Dog Needs Surgery To Continue Stealing Hearts

Tigger is 55 pounds of enthusiastic, tail-thumping love.

But he could be forgiven for not being so sweetly spirited. The brindle-colored Staffordshire bull terrier mix was born with a condition called ectrodactyly, also known as split hand or lobster claw.

Whatever name is put on it, it is heartbreaking to watch this smooth-coated dog, who should be active and agile, try to walk. And try he does, say his foster family, Eve Good and Troy Riggs, who live on acreage near Albany and have five other dogs and a few cats.

"I'll take the other dogs out for a walk, and Tigger will jump up on his back legs and wag his tail and get excited," Riggs said. "He'll take off with us, but after anything more than a few steps, he stops because he knows he can't keep up. So he'll just patiently stay behind. Sometimes he whines, and that's hard on us."

Tigger's front paws are a good six inches shorter than his hind ones, and they end at the joint of what humans would anthropomorphically call a knee. He has paws that are turned in and gnarled into burly nubs. What few pads he has are stripped raw and there are gaping maws in the middle of the knots.

His defects, said veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Warnock, an orthopedic surgeon at the College of Veterinarian Medicine at Oregon State University, are congenital. He was born with the shortened and deformed front legs.

So the first questions most people ask Good and Riggs, are "Why wasn't he put down before now" and "Wouldn't that have been the humane thing to do?"'

They are questions that should bother Good and Riggs, but their obvious passion for this dog lets the couple answer with kindness instead of causticness.

"His original owner loved him, but that owner lost his home and couldn't care for him, so he put him up on Craigslist," Good says. "That was about a year ago, and he was turned into Savin' Juice Medical Dog Rescue in Brooks."

Good said a veterinarian for the medical dog rescue was considering amputating the paws and giving the dog prosthetics, but Good and Riggs asked to foster the dog, agreeing that Good would stay home with him during the day, and since then, they have been determined to see if they could find another permanent solution to the dog's disability.

That was a little more than a month ago, and Good has been relentless in her pursuit of a way to let Tigger have the life she said he deserves.

Tigger, a 2-year-old pit bull with congenitally deformed front legs, plays on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, at Waverly Park in Albany. A foster family is currently caring for the dog and is looking for funds for the reconstructive surgery. Statesman Journal

"The rest of our dogs are failed fosters for a reason; they have issues, but we love them and wouldn't have it any other way," Good said. "But Tigger, gosh, he's just so easy. Put him on a couch or a bed where he can bounce around, and he wants to play and love and play and love. He's a happy dog who is good with other dogs who just happens to not have front feet."

Dr. Warnock agrees. She said human children can have ectrodactyly, and that often in dogs and humans there will be other problems associated with the condition such as hearing loss or cognitive disabilities.

"But Tigger doesn't have any other effects," Warnock said. While his is a particularly severe case -- he has bones that never fused and toes that are split -- "For all intents and purposes, he's walking on lobster claws sideways with all the bones that make up his paw all separated. But other than having pain in his elbows -- you can see him grimace after a few steps and when he has to sit down -- I know this dog is not ready to die. This dog is a character, and he has a lot of tail wagging left and a smile for everyone he meets."

Warnock has agreed to do one of the two surgeries Tigger will need. She'll handle the orthopedic side that will hopefully resolve the crookedness and instability, and another OSU veterinary surgeon will handle the soft-tissue reconstruction.

She said the surgeries will take all day, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 hours, because she'll also have to repair his paw pads, which are in the wrong place and worn down.

She knows Tigger will always be a special needs dog, but he should come out of surgery with greatly expanded function and be out of pain.

"There is a 100 percent chance of complications because, face it, we're rebuilding his legs. But I believe he would make a great therapy dog after the surgery," Warnock said.

But the surgery isn't cheap. Warnock is confident after completing CAT scans and a 3D reconstruction of his limbs that Tigger will have a dramatic recovery. She said she wouldn't undertake the procedure if she thought he was too far gone and the expense couldn't be justified.

But the College of Veterinary Medicine does have to keep the electricity on and pay for equipment and drugs to help animals, so they have to charge the going rate. An animal physical rehabilitationist at the university has already agreed to donate her time to rehabilitate the dog, which the vet estimates will take at least a couple of months at Good and Riggs' home.

She estimates the cost of the surgery to be between $10,000 to $15,000, a cost clearly out of Good and Riggs' price range.

Warnock said the veterinary hospital requires half of the payment up front to perform the surgery. They will arrange a payment plan for the rest, but Good says they need the public's help to make this a reality.

"I know people will say that that money could be spent on spay or neuter surgeries for a lot of other dogs, but it's a living dog who knows how to bring joy to others," Good said. "Are we just supposed to kill it? That's what our options are. Cut off his feet or kill him. I can't do it. And Dr. Warnock said we can raise awareness with this surgery. She wants to write a paper on it, so saving Tigger could help save other dogs."

It's a passionate plea, and one the couple hope won't go unheeded.

ccurrie@statesmanjournal.com; 503-399-6746 or follow on Twitter at @CATMCurrie

To contribute to Tigger's surgical fund:

Go to the Facebook page (Tigger The Dog) to make a donation. 

Copyright 2016 WFMY


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