The Injury: How Taj Broke His Leg

Shingletown Gap Trial (Rothrock National Forest)
On April 28, I took my two salukis, Taj and Rumi, hiking on Tussey Mountain in Rothrock State Forest. The weather was gorgeous and we started off on the upper end of the Shingletown Gap trail (off Laurel Run Road). Shingletown Gap is a great trial for hiking with dogs (see Rothrock Map), but you have to be careful during hunting seasons! Hiking is our favorite hobby and my dogs and I have easily covered over a thousand miles of hiking together. Salukis are sighthounds and have a high prey drive; however, I do let them off-leash when we are far away from roads. As courtesy to other people hiking, I often use orange vests and dog bells. I've also found that using the Garmin GPS tracking system can be helpful. 

I had left Taj off-lead and he was off and bounding across the fields. He stopped to do a regal-esque pose and scan the scenery. I was walking ahead on the trail with Rumi about 50 yards up with my back to Taj. The serenity was broken when I heard the notorious blood-curling death scream. My stomach dropped and I had the initial feeling of panic, but then I thought that at least if he was screaming - regardless of whatever happened had transpired - he was still alive.

I looked back to see Taj in a crumpled heap writhing all over the ground. He was still shrieking and screaming and very much traumatized. I ran up closer and could see that his left front leg was horribly displaced - bending in the opposite direction that it should be and hanging out limply from his body. Taj was petrified and in total shock. I had to yell at him several times to get his attention. He freaked out and tried to get up and hobble/run away - not understanding what had happened to his leg. I grabbed him to my chest and just held his body against mine tightly talking to him and trying to soothe him. Once I had him in my arms, he started to calm down and the "death cries" tapered down to whimpers. Rumi was very upset and kept poking his nose at Taj trying to decipher what was happening.

I was a good third of a mile from my car - hiking alone on the mountain. Despite the severity of the break and the grotesque angles of the leg, the bone had not breached through the skin. I had another moment of utter panic thinking what I am going to do - how am I going to help him. I had worked as a vet tech to help support myself through my undergrad years, but I did not want to touch this break or try to splint it. Taj had stopped crying altogether now and I knew he trusted me to get him help. The calm realization hit that it was solely up to me to get him off the mountain and to the vet asap. By the time it would take for help to arrive, I could already have him at the vets. I didn't know if he had injured anything else internally, so I elected to not wait and carry him down by myself.

Draping him around my neck was not an option; due to the nature of this break I had to orient the broken leg outward ahead of us. He was too badly mangled to walk himself - so that option was out. Taj weighs about 60 lbs. I decided our best bet was for me to hold him tight to my chest and carry him back to the car. I tied Rumi's leash around my waist. Said some soothing words to Taj and lifted him up. He shrieked a little bit, but settled as I started to walk excruciatingly slowly back to the car. We walked up hills, down hills, across a stream, and finally when I thought I couldn't walk any more we saw the car in sight. I made it to the car and set him down (another shriek) and opened up the car doors. I ushered Rumi into the front seat and was trying to figure out how I was going to get Taj in the back seat of my sedan. Luckily, he figured it out for both of us and jumped in himself with his three legs (accompanied with another death shriek). Both horrified and relieved, I helped him orient the best I could. I think the car represented "safety" to him and therefore he wanted to get into the vehicle as quickly as possible. 

I was shaking from both my worry for him and the exertion it took to carry him the distance. I quickly fumbled with my phone to dial my vet. This was 6:50PM and the vet closed at 7:00PM. Luckily for me, the tech picked up and I let her know that I had an emergency leg break and that we were on our way. As fate would have it, the orthopedic veterinarian was on duty and would wait for us. Taj was a total trooper. I tried to drive as smoothly as I could, but there were slight jars and the resultant whimpering. Taj used his nose to help balance since he couldn't put any weight on the leg. I talked to him, sang songs, did anything I could to try to keep him calm and settled in the back seat. I knew he was in severe pain because he was panting heavily.

I started driving down the windy mountain road and made it to Metzger Animal Hospital in about 15 minutes. Once we got there, Dr. Rider gave him an anesthetic injection then took him back to set the leg in a splint. I could finally 'relax.' Although I knew it would be a long road to recovery, Taj was finally stabilized and his pain addressed. After I put Taj on the stretcher to be wheeled in the back, I could barely lift my arms. I hadn't realized the amount of energy it took to carry him off the mountain because the adrenaline had helped me get him down.

I started to try to think about what might have happened on the trail. Taj was likely running flat out. I believe one of three things happened: 1.) his left front leg landed in a hole 2.) his left front leg landed on uneven ground - e.g. he caught the edge of a ditch 3.) his foot got caught under a root or weed. Regardless he probably went from 20-30 mph to 0 mph in an instant. He also had minor bruises and scrapes from the impact of his fall.

Taj stayed overnight at Metzger Hospital for pain management. Although I wanted to take him home, due to the severity of the break, they could regulate the pain with IV administration better than I could with oral medication. They also had a 24-hour technician there which meant someone would be constantly monitoring him. I was able to go visit him the following day.