Bum ACL knocks out Bingo the search dog | AspenTimes.com
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Bum ACL knocks out Bingo the search dog

Allyn Harvey

There haven’t been many days off lately for one member of the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol Rescue Team.

Six days on duty, one day on call.

But Snowden, an 8-year-old Airedale terrier that is trained to dig people out from avalanches, is taking the extra work in stride, and he’ll keep it up for the next several months while his partner on the rescue team, Bingo, recovers from anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery.

Bingo, 6, is the middle member of the three-dog rescue squad on Aspen Mountain.

Bingo suffered a partial tear of the ligament during lift evacuation training in early November, says Bingo’s owner, handler and fellow member of the ski patrol, Patty Stilsbury.

Stilsbury noticed something was wrong with Bingo right away as the dog would lift her leg to avoid walking on it. Stilsbury thought it might be a tear or a strain, and she kept an eye on Bingo. A few weeks later it was clear the leg wasn’t getting any better, so Stilsbury took Bingo in for a check-up.

The diagnosis wasn’t good: a partial tear had become a full tear. Her leg would have to be operated on, and a long period of recuperation would be a necessity. Bingo will be off the job for most of the winter.

She went under the knife on Dec. 15. She’s pretty much home-bound until the end of next month, leaving the apartment just a few times a day for a quick trip outside. Come February, if she’s healing properly, Bingo will be able to take longer walks, five or 10 minutes, a few times a day for the next three months.

Pretty rough stuff for a dog that’s spent its life bounding about the snow, getting her butt rubbed and neck scratched by skier on Ajax, and training each week for that one (yet to occur) moment when she’s needed.

Bingo has adjusted well to lying around and taking a few short walks on a leash each day. “Dogs are so much more resilient than we are,” Stilsbury says. “If it were one of us, we’d be going `Boo-hoo, boo-hoo, boo-hoo,’ but she just goes along with it.”

What Bingo hasn’t handled so well is being home alone. “That’s been the hardest,” Stilsbury says.

The surgery Bingo underwent this month is fairly common, says Dr. James Ziegler, a vet at the Aspen Animal Hospital. “ACL repair is probably the most common orthopedic surgery for dogs,” he said.

The surgery is necessary and common because without it, a dog’s condition will only worsen. Eventually, arthritis sets in with untreated injuries, Ziegler said.

Stilsbury said Bingo’s prognosis is good: Next season she’ll be back on the job with Snowden and the rescue crew’s rookie, an 8-month-old German Shepherd named Tenzing.

Bingo, a lab/golden retriever mix, is the granddaughter of Chopper, the somewhat famous Aspen Highlands rescue dog of the 1980s and 1990s. Chopper belonged a patrol member who died in an avalanche in Highland Bowl in the 1980s. Stilsbury adopted Chopper and became his handler.

Chopper had a way with people that made him one of the most popular members of the Highlands patrol. But he also had a way with women (dogs), and is known to have sired several litters.

After Chopper passed away, Stilsbury took a few years off as a handler. Stilsbury knew she wanted to be a avalanche rescue dog handler again, but it was a few years before she found a dog she knew she could work with.

“When Chopper died it was real hard,” she said. “But I waited for the right dog to come along. Then my favorite of Chopper’s offspring had a puppy – Bingo.”


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