Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Betcha can't pronounce it on the first try.  Or even the second.  Now look away from the screen and try to say it.  And that's the easy part.

But I'm getting ahead of my story.

Bravo! walked in through our front door on April 26, 2006.  He was a rescue, eight months old.  At the time, Barbara and I were active in Arizona Border Collie Rescue.  The plan was we'd keep Carson (that was his name at the time) for three days, until the person who was going to foster him returned from out of town.  As I post this, three days have turned into 2033.

Bravo! as I quickly renamed him, was an owner turn-in.  The people brought him to our house at 2 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon.  The first thing you learn as you work in rescue is that everybody's lying to you.  Carson's owners' cover story was they were moving to Denver and would be living in an apartment for two years.  Blah . . .blah . . . blah (with an appropriate dash of tears).  The truth?  They had gotten in over their heads with a border collie.

Their car had hardly disappeared down the street when I had the little guy out in the backyard, a treat in my left hand, right above his nose, "heeling."  And it was unmistakeable:  "Oh, I like this!" he told me. Do you believe in love at first sight?  Bravo! and I do now.

At 4 o'clock that afternoon he ran into our master bathroom, jumped into the bathtub and pooped there.  The next morning he leaped up on our kitchen counter, walked across it and stole a loaf of bread.  At which point I gave a thumbs up and said, "This is my kind of dog!"

Later that day I told Kelly Quinn, co-founder and president of Arizona Border Collie Rescue, "Don't put Carson on the website just yet.  This is an extraordinary dog.  I'd like to live with him for a week or so; maybe I'll end up keeping him." 

One time a friend who is also an obedience competitor said, "Willard, you have the worst luck with dogs and their physical ailments . . . even though you always do your due diligence."

Indeed!  Broken bones, an anterior cruciate ligament tear, cataract surgery and lens implants, a total hip replacement, valley fever, and on and on.  All part of my history with competition obedience dogs. So before I irrevocably decided to keep the little guy, I spent $1000 to get him fully checked -- blood work, X-rays, the works.  And he was in mint condition.

Then I contacted the former owner who had never registered him. She signed the ownership transfer papers and I had him registered:  Lock-Eye Phantom of the Opera (to reflect his split face).  And what does the audience cry at the conclusion of an excellent operatic performance?  BRAVO!

And so it began.

The end of that July, coming out of the show grounds at the Conejo Kennel Club trial in Oxnard, California -- where Bravo! had hung out, heeled and socialized while Cheddar went high combined -- Bravo! was holding up his left hind leg.  Bottom line:  a badly fractured patella (kneecap).  No one has any idea how it happened; such a fracture would have required a mighty blow, such as being hit by a car.  But there had been nothing.  Nothing!  And a review of the preadoption X-rays showed no fracture.

A local veterinary orthopedic surgeon examined Bravo! and was all set to cut and sew.  But I turned to my go-to guy in Tucson.  Dr. Jim Boulay (formerly chief of surgery at the renowned Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston) had done one of the first TPLOs in Arizona on my golden, Honeybear.  Later, as part of a clinical trial he was involved in with the University of Zurich, Dr. Boulay installed the Zurich Cementless Total Hip in Bebop, my first border collie.  It turned out to be Bebop's strongest limb as he jumped like a deer (actually more like a maniac) for the rest of his obedience career.

Dr. Boulay recommended against surgery for Bravo!'s kneecap, saying, "If you can keep Bravo! relatively quiet (!!!), I think we'll get a fibrous union (cartilage), and that should be plenty adequate for what he wants to do."  Five months later Dr. Boulay turned Bravo! loose to resume training for competition.

Fast forward to this past spring.  On April 16, at a Grand Canyon German Shepherd Dog Club all-breed obedience trial, Bravo! finished both his UDX2 and his Obedience Master2 on the same day.  He had accumulated 39 OTCH points.  Seventeen of those points had come just a short time earlier as a result of a Utility B win.  Little did I know he would not see an obediece competition ring again for seven months.

On May 16 I took him out in the backyard for his after-breakfast bowel movement.  It was soft, almost too soft to pick up.  I didn't think much of it. That tends to happen for no apparent reason with dogs, and it usually clears up by the next day.  But this time it didn't, it got worse.  Not diarrhea, but plenty soft.

On May 18 I took him to Apollo Animal Hospital, to Dr. Chuck Toben who has been our veterinarian for more than two decades.  They did a fecal smear and sent a stool samply to the lab. Both showed no parasites or bacteria.  They were normal.  The word "normal" would become the bane of my existence across the ensuing months.

To be continued.


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