Jackson Can’t Play in the Snow Today
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
When you know your dog well, you know when he or she just is not acting right. So when Jackson started to skip our nightly bedtime routine in which both dogs jump onto the human bed for their bedtime cookie before settling into their favorite spots (Tink on my feet, Jax on my husband’s), I knew something was wrong with my boy.
Instead of getting better over time, Jax began to turn down jumping on shorter pieces of furniture. Our dogs are free to hop up onto any furniture or chair, and I would watch Jax walk over to his favorite sofa, stare at it for a while, look over at me, lay his head on the seat of the sofa for a few seconds, and then sigh and walk away.
At five years old it seemed way too young for arthritis, and he was eating, drinking and eliminating waste with his same enthusiasm. However, after realizing that not only had he not had any interest in playing with Tinkerbell for a few weeks, but that he also had not tried to get my attention by mischievously stealing my possessions, or at least reaching for them as if he was going to steal them, I made a vet appointment.
After a thorough physical exam my vet determined that his hip was bothering him. Of course that one word can instill terror into the minds of many large dog owners. Hip. Because we know the other word that comes right after it, and it’s not a word any dog owner wants to hear.
Having been her client for almost ten years, she suggested we do x-rays to ease my mind and to figure out what exactly was going on and to rule out hip dysplasia. Of course we had selected our breeder specifically because of her dedication to producing Labradors who are sound in body, mind and temperament, but that did not mean that a problem could not occur in the hips of a dog from even the most dedicated and knowledgable breeders.
Since Jax is not a fan of laying on his back for anyone, even me, he was mildly sedated and x-rayed. Later that day when he was ready for me to get him, my vet brought me into the exam room. “His hips are perfect,” she exclaimed, relieving me of my worries. She showed me his x-rays and showed his two perfect little ball joints on his hips fitting just like they should in their sockets, and explained what they would look like if there was dysplasia.
Then she pointed out the culprit and the reason my Jax did not want to jump or play: a torn muscle in his hip that he must have torn playing with Tinkerbell since their play sessions can be rowdy and including leaping the two steps from our deck to the ground in a single bound and racing around the yard at top speed with twists and turns. Many times Tinkerbell, who has the discretion and nuance of a wrecking ball, will body slam him as he sniffs the yard or nibbles on some grass, as a way of getting a game of zoomies going.
On my way home I called my husband at work to tell him the diagnosis. “Remember when our breeder warned us not to let Jax ‘break’ little Tinkerbell when she was a pup? Well, this is the second time she’s broken him!” referring to another time when she rammed into him and he limped for several days. “Luckily he will be ok but he needs two to six weeks of rest.”
A week later, after a few days of muscle relaxers and a daily dose of Meticam, we had our first snow. Seven inches fell, leaving our back yard a Labrador Retriever wonderland. Both Jax and Tink adore the snow and both like to leap off the deck and race top speed through the fresh white powder until their tongues are lolling out of their mouth and they flop down in a drift, panting happily.
As soon as I opened the drapes over the sliding glass door and saw the snow, I groaned. But then to my delight, Jax trotted carefully down the deck stairs and went about the business of emptying his bladder and sniffing the freshly fallen snow, while Tinkerbell raced around the yard at top speed on her own. Just when I started to feel relief that maybe I could get Jax inside without him running around, Tinkerbell stopped in front of him and stared deep into his eyes. “Jax, OFF!” I called, recognizing the start of a play session as he stared back at her, his head leveling out with his shoulders and one foot inching forward as if he was starting to go on point. “Tinkerbell, come here!” I called as she inched closer to him, also as if on point. I knew what this was leading up to. “Dogs, NO!” I exclaimed, since they have learned over time that collectively they are called dogs.
As I headed out into the snow to stop the zoomies before they started, off they went, two black flashes flying around the yard in a game of chase, tails held high, mouths agape in sheer joy as they ran through the snow. “Ok, he’s just running, it’s ok,” I thought, just as he turned a sharp corner, collided with Tinkerbell and he yelped in pain.
“Jax, come here now!” I told him in my deepest dog owner voice since using his recall was the best way to get him to stop playing, and he trotted to me with his handsome Jax expression of “What, Momma? I wasn’t doing anything wrong!” on his face.
I hated putting an end to their fun in the same way you hate telling your human kids “no” to something for their own good. They’ll only have so many “first snows” when their bodies are young and muscular. Normally I cannot wait for the first snow because of how much fun they have. But, I am the human who keeps them safe and healthy, so I did indeed put a stop to their fun and sent one of our teenage daughters out to play with Tinkerbell in the snow while I went inside to keep Jax company.
In fact I was reminded of the summer that same daughter broke her finger a day before we opened our pool for the season, leaving her trying to enjoy the pool with a plastic bag over her cast for the next four weeks. I recalled the summer when our older girl broke her arm on Independence Day, effectively ruining all outdoor fun the rest of that summer for her. In the same way we had to tell her “no” all summer. No you cannot ride your bike, no you cannot swim in your friend’s pool, no you cannot play on the monkey bars.
I’m hoping we will not get much snow until
Jax’s torn muscle is healed, but it is winter in Chicago and so I laugh at myself as I am writing the words. Dogs don’t understand the same way that humans do when they can’t go and play and do the things they love. I wish they understood if I said, “No, guys, Jax is hurt and cannot play rough right now,” but they are dogs, not furry children, and so I will have several weeks more of the same sad look on Jax’s face, as if he’s searching my face for some answer as to why he cannot play in the snow today.