Bryn, Joe and I were eager to drive to the nineteen-mile-long Torch Lake to join four dear friends on their pontoon boat. Their three-year-old labradoodle, Lucy, would be there, too. She’s much smaller, weighing in at 27 pounds, while Bryn weighs 53 pounds. The two dogs bumped noses casually to exchange greetings. Lucy-dog showed Bryn how to hop onto the pontoon, and both dogs settled in for the ride. It was a stunning day. The calm, emerald water suddenly transformed into a rich dark blue color, marking a precipitous 68-foot drop into the abyss, from just 15 feet of water. A giant, glacier-carved, shelved canyon lay underneath, allowing for many gorgeous watercolor changes as the sun shone! Stunning Torch Lake is aptly named.
By the way, it’s nearly 300 feet to the bottom in some places.
After about 15 minutes we’d reached a much shallower area - about 5 feet of water- and they dropped anchor. Everyone (but me) would be able to touch bottom. Lucy watched intently, knowing that very soon her dry world would become a water wonderland.
Tim opened the pontoon’s aluminum gate and gave Lucy permission to dive in. As a shocked Bryn stood back and watched, the little dog leaped joyfully into the water, made a big splash and then swam in a large circle, thrilled.
Lucy LOVES water.
Bryn yipped and moaned as she stood on the pontoon’s brink, trembling with the need to follow Lucy’s example. But she’d never jumped like this before! All six of us urged her on. She howled, tried, lost her nerve at the last second- and so Tim gave her a little push. Whee! In she went, joining Lucy in the 72-degree lake. Then Tim threw in a well-used wooden stick; Lucy moved efficiently through the water to retrieve it. Bryn paddled close by and watched, filled with admiration, as Lucy made straight for the ladder, got a light boost from Joe and climbed up the rest of the rungs. On the pontoon she shook herself vigorously before leaping back in when Tim threw the stick again.
But this time Bryn, still swimming, saw that stick coming. Howling and shrieking with glee she swam hard, reaching it seconds before Lucy did. Triumphant, she paddled to the ladder, accepted a boost, and climbed up to the deck, sozzled and triumphant.
All went well, until, a few leaps later, Bryn somehow caught a respectable bunch of long white hair near the tip of her tail in a tiny aluminum crack in the ladder just above the water. She tried to swim away but was unable to break free. Baffled, she continued to try, but began instead to lose ground and sink. Tim and Tammy noticed she was in deep distress, and just as Tim rushed to reach down to try to free her tail, she tore it away. We helped her climb the ladder to the deck, where she shook herself and coughed a bit.
But then, she saw Lucy jumping in and wanted the same, and so the leap and fetch games went for a good while. Eventually though, we wore them out. Both dogs rested on deck while we enjoyed a light meal with iced tea.
After much laughter and chat, we made the twenty-minute journey back to the boat launch area, located right at the northern tip of Torch Lake.
Bryn lay quietly, enjoying the easy motion of the boat, and upon arrival she hopped off easily.
She stopped in her tracks on the dock and looked back at her hind end. Her tail seemed to be –well, gone. She looked for it between her legs, puzzled and increasingly upset. What was happening? It didn’t feel ‘there.’ It was as though it had vanished. She couldn’t take two steps before looking behind her. Confused and alarmed, she looked up at me. I realized that it was hanging down, straight as a pencil, lifeless; the tip dragged along the ground. She couldn’t wag it. For her, there was nothing to wag.
When she peed she didn’t- couldn’t- lift it.
Alarmed now, I felt it carefully all the way down; she made no sign that it hurt, or that I was even touching it. I held it up, let go, and it dropped. Clunk. Her poor tail was totally numb.
She stood all the way back to Traverse City, as sitting without her tail in its accustomed place felt wrong.
Home again, I offered dinner but she wasn’t interested. She continued to look at her behind, and couldn’t settle anywhere for more than a minute. In case she was experiencing pain now I gave her one 81mg aspirin.
After 30 minutes she was finally able to lie still without restlessness.
The next morning at 7 o’clock I rang Tim to get the full story, as he had been right there from the start. After detailing what he’d seen, he told me that their golden, Ollie, had had this same presentation years ago. For nearly a month her beautiful tail had hung straight down, inoperative for unknown reasons. Then, one morning, Tim witnessed a dramatic change. Ollie held her tail gracefully; it was functioning again!
So, there was hope...
Armed with this detailed information I took Bryn to the ER and explained what had happened. The vet felt along her tail; about halfway down its length Bryn looked back at her.
“There’s definitely swelling here,” said the doctor, softly. “I could do a scan, but that’s costly, or I could offer pain meds for the discomfort she’s experiencing now, and we could await developments.
“She probably has ‘Drop Tail.’ We see this presentation sometimes in Goldens and labs when, say, a toddler pulls and yanks the dog’s tail as it unsteadily walks behind. All that tugging causes soreness or numbness as nerves are stretched and stressed. The tail will hang limply. ‘Drop Tail’ is a pretty good description of what’s happened here. Bryn immediately noticed its apparent ‘absence’ yesterday- I think the entire area has gone numb. Perhaps the nerve bundle was under too much pressure from her powerful attempt to free herself...It might take days or weeks for feeling to return, or she might never recover sensation.”
She continued to feel along its length.
“I don’t feel any breakage, though.”
I felt sick. Bryn’s lovely tail might never curve again, or express itself!
We settled on mild pain medication to be given twice daily for three days. I would monitor Bryn and the vet would ring me in a couple of days to check on her progress.
It was awful to watch her move outside and down the block on our walks. Her tail dragged. I had to clean the end frequently, as it attracted mud, twigs and leaf bits. She never noticed. When other dogs barked from their porches her tail remained motionless. When I’d approach her as she lay sleeping she’d merely lift her head to say hello; not one wag could be summoned.
Then, four days later, she and I went outside early on a lovely morning. And, to my great joy, her tail slowly began to curve! When she did her business it obediently lifted a fraction; a day later it had resumed its lovely curve at the tip. The ultimate test? When two dogs barked at her from behind their fence it rose to flag status!
She had recovered! And so fast! You can imagine my enormous relief!
What a great ending for this tail, eh?