Left in the hot summer sun on a country road near Wichita Falls, Texas, the one-year-old pit bull mix didn’t know there was anything wrong with him. Social media reports said an abandoned dog had been seen by a red gate on Sisk Road. On Facebook, someone tagged Amber Browning, a Texas Pit Crew board member, asking her organization to help the dog. The posted pictures and video showed a young dog with serious problems.
“It turns out there were several ‘red gates’ on Sisk Road and finally one of our volunteers found the dog. We named him Sisk after the road he was found on,” explains Browning. “We took him straight to the Animal Hospital in Wichita Falls to be checked by a veterinarian.”
Sisk had what is known as “angular limb deformity” in both of his front legs. This meant the bone or bones grew abnormally such that they were deviated and rotated, making normal walking near impossible. The abnormal angles also put a lot of stress on his elbows and wrists which would eventually lead to crippling osteoarthritis. The exact cause of his deformity is unknown but could be the result of some genetic or congenital defect. Sisk’s legs were so badly deformed that the young dog had been walking on the top of his wrists all of his life. Unbeknown to the Texas Pit Crew, the condition is very painful.
“We had no idea Sisk was in pain. He wasn’t whining or wincing in pain. He constantly wags his tail and is so friendly. He goes up to everyone and every dog he meets. Everyone fell in love with him instantly,” says Browning.
The veterinarians at Animal Hospital suggested that Texas Pit Crew take the dog to a specialist. Amber knew exactly where Sisk needed to go.
“Years ago our own dog needed specialized care and we brought it to OSU,” recalls Browning. “I was very happy with the outcome of that situation and knew Sisk would be in good hands at OSU. So we made an appointment and brought him in for a consultation.”
Amber was told that the cost of surgery and the dog’s subsequent care could run as high as $10,000. Texas Pit Crew is a nonprofit organization. The group formed when volunteers started taking dog houses, dog food and straw around the neighborhood encouraging owners to spay or neuter their dogs. Just last year they began rescuing dogs and have helped 350 dogs so far. This summer, they received a 501c3 classification.
“We don’t have that kind of money so we set up an account on GoFundMe and turned to the public asking them to support Sisk if they thought he should have the surgery,” says Browning. “Within 12 days, more than $14,000 has been raised for Sisk. He is quite the celebrity and has a huge fan base.”
Surgery # 1
Monday, Sept. 15, Tennille Fincher with Texas Pit Crew took a day off from work and drove 3 ½ hours to check Sisk in at OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital for his first surgery. Fourth-year veterinary student Chelsea McKay of Woodward, Okla., was assigned to the case. She took Sisk’s weight and vital signs and went over his medical history with Tennille. Dr. Mark Rochat would be performing the surgery with assistance from small animal surgery resident, Dr. Brandy Cichocki. Dr. Rochat told Tennille that the plan was to operate on Sisk’s left leg first. If his leg healed as expected, he would come back in about four weeks for the second surgery to correct his right leg deformity. Tennille gave Sisk a last hug and was rewarded with many kisses before the dog was taken away to be prepped for surgery.
“The forearm has two bones, the radius and the ulna (just like people) that are tethered together such that both are misshapen and have to be addressed,” explained Rochat. “At surgery, we cut a small section from the ulna at the point where the maximum angulation of the radius occured (called the CORA). This allowed us to cut and realign the radius. Because the abnormal angulation occurs in multiple planes, we have to calculate, through a series of measurements, the 3-D wedge shape of bone to be removed. This is called a cuneiform osteotomy and allows us to simultaneously correct both planes of mal-alignment. We also had to factor in the abnormal rotation of his radius. That’s a little trickier with conventional radiographs and is helped some with computed tomography (CT) but is still a challenge.
“So, after making all those calculations before surgery and cutting the section from the ulna, we exposed the radius at the CORA and made our cuts in the radius. Despite all of the calculations, there is still a bit of ‘art’ to creating a cut that allows the ends of the bone to be apposed edge to edge and make the overall limb as close to what his ‘normal’ would be. The radius and ulna will likely never be straight. We just want the adjacent joints and bones to be properly aligned,” adds Rochat.
Dr. Rochat goes on to say that Sisk is a breed of dog that doesn’t have truly straight bones, even under normal circumstances. So the goal is to align his joints and make him more like what he normally would be.
“Once the cuts were made and we were happy with his alignment and rotation and the degree of contact of the bone ends, we placed a bone plate and screws to hold it all together,” says Rochat. “The plate is held to the bone by a combination of conventional bone screws and a few locking screws that are rigidly fixed to the plate itself and help reduce the risks of the plate and screws coming loose from the bone.”
Sisk came through the surgery fine with no complications. The next day, Chelsea was walking him on a leash outdoors. By Friday, Amber was on her way to Stillwater to pick up Sisk.
“Sisk is young and should heal quickly but that may take anywhere from six to ten weeks,” says Rochat. “We want him to bear weight on his leg but in a controlled fashion. He will need to be kept quiet and his activity very limited. He is already putting weight on the pads of his foot instead of the top of his wrist. Sisk has a lot of contraction of his flexor tendons—the ones on the back of his wrist. Physical therapy and time will help stretch those out to where they should normally be, now that the bones are straight.”
Sisk was discharged on Friday, Sept. 19. Amber is fostering him while he goes through rehabilitation. The other leg will pose similar challenges because no two angular limb deformities are exactly the same.
“While cases like this are not common and present challenges, limb function can be greatly improved with surgery,” says Rochat.
“On behalf of Texas Pit Crew and Sisk, a huge ‘thank you’ to OSU, donors, and Sisk fans everywhere,” adds Browning.
Dr. Rochat expects to see Sisk in about four weeks for the second surgery. In the meantime, Sisk’s fans will keep well wishes coming as Amber keeps him quiet and puts Sisk through his physical therapy. And someday, Sisk will be able to walk on the pads of his foot like any other dog thanks to generous donors and the skilled veterinary surgeons at Oklahoma State University.