Nine years ago today, we picked up Alice (a.k.a. Alice-Palace, The Palace, Palestra, Poochestrami, Greatest of All Time — we believe that’s her favorite — Buddyhead, and many more) and brought her to her new home. She was recovering from hip dysplasia surgery and we were uncertain she’d ever walk normally but that didn’t stop us from choosing her from the Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline (ARPH). And in many ways, Alice rescued us from our grief over losing our first aussie, Autumn.
Here is an open letter to the surgeon who helped give Alice her signature smile (see photo above) and swagger (we also call her Jennifer Lo-paws for the … um … unique sashay in her badonkadonk). We never met the surgeon who helped us have nine great years with Alice, but we’re most grateful to him and looking forward to many more years with her.
An Open Letter To Dr. James W. Harrison, DMV, MS
Dear Dr. Harrison,
You don’t know us. We’ve never met you but your name appears on a letter that gave one dog a second chance, and changed our lives in the process. On December 23, 2002, David and Sheryl Stocker, foster parents for the Ohio Chapter of the Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline (ARPH), brought an Australian Shepherd named Alice to your Bone, Joint, and Spine Clinic in Columbus, Ohio. Alice had been abandoned to ARPH after it was discovered she had hip dysplasia.
In a letter to Alice’s veterinarian, you wrote: “Upon examination, I noticed pain and crepitus in both hip joints and a positive Ortolani’s sign of about 25 – 30 degrees in both hips. Radiographs revealed the classical lesions of canine hip dysplasia with secondary degenerative joint disease. Today, Alice was taken to surgery. Through a ventral approach to both hips, a femoral head osteoectomy was accomplished without consequence … I will be happy to follow Alice through her expected three- to four-month convalescence.”
What you didn’t know is that around the same time you performed Alice’s surgery, there was a couple in Ohio attempting to heal from their own kind of pain. That couple was us. We’d just lost our 14-year-old Australian Shepherd to cancer, and after more than a decade of being herded around by an Aussie, our house felt empty. We began checking the ARPH website and noticed Alice, whose brown-speckled face, cunning smile, and odd, leaning posture were hard to miss. The description indicated that she was undergoing surgery but would be available for adoption soon.
We scheduled an appointment to meet this brown merle with a wink of blue in her right eye. Alice bunny-hopped out of her kennel and sat squarely in the center of the room. Nose raised in the air with her eyes focused on us, she gave a warning bark, a low woo-woof. Then she smiled, pleased with her rock-star grand entrance. For a dog that was only weeks into her recovery, she certainly knew how to put on a show for the couple that would soon become her adoring fans. Alice’s smile informed us that she had selected us as her new owners while the Stockers informed us that she might never walk normally. They also confessed – somewhat sheepishly – that she was quite manipulative. We nodded knowingly. Aussies are notorious manipulators and we decided we could manage Alice’s scheming nature along with her bunny hop.
On January 25, Alice bunny-hopped into our home. We considered contacting you then. We wanted to know her chances of walking on all fours. We were unsure how much to exercise her. You were two hours away and we opted to take her to our regular veterinarian for follow-up care, but we often wondered if you were wondering about her.
As she continued to recover, she manipulated her way into our hearts and the peanut butter jar, and onto our sofa and bed. Once again, our house was under Aussie rule – only this time, it was a two-legged variety. The Stockers suggested getting another dog to encourage Alice to stay active; she was becoming too accustomed to a sedentary life accompanied by sympathetic spoonfuls of peanut butter. In March, we adopted Macy –a blue-merled ball of nervous energy that had been severely abused before being rescued by ARPH.
Alice and Macy became a doggie yin-yang. What Alice possessed in intelligence and confidence, Macy balanced with strength and agility. They supported each other as they healed physically and mentally. Yet, Alice wanted more yang. As Macy zoomed across the backyard in pursuit of a tennis ball, Alice feebly followed, bunny-hopping and barking, as if asking Macy to wait up. We resigned ourselves to having a dog with a two-legged gait but Alice’s determination took hold. On a routine walk, Alice took her first four-legged steps, moving stride for stride with Macy. We watched her confidence bloom as she attempted to run with the other big dogs at the dog park, and we thought about writing you but never put pen to paper.
It’s been eight years since her surgery and Alice has covered countless miles, smiling all the way. She walks, runs, romps, saunters, strolls, and sometimes beats Macy to their final destination. She still puts on shows for her adoring fans. She is Macy’s confident yin and while she’s slowed down some, her love of life still runs strong. She plays every game to win, and she’s not one to give up on anything, including herself or the peanut butter jar.
We’d like to think Alice’s wry smile convinced you to perform her surgery gratis for ARPH, or that you felt the moxy and courage hidden in her disabled legs, and knew that repairing her would reveal her true personality. We’d like to think Alice’s manipulative methods and winking blue eye told you she deserved a second chance to be the strong, clever, and incredible companion she is today.
We don’t know what it’s like to be a veterinarian who improves the lives of animals and their owners every day. And we certainly don’t know what it’s like to care for a dog like Alice and then never see the outcome of your work. What we do know is that the surgery that may have been just another surgery for you has been a life-altering experience for us.
If there is ever a time you or other veterinarians question whether your work matters, please think of Alice. Your expertise allowed her light and love to shine brightly.
If you met Alice today, we know she’d put on a grandest of shows in your office to thank you – this time, trotting proudly on all fours and smiling all the way.