When I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in November, 2006, my pawrents weren’t sure if I could have a good life on three legs. They went online looking for answers, and saw a video of Moose, a three legged Harlequin Great Dane. In the video, Moose was digging up the ground and looking for gophers. That video convinced my pawrents that I could live a hoppy life on three legs. If it wasn’t for Moose, Tripawds would not exist.
Now, whenever people wonder about whether or not a big dog can live a good life as an amputee, we point to Moose’s video, and let them decide.
Here is a touching recollection from Moose’s Dad Joel, about the day when Moose made a lasting impression upon the hearts and minds of residents in Santa Barbara, California.
Moose Leads the Big Dog Parade
Our favorite summer event is the Big Dog Parade in Santa Barbara. The clothing company Big Dog is based in Santa Barbara and sponsors an annual parade for dogs and their owners. A few thousand dogs and their owners walk down State Street to the park at the beach. It is quite a sight, dogs and people of all shapes and sizes, many in costume sauntering down the road to the beach. Thousands more people are lining the road watching the crazy assortment of dogs, people, and the occasional school band. As the 14th annual Big Dog Parade approached, Moose was beating the odds against bone cancer.
From Diagnosis to Canine Celebrity
Almost two years earlier, Moose had been dealt the worst diagnosis a dog can get, bone cancer. The local vet was very negative, and shared the story of another dog with the same diagnosis that did very poorly with the standard treatment of amputation. He said we should consider putting Moose down, or possibly amputation witch he said might buy Moose and us 6 months. At that my partner Ross told the vet he was not going to cut off his dogs leg and stormed out of the exam room.
The choice seemed a lose-lose. Put the dog down as soon as the pain meds stop blocking the increasing pain of the tumor which the vet said would be soon, or cut off his leg and let him hobble around until the microscopic cancer cells that likely were already streaming around his body grow up and kill him. Moose was only four years old, and other than the golf ball size tumor on his front leg, he seemed so healthy and full of life. We just could not put him down.
But what about the alternative, amputate the leg? I have seen many three leg dogs do amazingly well, but Moose was a huge harlequin Great Dane. How could a 140 pound dog that was 38 inches off the ground at his shoulders have any quality of life missing a leg? It seemed like disservice to the poor guy. As we researched things many told us that big dogs like Moose really can do well with three legs. Sure it is possible to survive with three legs, but Moose was a very active dog that loved to play and run around our five acre country homestead. Ross and I were pretty much completely against the amputation, but also not ready to put him down.
Both Ross and I spent time trying to understand what Moose wanted. After a couple of days, it was clear to both of us that Moose wanted to stay around and hunt for lizards, even if it was on three legs.
About the time we realized what Moose wanted, we found out about a bone cancer study at the UC Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The study gave Moose the best care possible, which could improve his odds at a better outcome. Part of what we sensed from Moose was that he didn’t care what happened down the road, only in enjoying the moment, whatever the conditions.
Moose became a big celebrity at the Davis Teaching Hospital. He went through the amputation and six rounds of chemo like a trouper. Through every treatment and test, Moose was the model patient. He would let them poke and prod and put him through whatever thing they had to do without the slightest disagreement. When I would pick him up after treatment or tests, he was always just happy to see me and looking for a fun time. It was a four hour drive from our house to Davis, and Moose and I searched out the best places along the trip to run, play, and pee, and boy did Moose run. The amputation did not slow Moose down one bit. His remaining front leg became stronger and stronger to the point that we called it the “Arnold Leg” after our Terminator Governor.
The small rural town that we live in got used to the huge three legged Dane. Before Moose’s amputation, he attracted a ton of attention simply by his size. Now that he only had three legs it was fun to watch people’s reaction. Most of the time, people would be attracted to him because of how big he was and come over to meet him. After a minute or two they would realize that he only had three legs. At that point most people would freak out and while in amazement that such a big dog could do so well with three legs, back away from the “disabled dog.”
Watching this over and over made me realize that I, like most others did the same thing when I saw a “disabled person” without realizing what I was missing out on. We had become so familiar with Moose’s lost leg and regularly would pet and caress the amputation site, seeing it as a beautiful part of our wonderful Moo boy, rather than an ugly deformity as most others saw it. I was deeply hurt on more than one occasion where a close friend that I admired greatly cringed and didn’t even want to look at the “deformity.”
Full Speed Ahead!
So as the Big Dog Parade drew closer, Ross and I got more and more excited about taking Moose to the parade. Moose had become so strong since his amputation and chemo that he had regained virtually all of his pre-amputation abilities. He had even figured out how to dig for gophers with only one front paw. Even with Moose so strong Ross and I were a bit concerned that he wouldn’t be able to make the few mile long parade route and back to the car. We felt that he would likely do fine, but if he had any problems we could just stop and one of us could go get the car. As the date approached Ross realized that he would be unable to go to the parade due to scheduling conflicts with work, and as a small business owner, he had no choice but to tend to his business. So I decided that I would take Moose on my own, and if Moose got tired I would get help from friends that lived in Santa Barbara.
On the morning of the parade, I had to get Moose fed and ready early so we could make the two hour drive and register before the 10 AM beginning of the parade. As always Moose knew that we were preparing for a road trip and was very excited. No problem getting him to jump into the car, he was ready to go! Windows down, head out, ears flapping in the breeze as we headed to town to catch the freeway. Moose was enjoying every minute. Moose like most dogs would make the most of every moment of every day, and today was no different.
We arrived in Santa Barbara a bit later than I had planned so we literally ran from the parking structure to De la Guerra Plaza where the check in and participants were lined up waiting for the parade to begin. Running was actually much easier for Moose than walking. With only one front leg, he had to hop almost strait up to walk slowly, but to run he was able to use his hind legs for impulsion and literally bounce off the single front leg. He could literally run as fast on three legs as he ever did with four, but it took much more effort to walk slowly with three legs. So there we were running at full speed down State Street weaving in and around the crowded sidewalk on our way to the Plaza.
We checked in, paid our entrance fee, got our number sign and found our place in the line with all the other dogs and owners waiting for the parade to begin. As we stood there, surrounded by hundreds of dogs and owners a few people would stop by to see Moose. And like always most would not realize he was missing a leg, but when they made that realization would tell me how well he was dealing with his “disability” and quickly fade away. It was an exciting and fun time just to be surrounded by all the dogs and “dog people”. I have always felt a connection to other “dog people” somehow thinking that we shared a common understanding of the canine-human bond. Today was even better, not only were we surrounded by all these dogs and “dog people”, but it was a party atmosphere with some very creative costumes for both the dogs and people and the local school marching bands practicing to get ready for their performance in the parade. I tried to get Moose to lay down as we waited in line so he could save his strength for the parade, but he was so excited that he stayed standing having to keep hopping on his front leg to maintain balance. We were in a specified order behind a group of about a dozen magnificent Great Pyrenees and next to a gay couple with their cute beagle mix who was loving all the excitement of the crowd. I struck up a conversation with the two guys next to me exchanging all the information about our dogs and our lives.
As the procession began to move, and the bands began playing their marching tunes, smiles and excitement filled the air. How could anyone keep from smiling at this wonderful scene. I was having a hard time keeping from crying out of joy. How I never expected to be able to experience this wonderful moment with my beloved Moo boy when we got the dreaded diagnosis, and now here we were beating the odds and strong as ever enjoying every moment. As we turned the corner from the plaza and started down State Street we were able to see the crowd three or four deep lining the sidewalk to watch to procession of crazy dogs and their companions. The crowd would react to each new group of dogs passing by with hoots and howls and most of all big smiles.
Our group of assorted dogs had a hard time showing up the magnificent Great Pyrenees that proceeded us. They were all groomed perfectly with their fluffy snow white fur and really were a magnificent sight. But our group got our share of claps and acknowledgment, and every so often I could see someone pointing out the three legged Dane.
After a few blocks I could see that Moose was already getting tired walking the slow procession of the parade. I was realizing that he would have a tough time making it the whole way walking so slow. About when I was ready to give up, I realized that the group of Great Pyrenees had sped up and there was a half a block of space between them and our group. Moose looked back at me and in an instant I realized he was asking me to let him have his wings and run free. So I told the gay couple to “watch this” and clicked my tongue twice giving Moose the signal to run. He and I ran together into the gap in front of us and Moose was in his element.
I could see him smile with his ears waving in the breeze. As we caught up with the Great Pyrenees I curved around and made a circle around the space between the groups of dogs. At that point I heard a massive roar from the crowds on the sidewalk. I have never and probably will never experience anything like this. Literally everyone on the sidewalk was focused on us in a continuous standing ovation. At this point I could not hold back my tears of joy and appreciation. As we continued to run in big circles in the gap between the two groups of dogs I could see Moose beaming from ear to ear reveling in the roar of approval from the crowd.
Moose and I continued running in circles the entire remaining course of the parade. As we moved down State Street the crowd lining the sidewalk continued to roar with approval as we circled past them. I was unable to stop my tears and Moose was flying free sending out the most positive energy you could ever imagine. As we made the turn off State Street nearing the park where the parade was to end, it was I that was having difficulty keeping up with the Moo boy.
As we reached the grassy park bordering the beach we found wadding pools to get a drink and a party atmosphere with bands playing and crowds of people and dogs wagging their tails. I found an open spot of grass where Moose and I could sit down and rest a bit. Within a few seconds Moose and I were surrounded by a massive crowd of people wanting to meet the amazing three legged Dane. Everyone wanted to hear Moose’s story of why he was missing a leg and pet and kiss the Moo boy. Moose had more than enough sloppy Dane kisses for everyone. For the first time, peoples reaction was not one of pity but envious of the courageous fun loving attitude that was oozing out of Moose. We stayed surrounded by this massive crowd for a couple of hours until the crowd started to thin and more importantly I caught my breath from running in circles down State Street.
Kindred Souls Share Boundless Pawsibilities
As we were getting ready to make the walk back to the car I realized that the reaction from most of the people who wanted to meet Moose was quite different than normal. There was not the typical attitude of pity and negativity that I would normally see, instead it was an attitude of inspiration. It was an attitude of boundless possibility rather than pity for the poor “disabled” dog.
Moose and I started our run up State Street to our car. The scene was quite different now, with most of the dog paraders dispersed and heading home and the normal crush of tourists milling along the sidewalk. We ran each block, darting between and around the tourists, occasionally getting stopped at a street corner waiting for a stoplight to change.
At one stoplight a young man on a mountain bike approached as we waited for the light to change. He said hi and asked if he could talk to me about my dog. He asked all about why he was missing a leg, listening more intently than most who stopped us. We stood at the corner talking while two or three cycles of the streetlight changed. After I explained all about Moose’s story, the guy told me that he had seen Moose running with such enjoyment in the parade that he had to meet him and how much it meant to him to get that chance. Then the light turned green, he told me to have a nice day and sped off on his mountain bike, popping a wheeley as he departed. When he got about half way across the street, he looked back at us with the same smile that I saw on Moose’s face when he was running like the wind.
It was not until the guy was part way up the next block that I realized that one of his legs was a prosthesis. The emotions hit me like a ton of bricks. This time it was I who was oblivious of the missing leg. I wanted so much to be able to talk with the guy, but he was long gone. It hit me that he sped away on his bike, with the same ultimate enjoyment of the moment that I saw in Moose every time he got a chance to run like the wind.
We made it back to the car, again with me more out of breath than Moose. On our drive home I kept re-living the extraordinary day. The attention and continuous applause was something I have never experienced in my life, even with the attention really focused on Moose and not myself. It was invigorating to get so much approval from strangers. But it made me think about how much Moose had brought to Ross and and my life through his battle with bone cancer. Moose taught us to not avoid people or dogs with a “disability”, rather to be so appreciative that we have to opportunity to be in each others lives. Moose’s attitude about his “disability” was that it was not a “disability” it was just how it is. He took it from there and figured out ways to revel in every opportunity for fun. I think the outpouring of appreciation from the crowd was not because they had never seen such a big dog run with only three legs, but was appreciation that he did not let the missing leg keep him from having such a fun day. I will never meet the guy on the bike with only one leg again, but watching him speed away and pop a wheeley caused be to be so appreciative that he also did not let his “disability” get in the way of having a wonderful day. This is a lesson that all dogs seem to know innately, but I was only able to understand with the help of my best friend Moo boy.