in case of emergency
by Chappell on our previous farm
in tibetan buddhism there is a saying: "our greatest enemy is our greatest teacher"
i have never considered anyone an enemy, i might be someone's enemy, but never intentionally, and i would never reciprocate. enemies do not exist in my belief system ... until saturday, february 27th. that day i came upon my enemy. my enemy was not a person, and in fact, my enemy took no sentient form at all. it was an extenuating set of circumstances: the circumstance of being unprepared for a dire medical emergency with our working dog: alone, without a vehicle or a phone, for days, just me, the internet, and my dog.
the antidote to unpreparedness is preparedness.
if you are off-grid homesteading, or living a fossil-fuel-free / waste-free, or radical permaculture life style, or any combination of these things; perhaps you have all your bases covered for an unthinkable medical emergency such as the one i faced that day. if you are a long time farmer, you probably have a very practical outlook on injured animals and a vast body of knowledge culled from decades of animal husbandry. i must admit, as i sat on the side of the hill with a wounded animal and only myself to rely upon, i was LOST. if you have friends or neighbors who are long time farmers, or huntsmen who run with dogs, talk to them about what they know. in short; learn as much as you can from those around you.
this article is written for anyone who does not have a skill set regarding critical injury, who might also find themselves alone, without transport or communications in a far removed holler or the wilderness, with only their wits and will to mend an injured four legged companion.
i recognize each experience will be different... disasters are like snow flakes; no two run-in's with disaster will ever fit the same pattern, but contingencies can be generalized for all of them.
first off, keep calm.
gather what is available to mitigate the disaster. know how to assess and treat shock, know how to stop or staunch bleeding. know how to breathe deep and relax so the animal can be relaxed. know how to resuscitate breathing. if the animal can't ambulate of it's own free will, i would suggest you stay with it, or abandon it, depending on your own level of personal safety. whatever you do, don't force the animal to move. you need more than one person to move an injured animal of sturdy build safely. if your dog makes it through the night, you've cleared one big hurdle. (don't worry, there will be more).
secondly, remember that animals in general have an incredible capacity to heal...
and dogs are no different in this ability. our dog returned to me hours after her initial wounding and she had undertaken all practical measures for her own well being. while her back left haunch was perhaps torn open through blunt trauma injury (as if she had been smacked by a pointed shovel) and the skin was splayed back to reveal muscle beneath, she had very little active bleeding at the wound site. she had, without doubt, lost a lot of blood, but she was not actively bleeding. i believe her saliva alone had enough ingrediants to stop the bleeding, but maybe she also instinctively knew which plants to eat to assist her.
her opposite back haunch had a seven inch long jagged gash, which i had not noticed while outside at sunset assessing her wounds, trying to figure out her story. this sizeable wound paled in comparison to the right haunch and rib wounds, which were, by necessity, deemed top priority. the gash was lightly washed and otherwise left alone. within a week it was 90% healed and remains a bald fresh scar, resembling the work of a large, feral animal.
learning to assess wounds can be helpful:
dogs (and coyotes) fight with their mouths. so there will be puncture wounds, head and tail injuries (and neck and gut injuries --if it is a particularly viscious "attempt to kill" fight). bear and big cats will use their claws, and leave your animal devoured or severely lacerated, if it is lucky enough to get away (a neighbor informed me a bear had been spotted on the hill of an adjoining meadow around the time pepper's incident took place and opinions now differ as to if a bear or large cat almost got hold of her). birdshot can lacerate skin and turn the underlying muscle and tissue to hamburger, but one will usually find some evidence of the tiny shot pellets in the wound. i must say that while pepper and i prefer to tell the story of her heroic fight with a bear, the farmer down the road said it is most likely that she went on an adventure with friends and was hit by a fast moving vehicle. we will never really know, because she can not tell us.
since her injuries were assessed as a run-in with a fast moving vehicle, i proceeded with the notion that she could have internal injuries, although there was no bleeding from her nose or mouth; there was evidence of blood at her rear. because she had walked to the lot from somewhere, and from the gate where we met up with each other over to the side of the hill when i ran for blankets to cover her, i knew she could walk on her own. so we took a long slow stroll to the house --about 20 yards away-- and after cleaning her up, we began the big wait til morning. i opted to stay on the floor with her, comforting her when she whimpered, offering her small sips of water from my finger tips when she would smack her tongue and open her mouth without panting. she might not be here come morning i wanted to let her know i was there for her. i kept iterating she was a good dog. that i was proud of her. that she was strong. that i appreciated how hard she worked just to be able to return to me. that i loved her. that i was sorry. that she would get better. that it would be a long time.
never ever give your animal aspirin, tylenol, ibuprofen or any pain killing medications.
this can do a lot more harm than good.
let them find their comfort zone, they're better buddhists than most lamas! comfort your animal if they need it. a careful stroke of the head (or whatever area is NOT injured) works wonders for distraction and amelioration of the pain. never clean wounds with hydrogen peroxide, it kills tissue, yet is safe to use as an emetic (to cause vomitting). use alcohol, if you must, it might hurt --but does less damage. tepid tap water is peferred to alcohol (and distilled water) for flushing wounds clean. and a saline solution is the current favored medium for wound irrigation and cleaning.
You can make saline solution by boiling 1 tsp non-iodized salt in 2 cups water. To speed cooling, pour into another container afterward and place in freezer til it reaches room temperature.
learn about bandaging, the three layers, and what their functions are.
bandages can be easily fashioned from old sheets or sweat pant material (which i prefer) buy light colored jogging suits and wool sweaters at thrift stores and yard sales. prepare them by cutting them in strips and patches. save some of the sweatshirts' arms for making bandages to slip a leg through. remember light colors are used for a reason, so you can see what the wound is doing. for instance, bleeding continually, releasing puss and blood, etc.
the specifics of bandaging to maintain coverage of pepper's particular wounds have been the most difficult information for me to obtain. it was pretty much trial and error. most every document, video, etc., demonstrates how to wrap a paw, splint a front leg. nothing on how to keep bandages secure on a wounded haunch. i have discovered a method that seems to work pretty well. i criss-cross the bandage in a figure eight manner using both hind legs. it shifts around occassionally, especially if i wrap her with a snug, but not tight bandage (you should be able to put two fingertips beneath the bandage). of course, "tight" holds everything in place, but it also cuts off circulation, which is harmful to the healing process.
after pepper made it through the night, and urinated for the first time; i caught her pee in a white plastic container, to examine for discoloration. anything less than nice clean pee, any discoloration toward red would be indicative of internal bleeding. she passed with flying colors.
by the fourth day, pepper was wanting to go back to work. after two days of being confined to her sick room, every mole on the property had gotten wind that the predator was out of commission and had a rip roaring good time heaving the side yard into celebratory mounds. i was surprised, actually, because i thought she had decided moles were of no interest to her. her first year on the farm, she killed 26 moles, last year she presented gianni and i with a count of two victims. the deer are all over everything, gallivanting around, pooing in the yard, the same yard that pepper goes great lengths not to shit or pee in. day by day, she gets better in leaps and bounds. she drags me from one end of the property to the other, a perimeter walk that includes about six acres it seems. she wants to go further, up into the hills. i simply refuse. i don't have it in me.
our last big hurdle was a bowel movement. there was growing concern that perhaps the "run-in" had caused an impaction somewhere in her bowels, but there were no tell-tale signs. no distention of her belly, no touchy spots or vomitting either. it was time to have a bowel movement ... or an enema would be in order. not particularly wanting to figure out the mechanics of this, i was pretty desperate to facilitate a nice big old natural butt squeezing dump. pumpkin. olive oil, bacon grease, miralax (3 t mixed with chicken bone broth) because i had no psyllium or flax seed, were all employed to this end... and believe it or not, it seems the pumpkin won out.
during my days alone with our dog, i gave a lot of thought about the whole process of animals healing from grave trauma. i developed a profound respect for pepper's stoicism and strength and ability to heal. i often wondered: if i had left her on the hillside, as the farmer down the road advised, would she have survived?
yes, most probably.
i know there were mistakes i made. i also accept i was doing the best i could.
i believe healing takes willpower and that the will to heal is fueled by love and compassion.
over the course of my watch over pepper, i have thought a lot about the deer wounded by encounters with coyote and bear and the occasional bad shot. they have no veterinarian to come to their aid. they treat themselves, just as pepper did in her first hours. licking their wounds, perhaps grazing on plantain or yarrow, if it's in season. laying on soft moss or mounds of soft grasses to wick the blood. moving as soon as they can, or resigning themselves to death.
as i spent time with pepper, cleaning her wounds and dressing them, i slowly allowed her to participate in the process. every time i would irrigate the worst section of her wound, where the undead skin of the flap and the tissue below it meets, she would hanker after the soiled bandages and gauze pads. in an effort to distract her so i could continue the chore, i would hand them to her to clean. i was always in a panic that she would lick her wounds. everything i read cautioned one NOT to let their animal lick it's wounds. i couldn't figure out why. the sullied bandages that were given to pepper to pacify her were spotless when she was done with them. gianni had returned from charleston on wednesday with the all-important head cone (or elizabethan collar) to provide a barrier between pepper's wounds and her culprit tongue. within two days she had learned how to push the cone down into her shoulders and extend her tongue beyond its plastic limits. i caught her grinding the edge of the collar into the red open flesh of her wound and admonished her. by the next day, she had discovered how to open the velcro enclosure of the thing. considering the rapid heal of the wound on her left, still un-bandaged haunch, i decided it was wisest to allow her to participate in the upkeep of her healing process. while all the literature says not to allow your animal access to their wound, none of them state why this is so. the only conclusion i could come to was so the sutures would not be summarily removed by the injured animal. if anyone else knows of another reason why it is taboo, please let me know in the comments.
the farmer also told me one shouldn't grow too attached to their dogs "it's a hard life and you'll lose a few".
as a buddhist, there is this one tenet that drives me: practice neither attachment or aversion.
i love pepper immensly, she works hard, helping us keep the opportunistic animals away from our crops. she aims to please, she has gone to great lengths to demonstrate this during her recouperation.
other things to consider in preparation for an unthinkable medical emergency:
be familiar with the basic vitals of your dog:
Heart Rate (beats per minute)
Respiratory Rate (breaths per minute)
Body Temperature (rectal)
Gum Color (pink and moist are good- white, pale, bluish, purple, yellow, or bright red could indicate severe problems)
Capillary Refill Time (the number of seconds it takes for a portion of the gum to return to normal after applying pressure with your finger tip- usually less than 2 seconds)
this information will serve you well in the assessment phase.
have an emergency first aid kit on hand.
take a look at this kit and read the listed components to fashion one of your own.
there are some things not included in the kit that you'll need to provde:
- a muzzle (you can fashion one from bandaging. gently wrap a strip of bandage around the nose, under the chin, and tie behind the ears.)
- a large pair of closure tweezers for use with the skin stapler
- crazy glue if you don't want to use a stapler. i think if i had some, i would have tried to use it out of desperation, but i am not certain. i know surgical glue can be purchased at veterinary medical supply houses, but the healthiest healing takes place from the internal to the external (which is why one should avoid herbs like comfrey in topically treating sizable or deep lacerations; comfrey heals the exterior so quickly that the interior cant keep up which can cause infections and other complications). some people swear by crazy glue for wound closure. it's something for everyone to research and give thought to. contrary to what one might think, it is not pain free, and causes an intense burning sensation.
and last, but not least:
because knowledge is empowering, and here at the farm, we believe that knowledge should be free. we present two free publications for you to choose from, to begin learning about handling that unforseen, unthinkable emergency.
here is a 50 plus page animal emergency first aid booklet to wet your whistle with. it's a primer of sorts and is simple with some interesting tid bits of information. r
the best book by far is this one. it is chock full of photo illustrations and contains over 600 pages of information ... it's an an owners manuel of sorts, or an emergency handbook for dogs. i suggest that you download it and save it to your computer, your kindle, or any other longterm storage device. read it, study it. be prepared.
UPDATE: pepper has been cleared to run by the vet, who also proscribed some more antibiotics and a cleaning 2-3 times daily with hydrogen peroxide. he said hydrogen peroxide should be avoided when a wound is going to be sutured, otherwise, you want to kill off (debride) the top layer of cells while healing. he congratulated us all for doing a really good job with her wounds and wants to see her in six weeks to see how the problematic area is healing.