Read the heart warming story of Puppy-Girl as he changed forever the lives of all of the Keesling family. The story is a feature column written by Hoofprints owner, Gina Keesling, as she recognizes animals that we've known and loved. You can find Labrador artprints and other dog related items at

Puppy Girl
"Puppy-Girl and Rob - shortly after the umpteenth "NO MORE DOGS" decree. Who could resist that sweet face?"

Labrador Retriever
Joined the Keesling family 2006

After my emergency appendectomy in 2006, I had hoped that the medical "trials" for our family might be over for a time, both for our mental well-being and our bank account. But alas, it was not to be. When I took our small herd of dogs to the vet for their annual checkup, I voiced to Dr Joy my concern for Black Labrador "Puppy" (original name, huh?) as she had gotten a little thin and had been acting lethargic lately.

Puppy-Girl was a stray - dumped out as a young puppy the previous year. The other dogs were grumpy to her - but she won them (and us) over in typical Labrador sweetness so she joined our family as dog #4. We'd treated her for anemia and hookworms, and she perked up considerably. So naturally I assumed the hookworms were back, and thus the anemia and lethargy.

How wrong I was when she was diagnosed with not one, but two, BROKEN hind legs. A stifle injury rarely seen in both legs unless congenital - and then the prognosis is not good. Expensive surgery was the only option to repair the damage - I discovered after extensive research (thanks to my internet friends; veterinary experts who offered honest - and free - advice)

The smartest thing might have been to put Puppy out of her misery, and save her the pain of bone reconstruction in BOTH legs, and spare our already strained finances. I thought about the piece above - as Puppy-Girl is truly a good soul - "loving everybody all the time and being nice".

I wanted her to stay a little longer - so we could all continue to learn from her; she's been so sweet to the other dogs - even when they are not very nice to her. And I have never seen a dog so un-worried and relaxed - we often say in the warehouse that if we could learn to manage our stress like Puppy, we'd have it made!

So, ultimately, the surgery was successful. The surgeon thought the damage was caused by a trauma, and not congenital. Which is a good thing - but doesn't say much for my proficiency as a dog caretaker - I can't tell worms from broken legs! And after all those hours of sitting in on horse lameness lectures with my farrier husband... I guess it's a good thing I am not a farrier or vet.
"This beautiful dog lives up to her legacy as a retriever. She keeps the geese from spoiling the lawn, and with no training whatsoever will swim out and retrieve a shot muskrat - while the rest of our dogs are cowering from the gunshot sound."

Why Humans Live Longer Than Dogs - author unknown

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family there were no miracles left for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home. As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for the four-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, "I know why."

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, "People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?" The four-year-old continued, "Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long."

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply, Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God...

"Is this joyful - or what? She's not obsessing over the fact that she was an unwanted orphan - who now has defective legs held together with pins, wires, and screws. Nope. She's livin' her life and lovin' every minute of it. Sore legs and all."

Anyone who's ever had to consider the decision to euthanize an animal (or not) knows it is not an easy thing. One morning shortly after the surgery, our retired neighbor Nick stopped by and immediately asked about the dog's expensive surgery, in the disapproving tone reserved for practical folks who are somehow able to eliminate emotion from difficult financial decisions.

I curtly told him that I could not make the decree to kill the dog, so if finances were strained for a while, then so be it. I was in no mood to hear any crotchety advice about a matter that was over and done with.

Now Nick is one of those characters that you meet once in a lifetime. He emigrated to the US from Greece; landed in NY as a young boy without even shoes (sounds cliche - but true) His family became involved in the restaurant business, and he eventually put himself through pharmacy school. He owned pharmacies in Chicago, invested in real estate, and retired a very wealthy man. His days now (at over 75 years of age) are spent with his wife here in rural Indiana; tending to his home and pond, visiting family, friends and neighbors, and offering us unsolicited financial advice in his gruff greek accent. He is a veritable wellspring of knowledge and experience, so we try to keep that in mind when his comments are not necessarily what we want to hear.

So what he said next was a great source of both amusement and contemplation for me. After calculating how many truck payments could have been made with the dog's surgery money, out of the blue, he proclaimed that I was sure to go to Heaven now; that when I got to the Pearly Gates Saint Peter would say to me, "Gina, I sent you my dog and you fixed her - Come on in!"
In spite of the success with the surgery, here were a few unpleasantries along the way - the biggest of which was the bill. After consulting with the surgeon and discussing the options - he arrived upon a price, and I was asked to sign a paper stating I understood what was being done, the charges due, and that I was responsible for said charges. The next interaction I had with the vet's office was a call saying that the surgery was successful, the dog was doing well, and that additional damage had been discovered and repaired; which was covered in the original amount quoted by the surgeon. Whew, I thought.

Unfortunately, when I went to pick up my dog, the bill DID include significant extra charges for the additional work done. Yuck. At that point, I was forced to do this creepy "bargaining" exercise with the office manager, who graciously "split the difference" in the overage. Yuck again. At that point, all I wanted was to get Puppy-Girl and get the heck out of there.

So her happy homecoming was overshadowed by more financial woe; my husband was furious that they did not honor their quote AND that I not make a scene in the lobby and force them to do so. In the following weeks I rehearsed in the back of my mind, what I was going to say when I met with the surgeon for our follow-up visit - how the whole matter with the billing was handled badly by the office staff, etc, etc, etc. That was not a professional way to handle a business transaction, and they were going to hear about it from me!

The day finally came, and I loaded up Puppy-Girl and we made our trek to the vet. There were a lot of cars in the parking lot, especially for the end of the day, and the car I parked beside contained an older lady and a little boy, both of which were crying. Another gentleman stood nearby, engaged in a very serious conversation on his cell phone. It was obvious that someone's beloved pet had been hurt or killed.

Suddenly my need to set the place straight over it's billing blunders disappeared. All the things I had rehearsed saying vanished from my brain, and I was left feeling terribly, terribly sad for that family, and incredibly thankful that my own dog was alive, and I had the opportunity to pay money (albeit a lot of it) to keep her healthy and here with us for a while longer. So, as a matter of perspective, I am thankful that this time, God chose to prune on my pocketbook, instead of my heart.
Puppy Girl
"Getting dirty - done right. Take a swim and get all wet - then roll around in dry dirt for an extra crusty effect."

Now, in 2008, two years after the surgery Puppy-Girl is healthy and relatively sound. Her job is to keep the geese who visit our pond from overstaying their welcome and pooping all over the lawn. She's dedicated in helping them with their exit, and will willingly swim after them to deliver the "It's time to leave." message.
Heaven's Doggy Door by Mary Ellen Arthur

My best friend closed his eyes last night,
As his head was in my hand.
The doctors said he was in pain,
And it was hard for him to stand.

The thoughts that scurried through my head,
As I cradled him in my arms,
Were of his younger, puppy years,
And O, his many charms.

Today, there was no gentle nudge
With an intense "I love you" gaze,
Only a heart that's filled with tears
Remembering our joy-filled days.

But an angel just appeared to me,
And he said, "You should cry no more.
God also loves our canine friends:
He's installed a 'doggy-door'!"

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