That’s our Maremma livestock guardian dog Aaron — our “white lion,” as we call him — with our veterinary surgeon, Dr. Kurt Schulz at Peak Veterinary Referral Center in Burlington. I took the photo a few weeks ago, when we were on the “blog break.” Aaron had blown out his cruciate ligament the previous week. We had gone out to bring the goats in from pasture and Aaron came bounding up to the gate on three legs. At first we’thought he might have pulled a muscle, but after getting him into the barn and examining his leg, we?realized something more serious had happened.
Of course, he’s our lead guardian dog, we’re in the middle of grazing season, and we knew managing post-surgery orthopedic care for a 120 lb dog would not be easy. Kurt recommended a knee surgery procedure called a TPLO. This would?require 8 weeks of recuperation and would mean we’d need to have?him in the house — the first time Aaron would live anywhere but the barn with his goats and the other Maremmas.
So here’s the true story: Right after Kurt finished the knee surgery, the vet techs were trying to wake Aaron up from anesthesia. He was lying on the table, completely conked out. Theresa, one of the surgery vet techs, was rubbing on him, calling his name, loving him up … and nothing was working. He lay there, breathing soundly but not waking up. Theresa continued … and continued. Aaron didn’t respond.
Finally, Theresa had to check on another case, so another surgery tech, Anthi, offered to take over the task of waking Aaron up from anesthesia. She started to do the same things Theresa had done … calling his name, rubbing on him, any number of things to stimulate his senses. Nothing worked. Then … knowing Aaron?was a livestock guardian dog … she made a loud bleating noise, just like a sheep or goat. In an instant, Aaron snapped awake, raised his head up off the table and looked around, eyes wide open. Just like that. Having watched it happen, the other staff members were incredulous and asked Anthi how she knew to do that. “Easy,” she said. “I’m Greek.”
When I went to pick up Aaron the next day, people at Peak were telling me this story, still amazed at how Aaron went in a second from unresponsive to totally awake, simply because he thought he heard the sound of a goat.
Back at the farm, we set up a hospital pen for Aaron in the dog room. This was both for post-op sanitary reasons and to keep him quiet and confined during his long, slow recovery. The biggest management challenge turned out not to be the leg, however, but in Aaron’s head. Although he loves us — he’s probably the most affectionate, loving dog I’ve ever known! — he was morose and unhappy being in the house and away from the goats and the other guardian dogs. He was out of his element.
Early on I brought our older Maremma Gina to hang out with him in his pen, but that didn’t work … she’d sit up next to him, wondering why she was in the house, and it didn’t change how he felt:
(That’s a giant dog crate next to Aaron, so it gives you some idea of how big he is.)
He refused to eat for a week, no matter what we offered him … including roast beef, sliced ham, rotisserie chicken, any number of different dog foods, treats, cheese, peanut butter, you name it. Finally we found he would eat sliced turkey … but only turkey, and he wouldn’t eat enough to sustain himself. So during this entire time I had to do some force feeding to make sure he was getting enough nutrition and to keep something in his stomach. (Please imagine the other dogs standing there watching Aaron turn his head away from sliced roast beef. We’re sure they were thinking, “Good grief, this dog needs a shrink!”) Finally, after about 10 days, he began eating normally again, and now he’s back on a regular?diet.
Once he could go for walks again, I’ve taken him down to the goat barn to visit with the goats and see the other Maremmas. Nothing makes him happier … his face lights up when we get to the barn and his tail starts wagging. After he gets his fix and I say it’s time to leave, he drops his head and reluctantly follows me back to the house. He’s resigned to being a “house dog” for the moment, though I think his visits with his friends in the barn give him hope he will be returning to duty some day. Only five more weeks to go!
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Barb Ribinski says
Poor guy. I’m glad he’s eating now – that will certainly help him. Will the difference in the temperature from being inside to going back outside affect him in any way? I’m sure it’s better that he be comfortable and not chilly while he’s recuperating. But he won’t get cold once he goes back outside, will he? I remember how you built that fort for them outside with the hay bales. I’m hoping the temperature won’t change too much between now and when he goes back out. Hang in there Aaron and get the extra attention while you can, big guy!
Diane Borden, Chehalis, WA says
FIVE more weeks to go……oh my, what a challenge. I think you ought to find a goat to put in the pen with him. A baby maybe…..well, no, that would be too active. Maybe an elder calm goat. Well, no, on second thought, the goat would be stressed and depressed, then you’d have two psychiatric patients.
I send supportive energy to the humans in the house! Aaron will likely be great at the end of five weeks under your great care……but the humans will need a vacation.
Diana K says
Would one of the smaller goats in his pen help him, or would that be too dangerous that the goat might jump on his leg.
Steve Smith says
Diana, a small goat in his pen — which is in our house — would be pooping and peeing in his pen … the reason he can’t be in the barn. And yes, a goat would probably step on his leg, sit on it, etc. So, no goats for the meantime.
Laura, Levi & Timmy says
Poor baby!! Tough to manage them when they are out of their element…Glad he is getting better and getting his “goat fix” in…Five weeks will go by fast…but probably not for you or him!!!
No knowing any of this was going on, it is sure great to hear about it all from this perspective – that Aaron is mending, eating, and can’t wait till he can get back to his ‘home’! ONLY 5 more weeks! Hope things keep progressing well. I’m sure everyone in the barn misses him too. Goats get pretty attached I hear!
POOR GUY. I’M SURE THOUGH IT’S AS HARD ON YOU TWO AS IT IS HIM. HERE’S HOPING THE LEG HOLDS UP O.K.
Miranda Brooks says
What else does he guard? Got any ducks so you could put a duck in with him for awhile. It wouldn’t hurt him if it stepped on him. Him not wanting to be indoors but out with his flock just boggles my mind. Hope he heals well and soon!
Debbie Burke says
Poor Aaron. Unemployed and desperate to get back to work. He probably feels he’s being derelict in his duties. Don’t you humans understand he has goats to guard???
Hope he’s not in pain. Knee surgery is no picnic, speaking from experience.
What about a stuffed goat that wouldn’t foul his pen? Nah, he’s probably too smart to be fooled by that old trick.
You guys are incredible. He’s in the best hands imaginable, even if he doesn’t appreciate all the perks of being a house dog.
This might be impractical, but perhaps you could hook up a set of baby monitors so he could hear what was going on in the goat barn. It might cheer him up to hear his flock and give him some assurance that they are all right.
Penny Heinrich says
Our 14 year old Dalmatian had the same surgery. He was depressed for the first week or so. I slept with him in his confined space…the laundry room, for the first week. Is there room in the pen for a person? I am kidding….welll, maybe not. But I know what you mean when you are counting the weeks remaining.1
Tonya Allen says
Great story. I find it so fascinating how devoted they are to their flock. It’s obviously the most important thing in Aaron’s life. I could see a children’s book being written about this little episode. Aaron is very handsome and would look wonderful in a picture book.
I’ve always wished there was a way to tell a dog that “This is not forever. This is just for a little while.” Poor Aaron probably thought he was in prison for life, but now he knows he at least gets visiting hours. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story.
I was going to say “poor little guy” but that wouldn’t apply……praying for peace and calm over the house and him and you also…..that he will acclimate to his current situation until he can stay outside again. He is so cute. Hoping you guys get a nice long break without any major medical issues.
Shirley and James says
Our golden had this surgery and it is a long recovery! You guys are wonderful. Poor baby missing his goats and friends.
We hope beautiful Aaron heals completely and can be his
goats in the near future. You always write so well, Steve,
Through your writing I can feel Aaron’s excitement as he visits his goat friends,
then feel his sluggish green mile walk back to the house. A little chuckle
there but he’ll be back in the job when it’s best.
Aw, Aaron is a wonderful boy and he’ll come around soon. Hopefully the 5 weeks will rush by quickly and he can go back to doing his job which I know he’s missing right now.