Bostian column: Eye injury proves tough hunting dog has fragile side
BY KELLY BOSTIAN Outdoors
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
2/15/11 at 7:25 AM
Go to Kelly Bostian's blog Original Print Headline: Injury reveals dog's fragile side
KEEP YOUR fingers crossed for Cowboy.
World contributor Jack Morris' black Labrador retriever, who has been featured several times in outdoors stories, has nearly lost an eye to a Canada goose in a freak accident. He is a working dog, and injury is always a risk, but for such a skilled dog to suffer impairment from such an odd event is almost too sad to ponder. Veterinarians have said that a one-eyed dog of his talent and experience probably could compensate, but let's hope he won't have to do that.
Eye injuries from sharp-billed birds like sandhill cranes, from thorns or porcupines or from a fight with a cat are not surprising, but for a wounded goose to actually get its bill onto the cornea of Cowboy's eye?
"I've never seen that before, specifically," said veterinary ophthalmologist Robert Gwin, the specialist who has taken over Cowboy's care. "He could pick up a thousand more geese and never have that happen."
This is not a warning against sending a hunting dog to retrieve a wounded bird. A 12- or 15-pound goose can challenge a dog, no question, but experienced Labs - especially a 105-pounder like Cowboy - can subdue those big honkers. Of course it's always best to quickly kill the bird in the first place.
Dogs have three eyelids, two fast-working inner eyelids and the outer eyelid, an adaptation that allows them to do things like run through briars and deep grass and play with their claw-wielding brethren without injury most of the time.
When Cowboy cried out after he grabbed that wounded goose the morning of Feb. 6, there was little doubt it was serious. He's tough, and yelping is not a typical part of his vocabulary. But this injury made him melt. He cried out at every loud noise or bump for two days.
"It's excruciating. It's an extremely painful injury," is how Sand Springs veterinarian Phil McKinney put it.
Morris got McKinney on the phone to ask what to do from the field. Cowboy's eye looked like a deflated balloon. "Bring him in," was the reply. At the office, they found a triangular rip in the cornea, the clear outer covering of the eye, nearly in line with the dog's pupil. Most of the fluid in the eye had drained out. McKinney did emergency surgery and referred him to Gwin.
Gwin credited McKinney with saving the eye and said that Morris did the right thing. "You have to bring them in; that's all you can do," Gwin said. McKinney put sutures in the cornea to hold it together and used a hypodermic needle to inject fluid back inside the eye.
If not repaired and inflated, the cornea could have adhered to the iris and crippled it. Infection from whatever the goose's bill might have introduced into the eye is still a concern more than a week later, and scarring, formation of a cataract that may not be operable, and the dog's general ability to see with that eye will be unknown for weeks, Gwin said.
Cowboy has been semi-sedated and sleeping in his master's bedroom since it happened. "He's taken over the house," Morris said. Antibiotics, painkillers, sedatives, and five different kinds of eye drops, some administered hourly, have been required. Stomach medicine helped curb some odoriferous side effects I can personally attest to.
Morris took Cowboy to Gwin's office in Oklahoma City before the blizzard hit and had a follow-up with him Monday at his Tulsa office. The ophthalmologist said he essentially refined what McKinney did and had instruments to more fully evaluate the injury. He replaced more fluid the eye had lost and put a couple sutures in Cowboy's outer eyelid to keep it shut and help it heal, sort of like an eye patch would work on a human.
"He's doing great," Gwin said Monday, reiterating that we will just have to wait and see how it all turns out.
Morris has watched the procedures closely, all the time amazed at what's been physically done to the eye. "It's hard to put into words, exactly, how tough that eye is but at the same time how fragile it is," he said.
Tough, yet fragile, just like Cowboy and all those dogs like him.
Cowboy, a black Lab owned by World contributor Jack Morris, watches for birds at dawn on a recent morning. KELLY BOSTIAN / Tulsa World