Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Physically Challenged Dogs

Printed All About Dogs Nov/Dec 2014 
When is a dog considered physically challenged? I would include amputees, deaf dogs, blind dogs, dogs that have spinal injury or disease and their hindquarters are compromised, even tetraparetic individuals. As humans, supposedly having “dominion” over our canine friends, when should we make a decision to allow their lives to continue? That, of course, is very personal but I would like to give my views based on 14 years of small animal private veterinary practice, and a further 6 years as a physical rehabilitation veterinarian. 
Dogs do not have the psychological issues associated with disability, which humans have. Running around on three legs does not make them less of a dog in their minds. I would like to make the point that many disabled dogs live full and happy lives.
All dogs have a keen sense of smell. The olfactory sense of a blind dog is even more-developed. This, along with an acute sense of hearing, allows him to negotiate his surroundings. Provided there are not too many changes in the environment, and hazards such as swimming pools are appropriately barricaded, blind dogs can continue happily for years. There are even photographs of blind dogs having ‘guide’ dogs! These are other dogs that have taken on a role of being the blind dog’s eyes. Often these companions are inseparable. 
Deaf dogs should also not be discriminated against. Dalmatians have a genetic line which predisposes some to deafness. Their sight is unaffected. I have watched such a dog, and a teenage boy, build such a strong bond that they outdid all the other people and dogs in their training class. I am sure they had many pleasurable years together. 
Single limb amputees, whether front or back, are able to run and play with the same gusto as a four-legged dog. Consideration for the remaining limb is important but can be managed. I met Hanna, a Labrador x Bull Terrier, when she was two years old. She was hit by a car and had to have one of her front limbs amputated at 7 months of age. Hanna has been on hydrotherapy program since we met, in order to maintain the strength and mobility of the remaining front limb. Hanna’s guardian was hoping for 5 years but next year March she will be 10! Earlier this year we invested in a neoprene support for her wrist as she has developed arthritis in this joint. She lives on a smallholding with numerous other dogs and runs around like a mad thing! She also attends a private training session once a week where the focus is on mental stimulation as opposed intensive physical training.
Since I have been involved in physical rehabilitation of our canine companions, I have seen many dogs with compromised hindquarters. These dogs are unable to walk with their back legs and often drag them.
 Being disabled in this manner does not stop these dogs at all! Mobility carts are becoming more readily available and are a necessity if such a dog is permanently paralysed. When in the cart, these dogs cannot be left unsupervised as the cart may catch on an obstacle or even tip over in the dog’s excitement to chase someone. However, these individuals never consider that their so-called disability requires them to stop participating in life. They can and do catch a ball, and also chase the visitors at the gate. Recently, Pug Rescue SA (PRSA) received a 7 month old Pug with a spinal condition which is inoperable, leaving Pug-Lee paralysed in his back legs. PRSA is a pro-life shelter that has made the decision to give Pug-Lee an opportunity to live life. His mobility cart is on order. He is a part of daily life in the centre and is moved around from office to outdoors, based on activities. He has a specific set of exercises which he must complete daily. He also enjoys a daily massage and stretching session. He is interactive, eats well and is already much-loved.
In conclusion, living with a disabled pet has its challenges. The largest of which is adapting the dog’s environment to ensure it is a safe playground. Cognisance of compensatory patterns of movement is essential, and necessary adjustments must be made. Awareness is the key but these pets live a fulfilling life and it is most rewarding for their human family, too.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Franki Hoffmann

When dealing with the disabled among us we often confront a number of issues that are surprisingly uncomfortable. Even more so when faced with disability in our animal companions. True to the gift that they are to their human families, they bring us a deeper understanding and acceptance of ourselves.

Franki ‘Blue Eyes’ Hoffmann was a most unusual Ragdoll cat.

He started seizuring at nine weeks of age. I met him when he was 16 weeks old with a request from his family to try acupuncture to control his fits, or at least lessen their intensity.

Blood tests, MRI scans and other diagnostic tests had yielded no positive diagnosis and so Franki was labelled an epileptic.

Franki was a special cat, not entirely true to the Ragdoll nature but quite accepting of his lot. He initially visited once a week for needles. He was also taking anti-epileptic medication. The fits reduced in frequency and intensity.

When Franki reached nine months of age, his guardian, Suzanne, asked me if we could swim him. She felt he was really slow (he was) and that his hind quarters were weak (they were). At this stage the underwater treadmill was not yet installed.

I agreed and then the questions began: how would I swim a cat? What was the best way to introduce him to the pool? Was he brain-damaged? Could he process being placed in the water? And, could I elicit the desired swimming response? – which is usually instinctive?

I started with a buoyancy aide (or life-jacket). Franki refused to move – both on the ground and in the water. I was afraid to drown him. We moved to a harness. Still Franki refused to move. I asked Suzanne to place the harness on him at home so he could become accustomed to it. I wanted a ‘handle’ in the pool!

Franki sat in one place at home for two hours! To call him stubborn would be a gross understatement!

Eventually I relented, and we (Franki and I) entered the water without any attachments. He refused to swim. After eight weeks of gentle encouragements and begging, I removed my hand, which was supporting Franki under his belly. He started to move his legs! Break through!!

From that moment on, we progressed. Franki swam; we balanced him on a boogie board in the pool; and walked up ramps. The treadmill was out of the question but he did balance exercises on the Pilates ball – until he punctured it.

Franki was a regular patient for almost four years. He taught me patience and tolerance; he forced me to find new ways to achieve the goals I wanted. I would say that Franki was mentally disabled, but he had his routine, and he was a happy cat. 

What did I learn? Disabled pets cannot be managed by everyone, but we should give them the benefit of the doubt and try to find a way to give them a quality life. I am blessed to have known and worked with Franki. He showed me there are paths, even if mainstream society ‘says’ there are not. We have a choice – always.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Space – Kyle Bond

In a previous blog I mentioned ‘space’, particularly with regard to creating and holding space. What do I mean?

Over the last three weeks I met, and have treated, a 6 year old Dachshund called Kyle. He presented with severe back pain (especially at the thoracolumbar junction) and muscle spasm. If someone walked past him and was too close, he screamed. Palpation and treatment were challenging. Add to this a hind limb weakness and ataxia (wobbliness) and I was dealing with a very miserable dog, and an extremely concerned guardian.

Kyle’s mom, Anthea, had been to the local veterinarians. They had correctly diagnosed the problem and advised surgical intervention. Kyle had a ‘slipped’ disc (prolapsed) which was putting pressure on the spine, creating the severe pain and hindquarter compromise. Anthea wanted to explore other avenues before putting Kyle through surgery. The veterinary practice referred them to me.

After examining Kyle I agreed with the diagnosis and so our conversations began. Anthea was looking for an option that allowed Kyle’s body to heal itself, and we would offer support. Anthea absolutely believed in the power of intention. Kyle’s medication consisted of analgesics and muscle relaxants. Fortunately the drugs chosen had not interfered with the healing process.

I offered acupuncture, homeopathic remedies and energy healing. I explained the risks involved with surgery, as well as the risks present if we choose to treat ‘conservatively’. Anthea chose the latter.

Acupuncture was painful for Kyle. I used homeopathic remedies which reduce pain and inflammation, and others which aid in the healing of damaged nervous tissue. I applied traction. We spoke a lot about intention and meditation. By the third visit (10 days after the first) Kyle was still sore and was struggling to stand. He was worse! Anthea was in tears and justifiably distraught. My veterinary training was screaming at me to send him to surgery. It was a Friday. We decided to hold out for the weekend and our healing efforts intensified.

On Monday he was better!!! We were smiling through our tears.

What does this story have to do with space? Firstly, I created a safe place in which healing could occur. I focus much energy on creating this space. If a person or patient does not feel safe, healing cannot occur.

Secondly, Anthea and I held that space. Through intention and meditation the safe space was maintained for Kyle.

Thirdly, we allowed Kyle to heal. Yes, we intervened with medicines and practices but all of them were chosen specifically because they enhanced and supported the body’s natural repair mechanisms. In this safe space we allowed healing.

We all have the ability to focus to create and hold a space. I do it for my patients. Guardians enhance that. My team add their value and intention, as well as their abilities. We all help each other to maintain the space to facilitate healing. When we do that we allow the body to access the knowledge inherent in its cells and DNA. What is the result? A Miracle!