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One Dog’s Torn ACL Breaks Two Hearts

This past weekend was supposed to be the easiest hunt of the year. A reward for a good dog that performed great all season long. The pup, Beau, and I had already logged plenty of miles in numerous states on essentially nothing but public land. We worked for our birds and we found our birds, but now it was time for our annual pilgrimage to a good friend’s property in South Dakota.

All Beau wants for Christmas is the ability to hit the fields running next fall.

This was supposed to be a cakewalk; what I ended up with was a dog that can’t walk.

By mid-Saturday morning, the action was exactly what I had anticipated. Most birds were flushing wild, but there were enough  “heart attack hens” and tight-holding roosters left to keep all four dogs busy. Beau was flying back and forth and a bit hard to control with so much scent wafting through the air, but I was ok with this. After all, this was supposed to be her payday for a season’s worth of work. Her tail was wagging, feathers were stuck to her muzzle and there was a renewed jump in her step – until that jump slowly morphed into a limp.

It started off as  barely noticeable, just a small hitch in her giddy-up while walking from field to field, but It quicky  escalated to  her rear left leg being hoisted to her gut while she hopped along in front of me. As if to say “I’ll just play it off as no big deal, he’ll still let me hunt,” she tried to stay ahead of me as if nothing was wrong. Not so fast pooch.

She was crated for the rest of the trip and with that, my hunt quickly turned into a nature walk. The spark was gone, the interest fleeting. There I was, hunting with some of my best friends, laughing along the way as we got closer to our limits – but with an unsettling emptiness looming within me. An emptiness I hope will be filled by next fall.

This week Beau was diagnosed with a completely torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). She’s not even two years old, she was just beginning to come into her own and now both she and I have to start over. This past evening she looked up at me while sitting awkwardly next to the kitchen table with the easiest expression I’ve ever read on her face: “I’m sorry.” A look of remorse stared me in the eyes and neither of us knew what to do.

She knows something is wrong but not to what extent. I know what’s wrong but not what this means for our future. Both of our hearts are caught in our throats. By the time her second birthday rolls around in February, hopefully I’ll have more answers. For now all I have is an extra bag of bones and ambiguities.

To have surgery, or not to have surgery, that is the question…

The Over/Under blog is written by Andrew Vavra, Pheasants Forever’s Marketing Specialist.

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17 Responses to “One Dog’s Torn ACL Breaks Two Hearts”

  1. Tony Barlow says:

    Tough to read this Andrew. I am always amazed at how my girl makes it through without getting hurt when we are out. They seem so invincible. Prayers and good thoughts your way as you try to make a decision.

  2. Greg Hansen says:

    Andrew, Man that sucks all day long. Very sorry to hear about that injury. I hope for you and Beau it works out so that both of you can enjoy many more days in the field. Best wishes.

  3. Matt Ortiz says:

    I’ve been in your shoes 2x in one year with the same dog. First was on opening day of 2010 and the next leg went this past July. I feel the pain. Luckily I have another dog but my injured dog will be on the sidelines for almost 2 years before she hunts again.

    Opt for the TPLO procedure. It’s a little more money but everyone I know says it’s the best out there.

    Take care

  4. Rob Nutt says:


    I have been through this as well. My Vet gave me two options. Reconstructive surgery, or rest her for six weeks. I went with the latter. It meant she had to be kenneled for six weeks. She could only come out to eat and do her duty. I had to carry her outside and then keep her on a leash. It was not a fun time, but after six weeks, it healed and surgery was not required. The Vet said I was lucky, as only about 10% of dogs with this injury, can be healed with out surgery. Good luck in which ever option you choose.

  5. Mitch says:

    A few weeks ago my dog got spurred by a rooster I had shot at long range and wounded. The sucker was a young of the year with a stubby spur, but man did he kick my dog hard in the chest. My hunting trip ended early with an emergency vet trip and 8 staples in my dog’s chest to seal up the 3″ gash that went clear through the skin. My dog will never hunt pheasant again unless he’s wearing his neoprene vest. He’s a vizsla, so there’s not much protection there to begin with.

  6. Janae Janicke says:

    Andrew I am very sorry to hear this. I was playing fetch with my doberman when I saw her holding her leg the way you mentioned above. Took her into the vet and he told me that she torn her ACL. He also told me there was a 1 and 3 chance that she would blow out the other one, luckily it never happened. Like Matt said above, if you can go for the surgery.

    Good luck with your friend Beau.

  7. Jeff says:

    Sorry to hear about this. My dads yellow lab has has had this happen as well. She torn her ACL in on leg, they got the surgery, then a few years later she torn the one in her other leg. He had to make the hard decision to retire her in her prime. Now I just hope my yellow lab is able to avoid this injury. Good luck to you and Beau.

  8. Roger Okamoto says:

    Several years ago I had a Golden that was hit by a car, tearing his ACL. Had the local Vet do the fishing string operation to replace it. The Vet botched the operation making the replacement too tight, causing the dog a very tight step. I live in Sacramento and knew that the UCD Vet school was highly thought of so I took the dog in for an evaluation. Long story, short they did an amazing job fixing the problem caused by the regular Vet. To this day I will refer all my hunting buddies to the UCD Small Animal Clinic when the problems are in the slightest bit out of the ‘Norm’ for a run of the mill Vet. Good luck from a hunter who knows how you feel

  9. Elsa says:


    Bummer! Our Pointer Rocks had inhaled a grass seed that migrated through her lungs and into her chest cavity. She almost died during surgery because the amount of infection was so bad – vet said they pulled out what amounted to a beer pitcher full of puss from her chest cavity. It was a lengthy recovery process (she was 9 at the time) and we almost lost her in this deal. She now hunts with half a lung on one side. Not to mention expenses (I try not to mention them, but just finished paying the vet school off this year). On the bright side, two years later, at 11…she retrieved her first sage grouse…. and at 10, just a year out, she hunted great and retrieved her first prairie chicken. She still has that spark – I know Beau will recover and have many years of roosters ahead of her. Rocks is still the hardest worker on our string – and we still call her the “A-Team” – quail cower when they hear her name!

  10. Vicki says:

    This happened to our “once in a lifetime” Brittany . . . we opted for the TPLO surgery done by an orthopedic vet specialist, and the dog made a complete recovery. Following the prescribed re-hab mandate of 8 weeks of crate rest with 3x daily leash walks of increasing duration, special leg exercises, and restrictions from over-use for a few months after the first 8 weeks, was key to the success. I thought the dog would go bonkers from so much crate rest; on the contrary, he loved all the extra TLC and the leash walks were so fun for him.

    Especially for a young dog, I would highly recommend finding the best ortho vet you can, and doing the TPLO. Good luck with Beau.

  11. Harvey Hazen says:

    I had a ten year old lab a few years back that had the same. Took him the the vet school at Washington State University for the surgery. He recovered well hunted until he was thirteen and died at 16. Beau will recover and be back in the field good luck.

  12. cory says:

    Rob Nutt – who is your vet? Ive decided on TPLO surgury this thursday and never heard the option of Rest. her’s is a partial tear and that’s what i wanted to do – rest her. All Vet’s said, no – will fully tear then a 3 legged dog, and/or will scar up so bad will deteriorate joint so bad…. argh. thanks

  13. Andrew Vavra says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Thank you for the outpouring of support, well wishes and good advice! Judging by some of your stories, it’s clear I’m not alone in having to deal with this curve ball, hopefully it all turns out for the best. As you can guess, I’ll be documenting her recovery along the way.

    @Cory, as of right now, I’m sitting at 50/50 between surgery and giving my pup 8 weeks to show improvement on her own and then deciding if surgery is truly necessary. Nothing compares to the advice of multiple trained vets, but sometimes alternative solution sites such as this one: http://www.tiggerpoz.com/ seem to make sense (we are in no way affiliated with the gentleman who operates it).

    - Andrew

  14. jeff says:

    Sorry to hear about your dog! I hope it all works out ok.

    This is exactly why a person who lives to hunt HAS to have more than one dog. I have 3, but could use a couple more if the wife would let me.

  15. Bob De Vos says:

    Same situation 2 years ago. My vet sent me to a specialist in Appleton WI. Haley is 100% now and in no pain. Avoid the fish line restructuring, it stretches and is short term. If you want more info contact Dr. Barker at Ashwaubenon Animal Hospital in Green Bay.

  16. wayne says:

    If it was cancer, I would say just keep your pup comfortable and give it all the love you can. With an option for surgery and many more years ahead of you, surgery is your only option, if you want to do it right. If it were your kid, what would you do? Same same…….just saying.

  17. Joel says:

    I had a boarder colie that tore his acl when he was about nine or so! hwe got it fixed and did the physical thearpy that was taught to us by our vet. it took about a year or so but he got back to prety much normal. he was a little slower but some of that was age. he really showed no signs of it after a couple of years. i say do it!!!!


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