler
0123: Checking the Weather with Gary Lezak
0239: Gary Lezak Returns
0147: Dog Behaviorist Dr. Ellen Furlong
0210: The Self-awareness of Dogs with Dr. Ellen Furlong
0139: Animal Chiropractic with Dr. Kimberly Hunt
0152: Acupuncture with Dr. Sally Barchman
0132: Canine Massage Therapy with Liz Jeans
Celebrate 5 years of Rosie Fund by supporting our campaign to sponsor 50 dogs. You can donate at RosieFund.org or through our Facebook page. You can contribute by making a purchase from the store on our website or buying a t-shirt at Bonfire.com. Also check out our page on BarkYours, the online mall with gifts for people who love their dogs.
Music for this episode is provided by alternative string duo, The Wires. Visit them at TheWires.info. Learn fiddle and cello-fiddle online — even if you've never played before — from Laurel Morgan Parks and Sascha Groshang at FiddleLife.com. Join The Wires as they explore new music on their show Sound Currents.
Listen to and download The Wires’ holiday album “Winter” here.
The transcript for this episode is available on the Dog Words Buzzsprout page: Buzzsprout.com/840565.
They'll ask the vet the first thing, "How long do I have with my dog?" The dog doesn't care how long. It just wants the most out of every moment of every day. So it's all about quality of life, not quantity.
I'm Phil Hatterman and this is Dog Words presented by Rosie Fund.
Today, Rene Agredano and Jim Nelson join us from Tripawds to talk about making tough choices. Can't always give our beloved pet more time, but we can make the most of the time they have.
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Today on Dog Words, we are joined from Fort Collins, Colorado by the co-founders of Tripawds Foundation, Rene Agredano and Jim Nelson. Welcome to Dog Words.
Hey, thanks for having us. We're so happy to be here.
Yes. Thank you.
For our listeners, I'm going to spell Tripawds. It's T-R-I-P-A W—as in a dog's paw—D-S. Tripwads Foundation. Tell us what Tripawds Foundation is.
Tripawds—P-A-W-D-S—refers to three-legged dogs and cats. We learned the term when our dog, Jerry, lost a leg to cancer and vets and techs were calling these three-legged animals tripawds. So we kind of empowered that term and regained it to give it back to the animals as tripawds. And that was 2006. You know, fast forward, we created a foundation to help people coping with amputation for their dogs and cats so that they would never have to go through what we went through without much emotional support and validated information online about recovery and care.
If there's a prospect of you losing a limb as a human, whether it's anticipated or a traumatic event, the support staff at any hospital is extensive. There are surgeons who only do this and nurses who only work in those surgical rooms, and in that recovery. And then there's going to be some sort of caretaker who's going to be guiding you through the process and walking you through your physical therapy, maybe even in preparation for the surgery, and certainly post-op. And lots of people you can talk to and lots of online resources and books. With a pet, even the nicest animal hospitals typically have a lobby that's the size of my living room, and all mixture of animals waiting there. And it's not a long term waiting—there's not like the lounge where your spouse waits for you while you're having surgery, where there's a comfortable place to sit and wait and it's quiet and there's a soothing fountain. And, and it's just an entirely different experience. But it's just as traumatic for us as a pet owner as it would be if it were your child or your spouse going through this, but not that support system. Is that accurate?
That's a great analogy. And I would venture to guess that, you know, amputation is a small part of what your average clinic or animal hospital does. So it's not a full crew of specialists. We can get into that with oncologists and orthopedic surgeons and things like that. But...
Especially in a smaller community. The same vet who's removing a leg is the same one who's removing a tumor, and I guarantee you if I lose a limb, that surgeon has never touched a tumor.
Right, there are some veterinarians that only do one or two amputations a year. Sometimes every few years. And there are some, more often in the specialty clinics, that do one or two a week. So it's a very diverse group of clinicians out there. And we're here to offer the emotional support so that pet parents can know the kinds of questions to ask of their veterinarian if they have the luxury of time before an amputation actually happens.
And that it's okay to ask those questions. If I'm...
And it's important to ask.
...Yeah, if I'm having—Oh, it's absolutely important and not to find out after the fact that that would have been a good question to ask. Because if I'm having heart surgery—I keep analogizing to, to human treatment—I don't want the heart surgeon who's done two.
If there's someone who's doing two a day, which is much more likely the case with a heart surgeon, that there's two or three days a week where they do two or three heart surgeries. That's who I want cutting me open. I want my dog to have an experienced person who's seen all the surprises before. Because that's what happens during surgery. It's not that it's this cookie cutter thing that you want them to just go through mindlessly every time. It's the surprises that you want them to be ready for that they have already seen it all, done at all, and are gonna stay focused and get through this without exacerbating the problem.
You know, it's interesting you put it that way, because the Tripawds Foundation offers any vet clinic free pet outreach brochures, educational materials, for those clients facing amputation. There's some facts in there, some frequently asked questions, and one of them is, you know, ask your vet, "How many amputations have you done? Or how many front versus rear? How many have you done? How often do you do it?" Those are important questions to know because it's often very important to find that specialist. Especially when it comes to certain types of cancers or depending on where the break is whether or not a prosthetic might be viable down the road.
Yeah, and every vet learns amputation during vet school. That's something you cannot get away from if you're a vet student. But the question is how many have they done over the course of their career? And sometimes people don't have a choice. They live in a remote area and they've got the local vet who says, "Yeah, you know, I can do an amputation. It's been a while, but I can do that." If they don't have another option, that's understandable. And we're here to help walk them through that and work with their vet to get their questions answered and care for their animal as best as they can.
A vet who doesn't do a lot of amputations is not going to be offended if you ask, "How many have you done?" And they say, "I've only done three." They want what's best for your dog. And if you say, "Well, do we have other options? How critical is it that we do this surgery today? Or tomorrow? Can I drive my dog somewhere?" And I would guess most vets can tell you, "I know this woman I went to vet school with who does these every week and she's 90 minutes away." I will drive 90 minutes. Totally worth it.
Exactly, exactly. And that's often what happens with a lot of people. And what we like to say is that a great vet is not afraid to say, "I don't know." And a great vet will refer out when they know that something is beyond their capabilities. So there's no shame in talking to your vet about it. A lot of people are really reluctant to question their vet. And we were the same way. We totally get it. We put 100% trust into our vet. But we didn't know what we didn't know. And now that we do, it's our job to help people understand the questions to ask and get a referral if it's needed.
You mentioned that you do have materials for veterinarians to hand out. How receptive are they when you approach them with something you might want to share with your clientele?
Very receptive. And we have a page on the website Tripawds.org/outreach where they can request them for free. And we get those requests frequently. Because these things help save vets the emotional time answering the type of questions that they don't need to sit around and pat someone on the shoulder and answer about...
...pooping after surgery. It might take 24-48 hours. Will he ever swim again, you know? The vets tend to do their job as best they can. Give you a bag of medications and paperwork and move on because they're busy and they might have to do it again and again and again. So with Tripawds, there's discussion forums and a live chat. The foundation hosts a toll free helpline where people can call and talk to someone else who's been through it because more often than not, they find Tripawds after the amputation. Usually it's because of traumatic event or they've discovered cancer and then they're sent home with this stuff and then they Google it. Because no one wants to know about this until they face it and once they do they kind of find Tripawds after the fact. And then there's all these resources. But there is a lot of important stuff to know before, during, and after when it comes to amputation recovery and care.
What were some of the surprises that either you had or in becoming experts on this seem to be just common things that people just weren't expecting at all until this happened to them?
Ooh, that's a great question. Gosh, I think the number one thing that everybody learns in this experience, including us, is that it's always harder on the person than it is on the dog or the cat. We take things a lot worse than they do. They're gonna have some initial pain and discomfort during recovery. But after it's over, they move on, they don't look back. They don't have any regrets. A lot of times we deal with our own insecurities. We feel terrible, like, "Oh, we took their leg!" No, you didn't take their leg. You took their pain. You took the pain away. That's what we like to say. And it's really true. And if we look at them, and see how they're getting long in this world, you'll see that they just want to keep on keeping on. And we have to get over our emotional trauma over the event. And again, that's why we exist.
And don't feed our negative energy to them. Use their positive outlook, their being in the now which has come up so many times recently on this podcast. Myself and guests keep talking about how dogs are in the now. They're not thinking about what happened that forced them to lose a leg. Or, "I used to have four legs." They're just moving on.
So you really nailed it there. And it's what I was gonna say that I've learned. And it is what we like to say, in our community, which is, "Be more dog." The worst cases of recovery I've seen are from the people who have freaked out the worst and are running to their dog's side, or their cat's, and hand feeding them and carrying them everywhere. Because, especially dogs, they follow our lead. And they want what they need most at the beginning is a balanced pack leader to show and prove to them that life's gonna be okay. A rehab vet once told us, you know, "Focus on healing the body. But a little tough love goes a long way." You need to prove that it's all going to be good. And you have to have those emotions and not cry in front of them, because they will follow our lead.
Dr. Ellen Furlong, who was on this episode almost exactly a year ago, studies dog behavior and talks about the studies that show no matter how much you think dogs feel guilty about misbehaving while you're gone, tearing up the couch, whatever it was, they do not. Dogs do not feel guilt. You trigger that. No matter how subtle it is. No matter how brief an interaction you have when you come home and then notice that they look guilty, you have fed that emotion. And that's true of the emotion they're going through recovery. Just as you're saying, if you are crying in front of them, and wallowing in self pity, and this is just the end of the world.
They're going to be empathetic to you because that's one of the things that's great about dogs is they're empathetic. But another thing that's great about dogs is they allow us to be empathetic. And so we can choose which way that energy is gonna flow and the dog will follow our lead. So we can push on them the energy that is negative and unproductive and draining or we can allow them to feed us their positive, forward-moving outlook on the world and take full advantage of having a dog.
That's so true. And it's the most important thing I like to tell new members and you know, the whole the, "Poor baby! I'm so sorry. I'm sorry, what I did to you instead of for you." The dogs pick up on that. But it's why we created discussion forums and chat room and helpline so that people can step outside, get away from the dog and cry on someone else's shoulder who understands.
Yeah, and that's not to say that recovery doesn't have its difficult moments. It can, for sure. But it's up to us to, like you said, choose how we respond to those difficult moments if we want to keep pushing forward and get through it.
I can't tell you how many times I've been at the dog park. Regular listeners to Dog Words know that in Kansas City we have wonderful dog parks. Bar K and we also have CITYDOGs now which is another big dog park in the Crossroads. There'll be a three-legged dog that I've been watching play for 15-20 minutes before I realize it's a three-legged dog. They adapt and when you talk to an owner sometimes it's a dog that's never had four legs or it was a puppy when it lost its leg. But there will be dogs that it was six years old and it had cancer or an accident or some other reason. So it was pretty used to having four legs that now is all in on, "Three legs works just fine."
Absolutely, they continue on. And it's just beautiful to see. We've had the experience of having a dog who lost a leg at eight years old because of cancer. And then we adopted an eight month old dog who lost a leg to neglect. So both of them just forged ahead. They just kept living their life the way they felt they needed to and it was great, very incredibly inspirational.
The dog park discussion is an important one, because there's a flip side to the emotional aspects we were just talking about. And at the opposite end of that spectrum is just let 'em be a dog. "Oh, look at it! Isn't he so amazing? Isn't he incredible? Isn't he inspirational?" And a half hour, hour later at the dog park, that dog is putting serious strain on one remaining limb. For instance, a front leg tripawd, all dogs, carry 60 to 70% of their weight up front. All of a sudden, that weight ends up on one leg instead of two legs and you've gotten instead of 30% weight on that one leg, at least double on that one leg. So it's our responsibility. It's real hard. We need to let them be dogs. We need to enjoy their inspiration. But we also need to rein 'em in a bit because they will just go go go until they hurt themselves. They're gonna be a dog. And it's our responsibility to be responsible pet owners to kind of make the call of when enough is enough. And that's why Tripawds exists with all the information we have to offer.
Well, it goes back to what you said a moment ago about being a pack leader. Your responsible. Dogs will run themselves into the ground.
'Cause they love to play or their friends are playing. And you have to be the responsible adult.
Yeah, absolutely. We learned that the hard way with our first tripawd. We thought he only had a little bit of time left. That's what that's told us. "Oh, he has six to eight months." And we said, "Let him do what he loves!" We took him to the beach. And we played frisbee. And we went on long hikes. And then within a matter of months, we thought he had blown out his cruciate. Well, luckily he hadn't and some acupuncture took care of that pain. But we learned a hard lesson and that is that as a tripawd parent, it's our job to understand what our dog's limitations and capabilities are. And one way that we learned how to do that and that we encourage every tripawd parent to learn from is making contact with a rehabilitation therapist who can assess your individual dog and look at them. "What can they do now? What do we think they can do later? And how can we help them get there and not get injured?"
Treatments like acupuncture and chiropractic for dogs—we've had chiropractor Dr. Kimberly Hunt on who was a chiropractor for humans and then was certified for animals and now exclusively does chiropractic for animals. We've also had Dr. Sally Barchman with State Line Animal Hospital who does acupuncture and other non-traditional treatments for animals and Liz Jeans who is a dog massage therapist. I'll link to all three of those interviews in the description for this episode. Dogs don't show pain the way people do. That is a weakness that is very detrimental in the wild, to show weakness, that is what gets you culled from the herd or culled from the pack. Which is why a dog will yelp and you think, "Oh, what happened?" You turn you look in the limp for a moment. And then they're fine. "Oh, thank goodness. I thought they were hurt." Well, they are hurt. And it was just that moment when they yelped when they were showing it. But now they're gonna put on a brave face. And then a month later, when your dog is limping, and you take them to the vet and oh yeah, it was a torn ligament. That was what happened a month ago when they yelped. And now it's gotten to the point where they can't hide it anymore. That's probably especially true with a three-legged dog. You think, "Oh, they're going gangbusters. Good, good dog. I'm so proud of you." But they're going to push through what's safe.
That is so absolutely true. And when it comes to a three-legged dog, it's especially difficult to tell if their gait is off, if they're limping...
...because they're already walking a little funny. So it's super important to, to understand what your dog's pain signals are before something bad happens.
And maybe preemptively get acupuncture and massage and chiropractic treatments to help your dog stay healthy. And that those treatment specialists are probably more likely to notice when there's something wrong with your dog then you are.
Exactly why we recommend the rehab and in fact the Tripawds Foundation will pay for the first consultation for anyone with a three-legged dog or cat to take them to visit a certified professional. We'll pay up to $200 because that's usually about the range of that consult. But it helps them understand important things about weight management, exercises you can do at home, core strengthening, and how important that is. Because we learned early on that, everyone likes to say now, dogs are born with three legs and a spare. And once that spare leg is missing, you really can't afford to lose another. So tripawds, sure, they do great on three. But we need to make sure that we keep those remaining limbs healthy and we keep them at a good weight. So we always recommend rehab and the Foundation will pay for the first visit.
Are you familiar with author Rob Kugler and his book "A Dog Named Beautiful?"
Yeah, he actually came through here a couple of years ago and stayed with a friend of ours.
We have had him on Dog Words. It's one of our most downloaded episodes. My throat gets a little tight just thinking about his story. And I'd read the book before we invited him on. But just the love he showed his dog. We'd like to think we would all be that dedicated to our dog. But it's the start of the story. Not really the start of the story. But the start of Bella's treatment. The recommendation was, "You just need to let this dog go. It's suffering." And as you mentioned, you're not taking the leg, you're taking the pain. And that's exactly what he did for Bella. And she had cancer still in the rest of her body. And had much longer than what they told him that she would have. And so his road trip that was going to be a month turned into a year. I'm not getting the dates exactly right. But taking away that pain allowed her to live and thrive and transform his life. Giving your dog that chance is not maybe the decision that everyone can make. Not everyone might be in the position to get that treatment for the dog. Or maybe the dog has something that's so far advanced that you're weighing, "Is this just going to prolong suffering? Or is this actually going to improve their quality of life? Even if temporarily?" So those are tough choices.
Well, one of the big questions that people have when they're presented with the amputation recommendation is, "Am I doing this more for myself than for them?" And amputation is not always right for every single dog. For the vast majority, if that is the only option? Yeah, they do fine. They really do, dogs of all sizes and all ages. One of the world's best orthopedic vets once told us that neither size nor age should exclude a dog from being an amputation candidate because we need to take them all on a case-by-case basis. And that's so true. We've seen 165 pound Danes do fine. And yet we've seen Cocker Spaniels not do fine. It's rare, but it can happen. So when you're presented with the question, you want to look at your dog. What does your dog want? What do you think they would say? And no, they can't speak to us in our own language. But they show us in other ways. They show us in their enthusiasm for each day. They show us how they respond to new places and new people. And with our own dog, Jerry, amputation was not the go to decision for us. We really wrestled with it for a little while. And then we realize if Jerry could tell us in his own words, yeah, he would want to keep going for whatever time he had left. Because ultimately dogs don't understand time. All they understand is, like you said, right here and now. And if we can give them pain free time and quality of life with us, it doesn't matter if that's a month or six months. It's icing on the cake after recovery. And even the surveys that we've done in the Tripawds community show that about 95-98% of respondents say they would do it again, even if they didn't have as much time as they had hoped for.
You know, real quick, both of you mentioned the most important thing in my mind here. And that's quality of life. Especially when it comes to a cancer diagnosis. Amputation won't get rid of the cancer, but it will get rid of the pain and buy you more quality of life with the remaining time you have. So one of the most common questions we get with new members is, "How long do I have? Or they'll ask the vet the first thing, "How long do I have with my dog?" The dog doesn't care how long. It just wants the most out of every moment of every day. So it's all about quality of life, not quantity.
I encourage our listeners to read Rob's book because it really highlights everything you were just sharing.
Yeah, and you really have to leave other people's opinions out of it.
Every day we get people who say, "My family and friends aren't supporting me. They think I'm being selfish." Well, their opinion doesn't matter. It's between you and your dog, and your vet. So try to walk away from other people who have nothing nice to say and only look at your situation.
Yeah, we're all gonna deal with the end of life choices with all of our animals because they tend to not outlive us. And the most important thing I found in the two times I've had to do it so far, is to ask myself, "How do I want to remember Jerry? How do I want to remember Wyatt?" And both those times, they still had a relatively decent quality of life going for them but I knew it was only getting worse. And you have to make that decision. It comes back to being our best advocate we can for our pets. It's the last greatest gift we can do.
Well, when Renee was saying, "This is your decision. Don't listen to what other people say about, 'Oh, you're just being selfish.'" I couldn't help but think about Rob and the people who were telling him, "You just need to let Bella go." But then once he took the leg and went on the road trip, all the people who became fans started calling him a hero. It's like, "Well, now you're a hero. Now that we've seen what you've done." And just the effect that Bella had on everyone else's life after the fact.
So you know, Rob's story is very similar to ours in a number of ways. But our dog Jerry lost a leg to cancer in 2006. And that spun our lives around. They said he'd had, you know, six months to a year to live. Within six months, we sold our home, we sold our business, we bought an RV, and we promised him the road trip of a lifetime. And we traveled the country in an RV with Jerry. And I think that lifestyle and doing new adventures every day, prolonged his experience. He lived two years. And by the time two years were up, we had discussion forums and turned everything into the Foundation. And we document that whole journey in our book "Be More Dog - Learning to Live in the Now."
I've asked a few guests this question, did your dog make you a better person?
By all means.
By all means. And then the book is all about the lessons we learned from Jerry and how we grew Tripawds into our full time labor of love and how he helped us find our purpose. But it was that silver lining under that terrible thunderstorm that we discovered one day when he had cancer and going through the amputation. It really was a blessing in disguise, we are much better people having been through that. And I would say the same for pretty much every member that joins us, the people that go to the extent of removing their animals limb to prolong their life or give it a better quality of life, have a really tight bond with that animal.
I'm going to link to the book in the website so that people can order that on Amazon Smile so that a portion of that will go to Rosie Fund. But if you want to choose some other charity for your Amazon Smile, by all means. But if you don't already have one chosen, consider Rosie Fund. And of course, there will be a link to Tripawds.org in the description and links to all of the episodes that I've mentioned throughout this interview. There's a few reasons to contact Tripawds. One, because you're facing this situation with your pet and you have questions. But also people who recognize it's important to help pet owners with these decisions. How can I support Tripawds? What would you say to people in both of those camps?
Really, the only complaints we've heard about Tripawds over the years is our vast amount of information. There's so many resources and videos and podcasts and assistance programs. So I just want listeners to be clear that, you know, Tripawds.org has numerous assistance programs that directly help. We help pay for amputation surgeries. We help rescue organizations raise funds for amputation on animals in their care through the Tripawds Rescue Fund. We offer free assist mobility gear to animals who need it. There's the Rehab Fund. And that's all at Tripawds.org. But Tripawds.com is where people find the support from others. The discussion forums. The video interviews with leading oncologists. The podcasts. And then at BeMoreDog.net is where people can find our story in the book.
Again, all of those will be linked in the description. And if someone wants to support Tripawds, how would you suggest they do that?
Go to Tripawds.org and you'll learn all about our foundation.
We have programs throughout the year. We do an annual auction. Currently we're doing a virtual marathon that people are participating in. By the time this comes out people will be able to send e-greeting cards to people for a very small fee and they get a nice little card from the Tripawds Foundation. But at Tripawds.org/give or at /programs they can find out all of the different things that are available that can be supported or sponsored.
I tell our listeners that I am not jealous if they support some other organization, even if that means they're not contributing to Rosie Fund, because all of the guests I have on Dog Words have the same goal. And that is to make this world a better place for dogs because dogs make this world a better place for us. If that money is going to a good cause, even if that's not Rosie Fund, that's a good use of your money.
Likewise, we're all working together.
We are in this together and bless you for what you're doing.
It's not a competition. Certainly not a competition that has losers. We can all cross the finish line together. In this season of giving, if you can dig deep for multiple organizations. Great. We all thank you. But if you just want to pick one, think about Tripawds. Rene Agredano. Jim Nelson. Co-founders of Tripawds Foundation, thank you so much for spending time with me today. Anytime you want to come back, any stories you have to share, any updates, events, fundraisers, another book, let me know. We'd love to have you back on.
Thank you so much. This was fun.
No, thank you. Keep up the good work.
I'm Phil Hatterman and you've been listening to Dog Words presented by Rosie Fund.
Thank you to Rene Agredano and Jim Nelson from Tripawds for joining us today. Links to all of the websites and resources mentioned in the interview are in the description along with links to relevant episodes in the Dog Words archive.
Next time on Dog Words, Tom Bradley introduces us to underpaw photography.
A big thank you to alternative string duo The Wires featuring cellist Sascha Groshang and violinist Laurel Morgan parks for playing the wonderful music you've heard on today's and previous episodes of Dog Words. Supporting The Wires supports our mission. Now you can join Laurel and Sascha as they explore new music and delve into the inspiration behind each work as hosts of Sound Currents on 91.9 Classical KC. Click on the Sound Currents link in the description for more information. Learn more about The Wires, including their concert schedule, at TheWires.info and download their music on iTunes. Check out FiddleLife.com and learn to play fiddle and cello-fiddle online from Laurel and Sasha even if you've never played before.
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Thank you for listening and remember, we save each other.
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