I bought my dog a bionic knee: Choosing TPLO surgery


 By Jarrett Bellini | @JarrettBellini 

I allow my dog to kiss me on the mouth.

You don't have to say it. I know perfectly well where his tongue has been. Which is to say: On or around that empty space where his gonads used to be. 

Trust me. I know all this. And I'm also keenly aware that he occasionally licks his own butt.

I just don't care. He's my dog.

So, I tolerate - nay welcome - his sewer-breath tongue attacks. And it's also why I'll be with him every difficult step of the way as he adjusts to his new bionic knee.

You see, a little over a year ago, Mikey damaged his cranial cruciate ligament. (If he was a human we'd refer to it as his ACL, and then trade him to the Philadelphia Eagles.) 

I don't know exactly when or how he hurt himself, but it's safe to assume it wasn't during one of his requisite twelve naps a day.


He was probably chasing something small and defenseless in the backyard. Terrorizing squirrels and pooping are more or less his occupation. He also freelances as a professional fart machine.

But Mikey, especially in his prime, is the fastest dog I've ever known. And he cuts like an NFL running back. So, it didn't surprise me when he suddenly began limping back in March 2014. 

It wasn't a terrible limp. But it stuck around for a while.

Eventually, I took him to see the vet. His primary doctor. A really nice guy.

We see him every December so Mikey can get his yearly checkup and shots in exchange for having a panic attack and expressing his anal gland. 

It's a cute holiday tradition where everyone loses.

Our vet examined his leg and made the highly scientific and professional assessment that we should probably see a knee specialist. He also made the highly scientific and professional assessment that we owed him $156 for his previous highly scientific and professional assessment.

Several days later we saw an orthopedist who bent Mikey's leg in several highly scientific and professional directions and was certain he had torn (or partially torn) his CCL.

And that's when he explained the option of TPLO surgery.


The full name of the procedure is tibial plateau leveling osteotomy. Which is a mouthful. But, essentially, TPLO is the most common elective surgery in dogs, and it involves completely changing the bone dynamics of the knee, thus making the existence of a functional CCL completely irrelevant. 

To put it even more simply: Doctors remove the ligaments, separate the bone with a saw, and then reposition everything with a metal plate, allowing the knee to function as normal.

Certainly, it's a bit more complicated than the single sentence I just boiled it down to - and you can find plenty of articles and videos that go into further detail - but these are the basics, and pretty much all that my six functioning brain cells will allow me to understand. 

I made bad decisions in college.

And I potentially made a bad decision back in March 2014. Because I chose not to do the surgery. 

After several days, Mikey was more or less back to normal. The doctors had told me it was OK to wait - some people choose never to do the surgery. There's a lot of factors to consider including age, level of discomfort, and personal finances.

Ultimately, this was the conversation I had with my dog:

"Mikey, you'll notice I'm not wearing pants right now."

That part was actually unrelated. But I continued:  

"The thing is this, Mikey. You're not a puppy, and when you play too hard you're going to be a little sore. Just like me. When I play soccer in the park, I sometimes hobble a little bit. We're getting older, buddy. That's simply the way it is. Really, we should just watch more TV."

So, for the next year and a half, we pretty much took it easy and went on with our normal lives. Sort of. 


I was eventually laid off from my job, but, thankfully, Mikey kept his. Which is to say he continued chasing squirrels, pooping, and freelancing as a professional fart machine.

Mind you, he didn't bring in much income. But at least Mikey felt useful. And I was home a lot more to offer encouragement and career advice.

Fast forward to earlier this month when Mikey was playing with his friend Lucy in the backyard. Apparently, he was trying to impress her (you know, because he's a dude) and ended up doing something reckless. 

Human males usually begin such behavior by doing a shot of Jäger and yelling, "Watch this!"

Then they tackle a newspaper stand.

But whatever Mikey did, the limping returned. In earnest. It was far worse than it had ever been. 

My non-scientific and non-professional assessment was that he finally ruptured the ligament in full. Because, this time, it didn't improve over the course of a week. He hobbled on three legs.

Alas, it was time to revisit the specialist. 

Which was a little embarrassing when the exact same doctor at the exact same clinic basically told me the exact same thing he told me a year and half ago.

He's damaged his CCL. Surgery would be helpful.

Thus, today, Mikey is going under the knife. 

It's been two weeks since we re-visited the specialist. The limp hasn't gotten any better. And I'm stricken with guilt that I should've done this a long time ago.

Yes, a dog can carry on with some amount of knee damage and more or less live a normal life. But that doesn't mean he's not uncomfortable and that it's not slowly causing long-term, pronounced arthritis.

So, we're doing this. Mikey is having TPLO. 

His agent is meeting with the Eagles.

4 comments:

Jenny said...

Awww... good luck to Mikey!!!

eternallauren said...

"He also freelances as a professional fart machine." This made my day.

Jarrett Bellini said...

Mikey says thanks!

Jarrett Bellini said...

:)