Blog – “What kind of life is that for a dog?” October 1984

By September 2, 2016Blog, Newsletter

Ms. Violette Verdy was one of the few “celebrity” clients I got to know during my early years as a veterinarian in Boston. At the time, she was the “artistic director” for the Boston Ballet; having previously gained fame as George Balanchines’s principal ballerina with the NYC Ballet. Ms. Verdy was simply delightful; probably 55 years old at the time, she radiated intelligence, charm, and an exuberance for life in her particularly “French” manner. Her constant companion, a Scottish Terrier named “Riley”, was nearly as charming as his ballerina.

Riley initially came to see me with his first bladder infection; as an intact male dog, he was destined to have this medical issue repeated multiple times over the next 6-12 months. Male dogs tend to have “issues” with chronic testosterone stimulation . . . one of which is a propensity toward prostate enlargement and repeated bladder infections due to bacteria “hiding” in the recesses of the enlarged gland. With each recurrence I would lecture Ms.Verdy about the only real “cure” for this problem—neutering–she was, by nature and ethnicity, quite opposed to the idea of the surgical procedure I was suggesting.

Eventually, the prostatitis/bladder infections became more frequent and difficult to treat, and Ms. Verdy agreed to the curative surgery. Remove the testosterone, the prostate shrinks markedly in size, and the bacteria no longer have a “hideout” from which to repeatedly infect the bladder. Riley recovered quickly and completely, and we remained buddies . . . I’m not quite sure that Ms.Verdy ever really forgave me for the insult to his masculinity, however!

During the following year, Riley remained healthy and I saw him infrequently. However, Ms.Verdy showed up in a “tizzy” with him late one Saturday morning in the fall. Of course, dog food was not a “real” meal for Riley; the day prior, his dinner included a steak—bone and all. Today, Riley was very agitated, uncomfortable, and straining with attempts at defecation. A quick rectal exam located the source of the problem; a significant portion of bone was lodged in his rectum.

My plan was to sedate Riley and remove the bone manually, so I sent Ms. Verdy home to wait until his recovery from the short-acting anesthetic. The plan soon went by the wayside; that bone was not coming out as intended. I called Ms. Verdi to inform her that we were headed into surgery—yikes! Surgery on the colon is not to be taken lightly—the likelihood of post-operative complications from bacterial infection (the colon is not a clean or sterile place) are high. This was not how I envisioned spending my fall afternoon.

Thankfully, the anesthesia, surgery, and post-operative recovery went just fine—and Riley was soon back to his rambunctious self. After I cautioned Ms. Verdy about the benefit of a more “traditional” dog food diet, I recall her summary of the two surgical procedures I had subjected Riley to . . . “First, no sex; now, no good food . . . what kind of life is that for a dog?” French, through and through!

As a side note, I “googled” Ms. Verdy while thinking about writing this story. My favorite ballerina only recently passed away (February of this year), at the age of 82. She didn’t hold a grudge; even after those 2 surgeries, I recall being invited over to visit her for tea at her beautiful condominium on Commonwealth Avenue when Riley was due for his vaccines. Reading articles about her reminded me of what a special lady she was—I wish I had been able to keep in touch with her after leaving Boston.

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