Storms To Stitches

Title courtesy of Robby Kindal Brazie

On the evening of May 4th, Curtis and Amelia Greene, Lorna Baxter, and I had just sat down for dinner in Lorna’s home at Bad Habit Gundogs in St. Jo, Texas. It was a combination of sorts featuring prime Texas steaks from the grill and Scottish potatoes and vegetables that all smelled mighty good! We all knew we were in for a night of rough weather as a line of severe thunderstorms stretched from the Texas coast north nearly to the Great Lakes. Just as we began to eat, my Apple Ultra Watch and all four of our iPhones simultaneously blasted out a tornado warning for the St. Jo area, telling us to “take cover immediately”. There were at least two tornadoes on the ground 10 to 15 miles southwest of us moving northeast at 35 miles per hour. After Curtis and Amelia quickly secured all of their dogs and I moved my truck under a shed (to avoid predicted golf ball size hail) we all sat together in Lorna’s bathroom until the storm passed. The image above is a screenshot from a video I took of the storm as it passed just south of us.

The night in Texas was not the first tornado warning, and certainly not the first severe thunderstorm warning, that the Springers and I had gone through this spring. We evacuated my travel trailer on several other occasions including one time in Tennessee when we spent the entire night at the home of Ben and Brittni Cowan. I began to get a reputation for bringing severe weather with me wherever we traveled — Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, and now back to Texas where it all began. I kept a gym bag of essentials packed in my trailer just in case.

“You and Keeper had an outstanding trial today, congratulations!”
— Dave Flint of Avalon Gundogs after the Missouri trial

In spite of the weather, we had good success on the field trial circuit. Keeper and I won the Amateur stake in Missouri against some pretty tough competition. That win qualified us for the U.S. National Amateur Championship in the fall. But then they announced the Guns Award, which also went to Keeper, and you could have knocked me over with a feather! What an honor! For those of you who don’t know, the Guns Award is given to the dog that the field trial gunners would most like the spend the day hunting over in the field.

Keeper’s abscess in Texas

After the Missouri trial I stayed nearby for several days and trained Keeper on the grounds where we held the trial. One afternoon, while he was coming in to me from a conditioning run, Keeper leaped in the air and cried out in pain. Since we were in a grass field with no hazards I immediately thought it was a snake bite. Forty minutes later the local vet determined that he had most likely been bitten by a Copperhead. That was just the beginning of his woes, however.

During the 3rd series of the Ohio trial I had a serious bout with vertigo and, in the words of one of the judges, Keeper and I became “disjointed”. This, I was told, cost us a higher placement — perhaps even a win — but we still finished 4th. This was the second time this spring that that I had suffered a serious vertigo attack during a field trial, the earlier one actually causing me to scratch North Texas after just the 1st series. So I decided to return to Texas to take the next month off, hoping it would be good for both Keeper and me.

While in Texas I was grooming Keeper one day and noticed an abscess that was hidden in the hair under his chin at the top of his neck. It was almost the diameter of a grapefruit. Off to the vet we went again. After several tests and lab panels were run he was put on a two week course of antibiotics and it began to go down in size. By the time I was ready to leave Texas it was smaller but had not gone away, so more antibiotics were prescribed. I brought up the idea of lancing it but the vet felt the area was too large to go on a “fishing expedition” for something we didn’t even know was there. She wanted it to be smaller first. Her plan paid off down the road.

Keeper with Dr. Greg Kuhlman post surgery

About a week later in South Dakota it had gotten smaller and after talking to my Washington vet friend, Dr. Jeff Miller, I took Keeper to a local vet in the small town of Selby. He did lance it, but found nothing, so we kept it open for five days and it reduced to normal size. Before I left the Dakotas for Montana we had a followup and he recommended letting the incision close, which I did, and we continued on antibiotics.

Two days later in Montana I handed Keeper off to his trainer, Gary Riddle, the night before they ran the Missouri Headwaters Open together, and the abscess was completely flat and closed. The next day Gary asked me to check it after the 3rd series and it had grown to the diameter of a ping pong ball in just a few hours. I took Keeper to my tailgate and prepared to lance it myself with the help of retired ER nurse, Cindy Marsh. Then I remembered that Greg Kuhlman, an internal medicine vet, was on the trial grounds. So I made a radio call to him.

Greg’s medical kit had everything he needed and he soon had the abscess open. With a little pressure and probing Greg was able to remove what appeared to be a 1-1/2″ long, very fine portion of foreign body — perhaps a seed but it was hard to tell for sure. But he was convinced there was more in there that would require surgery to find. I asked, and Greg quickly agreed to take Keeper home with him to Salt Lake City for the surgery to be done at his specialty clinic as soon as Keeper could be scheduled in. The awards were given out while we were working on Keeper and I found out later that he and Gary finished in 4th place and “punched his ticket” for the U.S. National Open Championship!

The surgery took place the Monday after the trial and, with the aid of ultrasound, a piece of a branch was located and removed from the middle of Keeper’s neck. It had just missed penetrating the trachea. The belief is that, probably in Texas, Keeper ran through some dried brush or small trees and a branch penetrated his neck then broke off. His recovery from surgery has gone well and he will be running two field trials in Alberta in June. All’s well that ends well and my cup is still 9/10ths full!

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