Could Enzo From The Art of Racing in The Rain Have Lived More Comfortably As A Senior Dog

May 15, 2011

Photo of The Art of Racing In The Rain CoverUntil recently, I have strayed away from pet memoirs for recreational reading. As my professional day as a veterinarian is filled with heart wrenching stories of canine and feline illness, I need more escapist literary fare to take my mind off of work.  Steig Llarson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series has nicely done that for me, but Llarson is deceased with no known secret books waiting for publication. Therefore, I decided to step out of my reading comfort zone.

Photo of Cardiff Coronado Island Beach San Diego CAAs I write my dog’s story (See Cardiff’s Blog) to share his perspective on recovery from Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA), I decided to better familiarize myself with the New York Times bestseller, Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in The Rain. The novel exceed my expectations, the characters were compelling, and I eagerly read to the conclusion while floating on the Amazon River.

For those of you that have not read the book, it tells the impassioned tale of Enzo and the relationship with his human family. Yes, Enzo is of the canine species and Stein relays his perspective in a manner appealing to anyone ever having forged a furry friendship.

What I didn’t care for was the manner in which Stein’s main character and Enzo’s master, Denny, handled the treatment of his dog’s mobility limiting conditions. You see, Enzo has hip dysplasia, which causes him to experience joint inflammation (arthritis) and pain. Unfortunately for Enzo, Denny has been told by his veterinarian “there was nothing else he could do except, some day in the future, perform expensive surgery to replace my defective parts”.

Photo of Canine Hip Dysplasia Photo Credit VIN

Fortunately, Enzo was prescribed anti-inflammatory medication for his discomfort, yet there are many additional means of keeping dogs like Enzo comfortable while taking smaller quantities or less frequent doses of pain medication.  Acupuncture, chondroprotectants (joint supplements), omega fatty acids (fish oil), physical therapy, dietary and environmental modifications, and other treatments can all contribute to a healthier and more comfortable senior dog existence.

Photo of Winston Acupuncture Veterinary Cancer Group

he story takes place in Seattle, a clean living, health conscious city with residents that typically don’t limit themselves to thinking only within the western (conventional) medical box. Having lived and worked there, I am well aware of the plethora of veterinarians offering complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in the Emerald City.

If only Denny had been aware that other options to manage Enzo’s discomfort are readily available and effective under the guidance of an experienced veterinarian. Should Denny have known this, would Enzo have made a speedier and more complete recovery after he was hit by that car? I speculate yes and apologize if I just revealed a key compelling component of the story’s final chapters. 

Did those of you who work in veterinary or human medical fields or pet parents treating their dog for issues reminiscent of Enzo’s pick up on this too?

Please feel free to leave your comments or communicate with me through email ( or Twitter (@PatrickMahaney).

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Jana Rade May 15, 2011 at 4:10 PM

I think it’s great to find a vet who will layout out all the options for you. But if you’re not lucky enough for that, do your own homework.

We ended up forced to do our homework. We did and we even found an awesome vet in the process. Jasmine is 7.5 years old now, full of life and to an outside observer there is no telling how much she’s been through.

Shawn Finch, DVM May 15, 2011 at 4:25 PM

I loved this novel when I read it about a year ago on a friend’s recommendation. Yup, I picked up on that too – SO many more options for treating arthritis secondary to hip dysplasia. Two things – it’s fiction – you were supposed to be relaxing! : ) And, yes it would have been great if the author had given a nod to the extraordinary things the veterinary community could have done for Enzo (and I did yell at the book at some points at which I wish he had) but it was Enzo’s perspective on what the vet told Denny written by the author…something may have been dropped in translation. And if not, the family made the best decisions they could with what they had…like we all do.

What made me even sadder was when Denny lost his temper with Enzo…

I am with you on not wanting to always read pet stuff – mostly though because of the lifespan thing – I still will not read Marley!

Well said Dr. Mahaney and Jana! If the author missed an opportunity to talk about all the great things we can do for pets with hip dysplasia, you totally picked up his slack!

Patrick Mahaney May 15, 2011 at 7:48 PM

Thank you for your comments Jana (and Jasmine, of course).
You are so right about taking the initiative in the situation when it comes to information gathering. I always welcome my clients to take a proactive role in their pets care by doing research in addition to that which I do. Veterinary medicine has greatly evolved in the past 11 years since I have been in practice, so there are many novel ways of treating our pet’s problems.

Patrick Mahaney May 15, 2011 at 7:53 PM

Thank you for your comments.
Relaxing!? What is that? 😉
Actually, I am always combing whatever books, television, magazine and newspaper articles, etc for stimulating material for media projects. I can’t help it, as my brain ceases to stop and go into hibernation, even when I am technically not “working” (treating patients).
You are so right that perhaps Enzo didn’t fully understand that which was told to Denny by his veterinarian. Then again, Denny seemed rather complacent with the news of Enzo’s HD/Arthritis and did not express interest in finding other non-NSAID/surgical treatment.
I can’t muster the will to read Marley & Me either, especially since I saw the sickeningly sweet movie with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson once when insomnia got the best of me on a plane flight!

Heather at New England Pet Hospice May 16, 2011 at 5:34 AM

I couldn’t agree more, Patrick. There are so many options that can make a huge difference. It is very sad how few people know about them. Education, outreach and information are so needed. There are more options than living with pain or euthanasia.

I recently came in contact with a large dog with a front leg mystery illness/injury. Her vet was baffled to diagnose it, so they ultimately settled on Lyme Disease and went on a rigorous course of antibiotics, anti-inflamatories and complete rest. After 3 months of this, the dog had started to improve, but after light exercise (walking inside for less than 15 minutes) it was clear the dog was still in pain.

I gently inquired if she had thought about acupuncture? Well, that would be her last resort if nothing else worked. How about physical therapy? Response: they have that for dogs? Although her dog had a sensitive stomach, none of her care providers had suggested probiotics given concurrently with the antibiotics.

As we talked, it was obvious that she wanted what was best for her dog and had lovingly followed the directions of her veterinarian but had no idea the world of alternatives out there that could make a difference for her dog. I hope that we planted a small seed in her that will encourage her to trust her own instinct and search out her own answers.

This is the message we consistently put forth to our clients and all those we come into contact with:

YOU know your animal. YOUR gut is right. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. Don’t get intimidated by what the “experts” say. If the advice you are getting doesn’t sit well with you, there is a reason. Keep looking, keep searching. There are alternatives available.

– Heather
Founder and Team Leader
New England Pet Hospice, Inc.

Shawn Finch, DVM May 16, 2011 at 7:25 AM

ha! You are right – I cannot bring myself to look back at the book because of the sad parts, but I remember that about the arthritis. And the brain staying on and working overtime thing – it is a good trait…except when it makes you watch Marley 🙂

Patrick Mahaney May 19, 2011 at 12:15 PM

Thank you for your insightful comments and real life perspective on a client’s perspective in searching for complementary and alternative treatments for dogs.
It is unfortunate to hear that acupuncture would be used if other treatments were not working. Such perspective typically comes from vets that do not understand the potential benefits that acupuncture and physical rehabilitation can provide for most patients at ANY stage in their illness.
Great points about knowing your dog and finding additional opinions for treatment protocols if that which is being provided does not “seem right” or isn’t working.
I visited your website, which has great information and resources for pet lovers.

Doc Truli May 24, 2011 at 4:12 AM

Henry the Bassett Hound’s parents gave me The Art of Racing in the Rain as a present.  I was shocked by the way Enzo’s hip dysplasia care was glossed over in the book! It seemed dear old Enzo suffered needlessly and was denied all but basic care.

Enzo did not enjoy multi-modal pain control medication-Tramadol, gabapentin, amantidine, lidocaine patches. Nor did he receive anti-inflammatory nutritional therapy like Omega 3’s and Vitamin E.

What? No Cold Laser Therapy, Acupuncture, Physical Therapy? Not to mention today we have Stem Cell Therapy. I haven’t even started to get “alternative” yet!

Veterinarians need to educate the pet patents and advocate for comfort and care for the pets. Telling a client what they want to hear might make a veterinarian popular, with a full appointment ledger, but it will not bring new treatments, new thinking, or exciting breakthroughs to the community for the benefit of the patients.

Now, don’t even get me started about Marley’s demise on Marley and Me!

In health and healing,
Doc Truli

Patrick Mahaney May 24, 2011 at 9:10 AM

Thank you for your insightful comments Dr Truli! You are so right about the additional options that Denny could have pursued to make Enzo more comfortable.
Let’s keep Marley and Me mum for now, yet I did write a blog about Marley and GDV for See:

Thank you for your readership and comments,

Kathy September 21, 2011 at 2:05 PM

Garth Stein, the author of Racing in the Rain, included a link to this page in his latest newsletter. So while the fictionalized Denny, who had lost his wife and was financially devastated in the fight to keep custody of his daughter, did not seek out alternative treatment for Enzo, Garth is making a real effort to help you get the word out on treatment for hip dysplasia. Thanks!

Patrick Mahaney September 21, 2011 at 7:52 PM

Hello Kathy,
Thank you for your comments. I appreciate Garth Stein and his newsletter for helping to spread the word of the many means of helping our senior dogs (and cats) live more comfortable lives. As the providers of our pets’ health care, owe it to them to make all stages of life their ” best life ever” (akin to Oprah!), as they can’t do it for themselves.

Angi September 26, 2011 at 1:32 PM

I wish more people took the time or knew to do their homework and find out what alternative medicine can offer our canine friends with this sad disease. Our GSD, Trooper, has it and we are lucky to work with a wonderful holistic vet who has given us more precious time with him. Between Chinese Herbs and chiropractic adjustments he’s been comfortable and leading a happy, longer life. We couldn’t be happier.

Patrick Mahaney September 26, 2011 at 6:30 PM

Thank you so much for your insightful reply. There are so many complementary treatments for young or old dogs having mobility issues from arthritis/Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) and other similar conditions that work synergistically with western (traditional) options such as Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) and opoids.
I am please to heat that your dog benefited from this “alternative” (sic) approach.

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