Another favorite story is about a 15-year-old Dachshund.
When I first met this old guy he was very grumpy and scared. His vision was poor, he was afraid of anyone touching him, often trying to bite when being handled, and he could not walk with his rear legs at all. He had back surgery a few years ago and never really recovered well from it. His parents were extremely dedicated to his care, helping him walk around slowly with a rear end sling, carrying him as needed, going to acupuncture appointments, trying different mobility carts (which had not worked for far), and making sure his quality of life was good. Our first appointment was very long and somewhat stressful for everyone. The dog was fearful and it was clear he was frustrated by his lack of mobility in the rear legs. He was unable to reach his own rear end with his nose or change body positions on his own. I decided on a few simple therapy exercises at home that the dog and parents would do together, and they were to come back to the hospital every two weeks for acupuncture and therapeutic exercise. This regimen went on for several months and I slowly began to get to know a different dog. The initial fears during exercise times had dissolved, he wasn’t biting his parents anymore, he could stretch his nose to reach his rear end, he could change body positions on his own. Even though he couldn’t fully walk without his rear end sling, he could stand on his own without assistance to drink water and eat. We had given the dog confidence and a newfound desire to perform his exercises (for treats of course) while happily allowing me to handle him. Even though the dog will probably never walk on his own without some form of assistance, giving him motivation, increased mobility, and the desire to try new things is enough to consider his story a success.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is helping clients understand the physical and emotional needs of their animals. I have seen so many light bulbs go off after explaining something relatively simple (like why it is important for the animal to sit properly) and it is truly rewarding. Showing people how to do therapeutic exercises at home for their four-legged companions is fun for both the animal and the client, and at the same time strengthens the bond between the both of them. I also really enjoy the creative and problem-solving aspects of physical rehabilitation. Every animal responds to a treatment differently, and I love figuring out ways to help them get better.
It is also very rewarding when a patient goes against all odds and gets better. It is very hard to hear that your animal may not be able to walk ever again or they may need to have a leg removed because of a severe injury. With a little patience and commitment from clients, I have been amazed by several different animals. The emotional and mental support a client gives to their animal during recovery is the best medicine.
Do you have any companion animals of your own?
Yes. I have a wonderful black Labrador Retriever named “Ramirez.” I was fortunate enough to adopt him from Guide Dogs for the Blind after he was career changed in the very last phase of his training to be a Guide Dog. I cannot claim any responsibility for the majority of his professional training, but I can claim responsibility for teaching him stupid pet tricks! He is my number one physical rehab demonstration and test dog. Luckily, if there are cookies involved, he will do just about anything for me.
We also have a feral cat named “Fish” that adopted us two years ago. My husband was outside at our previous home in the country and found her at his feet when she was just a few weeks old. She was very tiny, hungry, and alone. For a feral kitten, she turned out quite well and has learned how to “sit” for her food. She is also no longer considered to be skinny!
Editor’s Note: For more on canine rehabilitation, see the following websites:
- American Canine Sports Medicine Association
- Canine and Equine Rehabilitation Gateway
- Canine Rehabilitation Institute