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Scott Rall: If it weren't for bad luck

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

My dad is a fan of the old, old, old country music.

This is the kind that from a distance sounds similar to wailing. Different stokes for different folks is appropriate here.

There is an old song with some lyrics that include, “If it weren’t for bad luck I'd have no luck at all.” When it comes to dogs, there are many ways to have bad luck. My dog Axle at the tail end of the 2012-2013 season got all torn up by some metal that was covered in the grass and I considered this very bad luck.

He had multiple stitches under the surface and six more to close the skin. He looked like he had gotten in a fight with a utility knife.

He was out for the remainder of the season. He has since healed up and we had a little additional surgery to remove a large chunk of scar tissue that hung down from the center of his chest. If I had left this it would have rubbed all the hair off when he hunted and he would have had a bad sore all the time.

The end result was a dog working at 100 percent. I love this dog. He is very mild and wants to be everyone’s best friend. He is not the most aggressive hunting dog I own, but he fits in nice in my dog world and will live to a ripe old age sleeping on me and Sweetie’s living room carpet.

If you own multiple dogs you will have more trouble than if you only own one. I have lots of labs and just finished my next chapter in the bad luck novel I am writing. It was Axle again this time. He wandered into the kitchen about two months ago and overnight had developed a huge bump on his side right behind his front left leg. I had him lay down and looked him over close. I pushed on it and it caused him no pain at all. I had no idea what had happened. I guessed that he might have tumbled off the back steps on the snow or ice and got a bad bruise and the resulting swelling.

I don’t take any chances with my boys, so it was off to the vet. The initial once-over ended in the diagnosis of a broken or cracked rib. The fact that there was no pain or discomfort was a little unusual. We stuck the lump with a needle and the resulting contents in the syringe indicated no infection or other abnormalities, so we kind of ruled out an infection. We gave it a few weeks to see if the swelling would subside. Four weeks later nothing had changed and so I figured that the small section of rib might have broken completely off the rib and would need to be removed.

The reason for this is the same as his last surgery. You can’t leave this bulge or the hair will rub off when hunting and leave a big sore.

Axle went in four weeks later and the next go-round at the doc’s came up with a different outcome. The new diagnosis was that Axle had what we figured was an ingested foreign body. Axle went to sleep and after 45 minutes under the knife out came the foreign body. The foreign body was a a seed called a grass arne. The difference between this piece of grass and that of any other is how it got there.

I have had lots of experiences where a dog would step on something or get poked by a variety of objects. A dog of mine named Ace had a stem of grass that went into the bottom of his foot and came out four inches away out the front of his leg. An object entering from the outside to inside of a dog is common.

The difference about this grass arne is the fact that it most likely entered the dog by being inhaled into the dog's lungs. It could have also entered by the dog eating it. If a dog ate a little grass it would most likely pass through and exit the normal way.

A seed that is inhaled gets in the lungs and then starts to move around. It is called a mobile grass arne. The seed can puncture the lung and move to the abdominal cavity and then stick in the muscle. Grass arnes can get in the veins or arteries and be pumped around inside the dog till they lodge. When this happens you get a big lump as the body tries to expel or surround the object. Once the arne lodges the vet can cut open the area and try to remove it. Many times this effort results in not finding the object and causes it to break free and move some more.

There have been times where a veterinarian will do surgery on a dog three or four times and never find the object. On rare occasions the object will either be pushed out through the skin or much more likely it lodges in a bad spot like the heart and the dog ends up dead.

There are a small number of dogs that die each year by inhaling a seed or other object. I had a friend who lost two springer spaniels in the same year to this unusual cause. A mobile grass arne is just pure and simple bad luck. To have found the seed on the first attempt is good luck and it usually does not happen this way.

If you are lucky enough to find the seed or foreign object, the dog is not necessarily out of the woods yet. In many cases there will be large amounts of inflammation and infection at the site the object got stuck. Axle is on two different antibiotics and has two drain tubes hanging out his side. The incision is about six inches long and he looks like he belongs in a Friday the 13th movie. The tubes allow the area to drain and aid in allowing the bad stuff to get out.

The cone that a dog wears is called an Elizabethan collar. Axle looks like a dork in his, but it keeps him from licking the stitches out. The tubes stay in for a week and the stitches for five additional days. I think he will make a full recovery, but now I have joined the ranks of dog owners who have had to deal with a mobile grass arne. There is little you can do to avoid this issue. I have been told that a native grass called Canadian wild rye is one of the worst causes of mobile grass arnes and I will no longer use this plant in any of my wildlife habitat projects; nor will I hunt my dogs where it is present in measurable quantity.

In the end most of these arnes are so small that you can hardly see them. That is why it is so hard for the vets to locate them and remove them. The one in Axle was a half-inch long and 1/16th-inch wide. It’s huge on a scale of grass arne sizes.

I was lucky and so was Axle. This happened on Feb. 24 and I will keep you posted in his progress.

There is one thing to be said about bad luck. If you experience bad luck and then everything after that goes good, like Axle’s treatment, then that kind of bad luck only qualifies as sort-a-bad luck. He could be dead, and today after his surgery he seems like he will make a full recovery.

When you own high-energy hunting dogs, spending lots of hours in the field, you are bound to have both good and bad luck. Here is to much more good luck than bad and spending time in the field with four leggers that love me, hunt with me and bring me birds.

I love my labs. If you can’t allow yourself to love and appreciate a gentle black lab, then there must be something wrong with you.