SI Vault
June 15, 1959
Symbolism in K.C.
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June 15, 1959

Events & Discoveries

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Rescued Champion

Among other distinctions, Dr. Robert Lieghton is known for a rare and difficult operation on damaged ligaments in the legs of dogs. More specifically, other veterinarians speak of him as the best man on the anterior cruciate. If these phrases communicate little to outsiders it is no reflection on them, for the anterior cruciate is so complex in its workings that it is almost necessary to witness Dr. Lieghton's operation to understand what it involves. Briefly, however, damage to the ligament means a dog can't move his leg—run, jump, scratch, or anything else.

Black Boy XI is a nine-year-old Labrador retriever, winner of a roomful of trophies, owned by Lewis Green-leaf, a sportsman and business executive of Greenwich, Conn. Among experts on American field dogs, Black Boy is regarded as outstanding; he isn't the national champion, but in the complicated hierarchies of field trial winners it doesn't make much difference—he has won so many events even his owner has to look up the record to see what they are. And last fall Black Boy suddenly went lame.

He held up his left hind leg, and couldn't move it. All conventional treatment failed to have any effect, and Greenleaf was ready to have Black Boy destroyed when he heard about Dr. Lieghton, who is the head surgeon at the Animal Medical Center in New York. Now, what happens when an animal of championship caliber, valued at many thousands of dollars, faces a major operation? The achievements of human surgery have become fairly well known, but operations on animals have not. For one thing, Black Boy was a superb patient. He was given a light anesthetic to permit examination. A pair of crossed ligaments, one anterior and one posterior, are involved in all the movements of a dog's knee. Dr. Paatsma, a Finnish veterinarian working in the United States eight years ago, discovered that when the ligament, the anterior cruciate, is broken, there is a certain looseness in the knee, a slight sideways motion that is not possible if the ligament is whole. This is the only outward indication of what causes lameness in such cases. Black Boy was anesthetized because, says Dr. Lieghton, "You can't tell anything if the dog is frightened and his muscles tense."

The operation, which took about an hour, was performed on the second floor of the Animal Center, soon to be replaced by a $6 million animal hospital and laboratory. Masks over faces in the ether-drenched air prevented comments. The bones of Black Boy's left hind leg were uncovered, and the anterior cruciate, stretching over the upper part of the knee and under the lower, was found to be destroyed. (Why and how such damage occurs is not known, and the accident need not be a dramatic one: a dog makes a running turn, perhaps, and comes back lame.) It is, of course, impossible for science to duplicate the amazing symmetry and efficiency of nature's arrangement of the muscles in the knee. But a working substitute is possible. For the material for a substitute ligament Dr. Lieghton used fascia, a heavy, thick, fibrous tissue taken from Black Boy's thigh. He drilled a hole through the bone and drew his substitute ligament down the leg, over the knee, through the hole he had drilled and back up the leg. He put a standard splint on the leg, and Black Boy was immobilized for about a week.

"I can't praise that dog too much," said Dr. Lieghton the other day when word came that Black Boy was again winning firsts, this particular one a Talbot County, Maryland event. "He's a very bold dog. As soon as the splint was taken off, he was ready to go, started right off. He has an admirable disposition. When not working he's quiet, very gentlemanly. He took well to confinement. As soon as I came near him his happiness indicator—that's his tail, of course—would start to work. After he was released to Greenleaf I went up to Greenwich to see him. He was worked in a big field there, about 15 acres; his trainer, Ray Staudinger, deserves a lot of credit. Black Boy was put through his paces—signaled, near and far retrieving, everything. He's a very wonderful dog. If I hadn't known which leg I operated on I couldn't have told which leg had been injured."

Horse Opera

The big red horse in stall 50 at Hollywood Park eyeballed with unblinking amazement the five dudes coming his way. It didn't take much horse sense to know they didn't belong there: their fingernails were manicured, the brass buttons on their cashmere jackets glinted in the morning sun and the long drink of water in jodhpurs had more hair than a lead pony. Then the horse got the drift and understanding came on like the Lone Ranger: Show Business, which has always considered Silky Sullivan one of its own, had come to do the scene with him.

The plot was horse-opera simple. Johnny Cash, a high-riding cowboy singer, had composed a little number called The Ballad of Silky Sullivan. To get the recording some little-deserved but much-needed publicity ("Silky came up for the kill/Passed 'em all like standing still"), a press agent's photographer was going to snap pictures while Johnny Cash sang and Silky simpered.

Silky was obliging to a fare-thee-well. He is not much of a race horse but he is a confirmed actor, and while Johnny Cash plunked a guitar and mourned through three verses of I Don't Like It But I Guess Things Happen That Way (a current hit?), Silky affected a dreamy look and nuzzled guitar and guitarist. The photographer and the three press agents with Johnny Cash fairly danced with the success of the venture. (It was written in a Los Angeles newspaper last year that Silky was thataway about Cash's singing; this was the first demonstrable proof.) "Well, you ask me if I'll forget my baby," sang Cash in a fourth reprise as if his heart would break. "I don' know, I cain't say. I don' like it but I guess things happen that way." And when both horse and singer had wearied of that, Cash changed his tune. "Don't take your guns to town, son, leave your guns at home," he implored, and Silky Sullivan was again reduced to a sentimental, nuzzling sop.

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