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For the love of Dog, Chapter 4 | Pamdemonium
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For the love of Dog, Chapter 4

September 9, 2010

Two weeks after surgery, Pilgrim’s progress was behind schedule. He could not walk without support, though he could stand. The surgeon wasn’t alarmed but wanted to get our boy on track and called in the expert.

Dr. Lisa joined us in the exam room. She had met Pilgrim the morning we admitted him for evaluation but had not seen him since. Dr. Lisa was in charge of rehab, and the practice was starting a new program for pets like Pilgrim that, through injury or illness, had lost mobility.

She gave Pilgrim a test run in the underwater treadmill so we could see how it worked. Equine vets have super-sized ones for horses on the mend; this one could accommodate a very large dog. It resembled a big aquarium that opened at one end with a treadmill for the floor. I am not sure what they do with cats.

A dog who is not Pilgrim working it.

Once inside, Pilgrim freaked when tank began to fill. On a stepstool, Dr. Lisa supported him with a sling under his belly. When the water was high enough to support most of Pilgrim’s weight, the belt began. Pilgrim took his first tentative steps then laid a monster log in the water.

The vet tech grimaced as she grabbed what looked like a minnow net. “At least it is tank-cleaning day,” she said.

We had tried to work him through range-of-motion exercises at home but he resisted, exerting his leg and hip muscles more by fighting than complying. My sister is a physical therapist and I gained new appreciation for these dogged health professionals. Many human patients don’t want to work it but most at least understand the concepts. “No pain, no gain” and “I know it isn’t fun but it will get better” doesn’t go very far with dogs. A better future is no motivation. Food is but dangling that carrot with an overweight dog is problematic. We tried it once or twice. By the third time, Pilgrim was on to us and sat back down.

Pilgrim became one of Dr. Lisa’s test cases.

The peanut ball.

The rehab arsenal was impressive: an peanut-shaped exercise ball that supports the patient but helps work the hind legs; laser therapy; ultrasound; TENS, which uses electronic pulses to stimulate healing; a dog-sized balance board. The clinic even offers animal acupuncture.

After spending a small fortune on Pilgrim’s trauma care and surgery, the decision to shell out more money for PT was easy. The alternatives were handling the rehab ourselves, which wasn’t working, or letting him figure it out, which wasn’t working. Technically, sending Pilgrim to the big dog park in the sky because he wasn’t making progress was an option but not to us. At least not yet.

We agreed to 10 sessions, and twice a week for five weeks, I’d make the 30-minute drive with Pilgrim, drop him off at 7 a.m., leave him for the day, and pick him up at 5 p.m. I thought I’d use the schedule to stop by the gym in the morning and tend to my neglected self. But sleep, both quantity and quality, remained elusive, so I’d wave in the general direction of the gym, be home by 7:45 a.m. and fall back asleep for several worry-free hours. I loved rehab days.

Get one for home. Only $25,000!

So did Pilgrim. Wagging his tail, he’d greet Dr. Lisa, ready to rock. A typical patient, Pilgrim would willingly do for someone else what he refused to do with us. At least twice a day, into the tank he’d go, starting with two minutes or less a session and lasting longer as the weeks progressed. In between, Dr. Lisa worked with Pilgrim on other exercises.

I also loved rehab evenings because the dog was exhausted. After dinner, he’d fall asleep for hours, which gave me some time to get work done. Pilgrim would perk up about 10 or 11 p.m. He was still not sleeping through the night and neither were we. “Hang in there,” Dr. Lisa told us, often doing double-duty as rehab vet and owner psychologist. “It will get better.”

Apologies for missing last week. “For the love of Dog” will continue each Thursday for a bit longer on Pamdemonium.


{ 1 comment }

Linda Bryant September 12, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Such a saga. I’m learning a lot, too.

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