Rene Agredano is one half of the famous couple who founded Tripawds.com, the largest online community for three-legged animals. She and her husband Jim Nelson were determined to bring support and information for those facing the amputation of a pet’s limb. They began their mission after Jerry, their German shepherd mix was diagnosed with bone cancer. Jerry was given less than a year to live, but with the love and support of Jim and Rene he lived and travelled the country for three years. Here is their story:
We humans are so silly. If someone crosses our path and they look a little different, walk with an uncommon gait or speak in an unfamiliar tone, we instinctively stop and do a double take. But a dog? A dog just won’t care.
Until we are faced with a physical challenge that sets us apart from others, we don’t comprehend how being one-of-a-kind is a way of life that can open the doors to acceptance, enlightenment and even a better appreciation for life itself. For my husband and I, that comprehension arrived the day our dog Jerry was diagnosed with cancer in his front left leg.
After a persistent limp that wouldn’t go away, veterinarians told us Jerry had osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer tumor that would ultimately lead to a premature death in four to six months if we did nothing to manage the pain. However, we could have him for up to a year longer if we considered amputating the affected limb. Eliminating the tumor was the only way that we could control his pain they told us – but he would still die from the cancer, eventually.
“Amputate his leg? Are you kidding?!” we said to the vet. As we drove home to think about the situation, we vehemently felt there was no way our athletic German shepherd mix would be happy as a three-legged dog. What kind of a quality of life would he have if he never got to hike, swim or run like a “normal” dog? Cutting off his leg for the sake of a few more months didn’t make any sense at all.
“He wouldn’t want to live that way,” we said to each other, without consulting Jerry, who sat there in pain, holding up his paw. As the first major medical decision we ever faced for him, we did what many people do; we went home to consult with Dr. Google. What we found would change our lives forever.
After swimming through stacks of depressing clinical data, we found this video of Moose, a three legged Great Dane who was happily digging for gophers after losing a leg to osteosarcoma.
Bingo! The light bulb went on as we turned to look at Jerry, still with a smile on his face despite the excruciating pain he was in. That’s when we knew that if Moose could be happy, so could Jerry. We called the clinic to set our appointment, and our three-legged love affair began.
Loving Life on Three Legs
Jerry hopped out of the hospital less than 48 hours after his amputation surgery. With the burden of pain gone, he looked years younger and through a druggy haze showed how happy he was to be free of the nasty tumor with tail wags and slobbery licks. Although we couldn’t escape the reality that there was a ticking time bomb in his body, Jerry didn’t care and he went on doing all that he loved most, albeit in shorter bursts of time.
He hiked. He ran. He swam. He chased things. He played with his favorite toys. Despite our silly notion that other dogs would treat him differently, they never noticed he was “different.” Everywhere he went, Jerry’s perseverance and determination to make the most of every second was an inspiration to those he encountered (and a few million who met him during his television debut.)
During the next two years that he beat cancer, we watched him go on to defy all the worst-case scenarios. Jerry didn’t know about his prognosis or even what “time” meant – and he didn’t care. And eventually his last great gift was helping us see what sage leaders have tried to tell humans for eons; that the only way to enjoy life is to live in the here and now, because it’s all we’ve got.
Finding Support in Community
As Jerry defied the odds we felt compelled to share his story but more importantly, wanted to let other pet parents know that if their dog or cat was facing amputation, that there is hope. Through the creation of Tripawds.com, Jerry’s spirit has nurtured the world’s largest support community for animal amputees through information, videos, resources and community discussion about what it’s like for an animal to lose a leg to cancer, accidents, birth defects and other tragic scenarios.
Vets can give lots of clinical data but one thing most cannot provide to clients is the hands-on experience of living through this life-altering situation. Thanks to the contribution of over 14,000 fans and members, word has gotten out that yes, dogs and cats are born with three legs and a spare, and life doesn’t have to end when a limb must go. Despite the old-school thinking of still too many old-time veterinarians, the majority of dogs of all sizes can get along fine on three legs (and if they need help, that’s what prosthetics and wheelchairs are for!).
Yes, there are exceptions and amputation isn’t right for every animal. Some pets aren’t great candidates because of pre-existing conditions. Like any surgery, there are risks and recuperation can be tough. But ultimately, as our 2013 Tripawds Quality of Life Survey showed, most parents are happy with the decision to amputate even if their Tripawd didn’t live up to the best-case cancer prognosis.
In seeing how thousands of dogs and more cats are loving life on three legs, there’s one thing that we know for certain: animals don’t care about being different, they just want to feel good and live in the now. And that is the best way to live, don’t you agree?
If you or someone you know is facing amputation or thinking about adopting a three-legged dog or cat, please hop on over to Tripawds.com for more information about life on three legs.
(Photos and videos courtesy of Tripawds.com). Check out the Tripawds Facebook page.