Tearing my heart at broken knee

March 31st, 2008

If the boat were empty, He would not be shouting, and not angry.
– Chuang Tzu

Early Saturday afternoon I pulled into my driveway after a regular morning at the Zen Center. I saw my husband walking our dog Molly half a block up the hill.

I later wished I had rolled down the window and called to them. He might have turned back. Then I could have taken Molly for her walk as I do every day, sometimes twice a day, a comfortable habit.

But I didn’t, and about 10 minutes later he shouted into the front door. “I’m taking Molly to the vet!” It didn’t quite register with me. He already told me he had a list in mind of things to get done that I really wanted him to get done: fixing the sprinklers, picking oranges, taking my car in for tires and alignment. I wandered into the kitchen to investigate. I saw then that Molly was limping on three legs, her left rear leg hiked up in an awkward clutch.

“Molly hurt herself,” my husband said. “She was chasing a squirrel and I didn’t see it. She must have tripped on a hole in the ground. She didn’t cry.”

“You had her off leash?” I gaped. He took a half a minute to tell me the particulars. Yes, she was off leash up at the wilderness park at the end of the street, a place he liked to go instead of walking all around the block, a place he liked to take her off leash to satisfy what he thought she really wanted to do, what dogs should do, sprint around after birds and squirrels.

“I never take her off leash up there,” I said to his back as he left.

* * *

We have a big yard, and although I thought it would be ruined when we adopted our dog, she has made a peaceable kingdom of this place, and we all get by.

Sometimes she saunters out back through an open door and lounges in a pool of pure sunshine on our grassy hill. Other times she barrels off at top speed from a standing start, chasing a dart of shadow or sound. Her sleek flanks ripple in a bronze shimmer of grace and power. She launches these feats from an invisible, intuitive surge. We call her Super Dog.

Saturday afternoon I sat at my desk behind a picture window overlooking the north yard. I saw Molly outside accelerate across the turf and out of my sight toward the perimeter fence. I later wished I had called her in when I saw her bolt, but it’s nice to leave things be when you’re otherwise occupied. She must have seen people strolling on the sidewalk beyond. Maybe neighbors walking a dog.

A minute later I heard her paws click on the parquet behind me. She was limping, her left rear leg hiked up in an awkward clutch.

“What happened to you, Molly?” I spoke gently, in a radiating stillness. There was no way to guess or judge. No one else to ask or blame.

* * *

It’s not so uncommon for dogs of Molly’s size and type to tear their anterial cruciate ligament. It’s a knee injury that tends to end the careers of the fleet of foot, like football players and lion hunters. Because Molly is still young, we have the inconvenient option of unaffordable surgery and an even more excruciating recuperation – weeks, a month or so, crated and immobile, on drugs.

We were shocked for a bit, foggy about what to do, veering toward the least, the easy, the nothing. Thankfully, we now have a clear-minded vet in the sisterhood, and she answered my question. We will do all we can to make our dog well, and soon.

My heart is broken with sympathy and concern. I shudder with fear and doubt that I can manage her long convalescence and confinement. This morning I’m scrubbing rugs, washing and bleaching towels and rags, releasing my fragile hold on normal. As a result of her stress or medication or both, she cannot manage herself through the night. Today we’ll schedule her surgery and see what happens next.

All of that is trouble enough. But what rends me in two is that I cannot yet reconcile the difference in the two stories I’ve told you of how it happened. I have not emptied the boat. Until I can, I too am unwell, and I spread even more pain in these broken down places.


  1. Sometimes these things just happen. No one is to blame. What kind of a life would it be for a dog who wasn’t permitted to run for fear they should get injured.

    I find that dogs are amazing. They don’t hold the stigmas that people do. They heal so much faster from surgery because they don’t know any better. Your challenge will be to keep her calm in the interim. Before you know it she will be healed.

    *hugs* to you and Molly!

    Comment by Shalet — March 31, 2008 @ 6:37 pm

  2. I’m so sorry to hear about Molly. Please keep us posted on her progress!!!

    Comment by Connie — March 31, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

  3. She will respond well to massage. It will enhace her circulation and keep her calm. With lots of time on the couch watching the Dog Whisperer 😉

    Comment by Kristin H. — March 31, 2008 @ 7:25 pm

  4. cyberhugs, mama

    Comment by The Whole Self — March 31, 2008 @ 8:35 pm

  5. i’m right behind nina beana with the big fat cyberhugs.

    oh dear!

    Comment by Wendy — March 31, 2008 @ 11:59 pm

  6. Sending healing thoughts to Molly and you.

    Comment by kathryn — April 1, 2008 @ 12:07 am

  7. you will. even in the midst of this, you have laid out the story clearly and in a way that helps the rest of us on our paths.
    hugs and healing and sincerest gratitude for your honesty on your journey.

    Comment by Michelle — April 1, 2008 @ 1:31 am

  8. Karen, I am so sorry to hear about Molly. It is so painful to watch them suffer.

    You’ll empty the boat. It’s just that sometimes all you have to bail with is a thimble (so to speak).

    Comment by Mama Zen — April 1, 2008 @ 1:52 am

  9. Said a prayer for Molly and her people tonight. Sending love.

    Comment by Jena Strong — April 1, 2008 @ 1:54 am

  10. love and gentle belly rubs to molly.
    lots of waves of love to her family.

    Comment by Holly Lash — April 1, 2008 @ 3:43 am

  11. You know, my husband and I are working extra hard on this right now. For us, this happens in the realm of parenting.

    The other day, after a difficult moment, we ended up on the couch together, me on top of him, just relaxing. And we discussed everything so calmly and with so much empathy for one another. And my husband said, “I want you to see that you can make a difference [in my parenting] (2 yo needs me, sorry)…

    Comment by MamaShift — April 1, 2008 @ 5:28 am

  12. J’s yellow lab, MAD, had this same surgery done in July, and the recovery period wasn’t as bad as we’d expected. Apart from joyous bursts of yellow lab-ishness, MAD was fairly content to be confined (with a leash) to his dog bed during the recuperation period, and he was on pain meds for only the first few days after surgery. Since J’s house has stairs, we kept him on the first floor & the cats kept him company (which in & of itself was a great lesson in Inter Species Tolerance).

    Now MAD is entirely healed, so the surgery really does work wonders. I’ll warn you, though: when Molly comes out of surgery, her incision will be pretty ghastly to look at, so you’ll want to warn Georgia about that. (As J remarked when he saw MAD’s stapled leg, “Well, they definitely did $XXXX worth of surgery!”) But now that MAD’s walking on four legs again & his fur has grown back, you’d never know he’d been injured.

    (And in MAD’s case, the injury was gradual, so we don’t know exactly how/when it happened. Sometimes these things just happen: a blame-free accident of chance.)

    Comment by Lorianne — April 1, 2008 @ 10:11 am

  13. regarding emptying the boat, my sister in law taught me to look at the situation and see how angry you would be if the result had not been so bad. So instead of yelling at the kids because they were messing around and broke her grandmothers finest china bowl she tries to consider if they had been messing around and turned over say the fruit bowl and ended with some bruised apples how would she react? She tries to keep her anger soley towards the action and relative to that, not the result however bad it was. I think this is what you were referring to? I’m really really good at this – with hind sight, at the time I yell and shout like a mad woman. I really hope your dog heals soon, she will benefit I’m sure so much from your love and care.
    x ps thank you for your kind words to me.

    Comment by Honey — April 1, 2008 @ 11:54 am

  14. Hope Molly is back to chasing squirrels, soon … that was Prince’s favorite past time.

    Comment by Shawn — April 1, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

  15. Heal, Super Dog (and Super Dog’s mama).

    Comment by She She — April 1, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

  16. I appreciated your honesty here.
    Sending love and wishes for a quick recovery, to you and Molly both.

    Comment by bella — April 1, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

  17. Karen, my golden retriever did the same thing, just fell down yelping one day when she was running in our yard. She had the same injury, we opted for the surgery, she healed, six months later she was running around in the yard and again fell down yelping…the same injury, the other leg. More surgery, more healing time and it’s been a year and she’s back to her old self running in the yard with two brand new knees.

    There are two choices you have with this surgery, in our experience, the one where they remove the ligament or artificially replace it worked best. We tried to get away with just repairing the first one, but it didn’t work.
    Either way, it’s very very important that you do the recommended therapy as she’s healing, such as short walks, massages.

    She’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. I promise. 🙂

    Comment by Shannon — April 1, 2008 @ 5:49 pm

  18. Our dogs are windows into the best parts of ourselves. Wishes of comfort and healing to you, your family and Molly.

    Comment by Robyn — April 1, 2008 @ 5:52 pm

  19. So sorry to hear about Molly. Pets do have this way of breaking our heart and teaching us.

    Comment by Mary P Jones (MPJ) — April 1, 2008 @ 6:18 pm

  20. Poor Molly!I had my one-year-old Golden Retriever do this when he lept over our picket fence. What worked for us was rest…and some anti-inflamatories. Our vet did mention that he would probably need surgery eventually…

    It is tough…I totally understand your fear and concern for Molly. It’s so hard to see them in pain.

    I hope she heals up quickly for you.

    Comment by enchantedartist — April 1, 2008 @ 7:27 pm

  21. peaceful thoughts and loving hugs.

    Comment by jouette — April 1, 2008 @ 10:23 pm

  22. molly may your knee heal…karen may you heart heal too…

    Comment by meg casey — April 2, 2008 @ 3:12 am

  23. Sending you and Molly warm wishes for an empty boat and a quick recovery. Our dog had the same surgery and recovered faster than we did from the guilt trip we took ourselves on. Be kind to your self.

    Comment by Mary Ann (Moanna) — April 2, 2008 @ 3:28 am

  24. Love to Molly. Dogs–our eternal optimists–I love them so.

    When I four my mom had this handsome, brilliant German Shepherd. We lived out in the boondocks as my dad like to say, and one day this man on a motorcycle drove along the winding road, saw Jack running happily across the yard, and shot him.

    My mother was inconsolable.

    Comment by marta — April 2, 2008 @ 5:28 am

  25. our late lab, BD (Black dog) hurt his knees and had that surgery. He recovered fully and went off to chase squirrels and roll in scat just as he had done before. We use a lot of homeopathics and with ice combined with arnica, he did pretty well.
    Best of luck to you

    Comment by debra — April 4, 2008 @ 1:49 am

  26. something similar happened, to my dog, a beagle. after a bath, she likes to run around like a crazy, wild animal and somehow tore her acl. no one was around when she hurt herself. she just let out a yelp and began to limp. after a consultation at our regular vet, we were informed that she’d have to see a specialist and that it would take months for her to recover. after the surgery (at gulf coast), there was physical therapy to look forward to. it’s been almost 5 months since her surgery and she still walks with a slight limp. poor baby.

    Comment by Jennifer — April 4, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

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