The above image is a set of stairs not far from our house and our last apartment. Zack and I used to walk those steps almost every sunny day. It's one of the places that I felt belonged to us, because much of the time, we've been the only ones out walking those stairs, or the streets that connect to those stairs. For the past several years, we've lived in mainly residential neighborhoods. So when Zack and I would go on long, sprawling, exploratory walks, we'd mainly walk past houses and apartment buildings and condos. It might sound boring, but I love those walks. And Zack is an ideal companion for wandering. He does his own thing on his end of the leash, but he checks in with me regularly, sometimes by slowing down and leaning against me for pets, and sometimes just by looking around until he makes eye contact with me. Sometimes he finds a sunny spot and lets me know we need to sit in the grass and hang out for a while. Zack hates the cold and he hates rain even more, so sunny days are kind of doubly exciting. On sunny days, Zack makes it clear he wants to walk for a while. I have almost always been thrilled to oblige, even if it meant I was late for something else.
A couple days ago, I was walking by myself and came across those same stairs. And I found myself suddenly overcome with longing for my long wandering walks with Zack. That's because, over the last couple of months, we've discovered that it might be a long time before Zack can go for a long walk. In fact, he might never be able to go for a long walk again. That's because both of his front wrists are collapsing, and eventually, they will most likely collapse completely, which will make it very difficult and painful for him to walk at all. The condition is called canine carpal hyperextension. It's a condition that's not very common, but it's not entirely uncommon. It can happen because of an injury or because of a disease. (Zack's is probably from an injury.) And it's a condition that doesn't heal; it usually just gets worse.
We first started figuring out that Zack's wrists were collapsing a couple of months ago. And it's been tough. We talked about what might happen, and whether we were prepared to make the decision to put him to sleep if necessary. We also saw many, many vets, and Aa started researching canine carpal hyperextension like crazy. (I am extremely grateful to him for doing it.) During this process, we started learning about treatment options. The main one is a surgery that fuses Zack's wrist bones together. During recovery, the bones will hopefully grow together and make the ligaments and tendons that are failing irrelevant. He will lose range of motion, but he will be able to walk and do most of the other things he was able to do before the carpal hyperextension started. The surgery is has a high rate of success, but it's major enough that they can only do one leg at a time and the recovery can take 3 months. There's no guarantee his bones will heal correctly, and, of course, all surgery is risky. This is leaving aside the cost of the surgery. It's not cheap.
Our other option is for Zack to wear custom braces for the rest of his life on his two front legs. Our thinking was that the braces, coupled with regular physical therapy, could give him a lot of his active life back w/o the risks inherent in two big surgeries. There is a great animal rehab center in Shoreline, and over the past month, during our twice-weekly therapy visits, everyone there has fallen in love with Zack. So for a while, it seemed like we were on the right track. Then we got the braces.
They seem sort of crazy, don't they? But I can get them on him, and he's tolerating them for now, so we'll see how the next couple of months go. It does seem likely, though, that Zack will be getting the surgery at some point in the next year. And in the meantime, when he's not wearing the braces - he can't wear them all the time - he's still limping. His wrists are still collapsed. He doesn't seem to be in pain, which is really great. But he can only go outside to go to the bathroom - we can't let him do much else. And on the few sunny days we've had since this started, Zack's let me know that he wants to keep walking. He wants to wander with me. And I can't do it. It will hurt him if we try.
So here's the realization I had while I was looking at those stairs. We may never go on one of our long, wandering walks again, and that kind of breaks my heart. I am really, really hopeful we will again someday, though. And if these braces work out, and if the surgeries are successful, we totally could. But right now, I'm accepting that this summer cannot include the long, wandering walks that have become a kind of tradition for Zack and me. I won't feel like we own the quiet streets and beautiful overgrown weeds and secret staircases we discover and explore together. Please don't get me wrong - I am really grateful to have this little dog in my life. He's part of my family and I love him very much. I know Aa and I will do whatever we need to do to make sure he has a good life. But summer is coming, and I already miss those long, lovely walks with Zack so much.