How to Rebuild a Dog | A Story


In May 2015 one of the beloved McGee dogs, Charlie (a 7 year old Border Collie), suffered a pretty bad fall on a beach, which left him with 2 broken front legs, among other more minor injuries.

Today, he is on the path to recovery and I wanted to share a few thoughts about how the family (along with fantastic vet support) rebuilt our dog.

It was about 11pm on a Friday night when I got a call from my parents, who had been holidaying in their motorhome with Charlie while I dog-sat our other dog at home. “There’s been a bit of an accident,” Mum said, with all the gravity of someone about to announce the death of a grandparent. “We think Charlie might have broken a leg”.
My mum can sometimes be a bit melodramatic (sorry Mum!) so at the time, I didn’t consider it to be a huge deal – except that weekend and night-rate vet bills aren’t pretty, and we don’t have pet insurance (that’s another story).

Turns out I was wrong. Our chunky chappie had damaged bones, ligaments and tendons in both of his front paws – the emergency vet patched him up and sent him home with instructions to speak to our own vet about the likelihood of putting him to sleep (which, we were told, was the most probable outcome).
When he came home that night, he was in such a sorry state, dazed by painkillers and wide-eyed from shock, and the biggest McGee dog looked very tiny indeed. A bit like when he came to us as a rescue pooch, too young to be un-mothered:


There was a lingering, suffocating silence in the house which told me that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to ask if we were going to put him to sleep.
I tossed and turned all night, hoping the last night of Charlie’s life wasn’t going to be filled with injury, pain and fear. Idealists that we are, none of us voiced our secret concerns, and in hindsight it’s a good job.

The following morning we bundled him off to our own vet – strapped up and pathetic – to hope for good news. While it was thin on the ground, the vet did suggest a referral to a local-ish Supervet who had an orthopedic specialist. They weren’t sure he could be fixed, but we thought it worth a visit. In the meantime he was re-bandaged, medicated and we were given instructions on how to help him do very basic things…. like poo. If you’ve ever had a medium/large dog, you’ll know you don’t want to help it poo under any circumstances. He is big and heavy, and so is his poo.

Right here I’ll note that our Charlie is not a particularly lighthearted creature under normal circumstances. He’s lovingly referred to as ‘Snarlie’ at home, which basically sums him up. Nevertheless, he was taking all of this upheaval in his stride. Perhaps it was the drugs. Whatever it was, seeing this grumpy mutt holding his temper, plodding along despite his injury was quite touching.

A few days later we visited Dr Charlie Sale at Oakwood Veterinary Practice, who we were were told “isn’t cheap, but is very, very good”. Snarlie Charlie was looked over and declared too fat, but also repairable over time.

We learned he would need repairs to tendons, plates in his paws and legs, and at least one bone graft, the recovery process would be long and the surgeries invasive. Obviously at that point our concerns were about his quality of life following such an ordeal – but Dr Charlie had done this procedure countless times – he’d even done it once before on 2 front legs.


We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we scheduled surgery for Charlie’s first leg 4 weeks ago. He did really well, stole the hearts of the nurses and came home skinny and dazed, but on the mend. They put these really cool sleeves on his legs, like what you’d cover a golf club with. He wasn’t keen on them, but they certainly stopped him gnawing at his stitches, bumping his cast or trying to chew it off. Despite this, his painkillers were so good he did regain his mobility slightly earlier than we’d expected, which made for some very heart-in-mouth moments when he’d try to sprint into the garden and get himself tangled in his own feet.

Another huge blessing is that he regained his ability to poo on his own, which was a celebration in itself. Not just for us – he’s quite a private animal, so I think he felt a little better for it too.

With lots of love, patience and perseverance from the family, the vets and nurses at Oakwood and our local vet and heaps of determination from Charlie, we’re seeing our grumpy old man get better every day. It will be several months before he’s walking properly again, and perhaps a year until he’s able to come close to running – but he is with us.
(January 16 update: Charlie can now run, bounce and even tackle stairs again – if you hadn’t read this story, you’d never know what he went through)
We rebuilt this dog because, expensive as it was, it’s nice to have a little grumble coming from under the dining table when you walk past. We rebuilt the dog because, grumpy as he is, he’s charming. He has a kiss for everyone, sometimes several, and we knew he had plenty more kisses to distribute.

So…how do you rebuild a dog?
Mostly with love.



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