by Amy Robinson
Sniff & Barkens Dog Training Expert
Bella always got compliments wherever we went. She had long, collie/shepherd fur flecked with gold, red and gray tones that glistened as she played with the waves on the beach or showed off her tricks for the neighborhood children. I started to see the problems about six months before she needed full-time help walking. Her spirit was willing, but her spinal degeneration was rendering her back legs weaker and weaker in a relentless march toward immobility, much like the way Multiple Sclerosis can progress in some people.
After taking dozens of measurements and sweating through calculations that could have launched a NASA rocket, we ordered a custom-made wheelchair cart in shiny aluminum with balanced wheels and a padded saddle for her hips. So sure were we that Bella would embrace this amazing technology and race off down the path using her front feet to propel her, we strapped her in and triumphantly opened the front door. “Come on sweetie! Let’s go Bella!” My husband and I cooed at her, dangling bags of treats and making kissing noises. Bella rooted herself to the ground like a stubborn trail horse refusing to tote a pudgy tourist one more step. We were disappointed, but not defeated.
The next day, we loaded Bella in the car and drove to the park where the matted down grass and firm footing would allow the wheels to turn easily, or so we hoped. I lifted her into the cart and walked off toward the grove of trees, tossing peanuts and sunflower seeds as I went. Rustling noises up high made Bella look up, and just like that, three squirrels chased each other noisily down the tree. One sassy squirrel spied a nut just 5 feet in front of a now laser-focused Bella. Without warning, she took off at a run, wheels humming as she sped past me. I wasn’t sure who was more surprised, the squirrel or Bella, who turned to look at me, panting and smiling for all she was worth.
After that, we had six good months of trips to the park, to the barn, and the beach at low tide, where she would wade in at about knee depth and we had to haul the wheels out of the sinking sand.
My back hurt every day and for a few months even after she was gone, a physical reminder of the lifting, supporting, and carrying that went on multiple times each day. In the middle of the night, I set an alarm so I could get up and turn her over when she could no longer do it herself. I’d massage the side that was under her and flip her slowly onto her back, where she’d sigh deeply while I rubbed her tired front legs. The work was worth it and the joy she brought to the kids she inspired with her intrepid attitude made us proud to be a part of her life.
The role of caregiver to a handicapped dog is a calling … certainly not an easy one to take on, but those touched by a special needs dog go all in for love and if called upon, would do it all over again.
Morgan and Sergio Gonzalez rescued a litter of four puppies left in a box at a local running track on a freezing morning. They were bloated with worms and very malnourished.
“The day we found the puppies we both instantly knew we had to take care of them,” Morgan said. After finding homes for the two brothers, they kept the girls.
Both professional runners and avid outdoor enthusiasts, the couple began taking Matty and Roam along on adventures in the mountains, exploring, hiking, and camping until at just seven months of age, they noticed Matty’s progressive limp. The news was bad: Matty had bilateral hip dysplasia and needed a Triple Pelvic Osteotomy, but despite the tough road ahead and the huge medical bills, they had no doubt that they were going to do everything in their power to help heal their puppy.
Matty had a queen-sized bed in the guest room all to herself.
“Because she had surgery on both hips and lost a lot of blood, she had to spend the night at the vet. Then she had a long list of medications (including one for Trauma and PTSD) and we had to keep her 6 incisions clean,” Morgan said.
Because she had to be totally quiet during the first week after surgery, she was sedated, so Morgan had to set an alarm to turn her every twenty minutes to avoid inflammation at the surgical site.
The couple could not leave her alone; someone had to be home at all times to administer care and monitor her recovery. “We didn’t see any friends or family unless they came to us.”
It was exhausting and draining, but they kept at it, believing their hard work and Matty’s strength would bring them through.
Once the vet cleared Matty for very brief outings, the couple drove her and her sister Roam, to Tenaya Lake where they used to romp for a much-needed change of scenery. Sergio carried her from the car to the edge of the lake, holding her back end with a towel for support.
“I think that day gave us all some hope, positivity, and peace of mind,” he said
It would be another three months before the puppy could walk on her own, slowly making her way back to normal activity.
“I think the first time we say Matty running and jumping we both cried tears of joy,” said Morgan.
Matty’s sister Roam also needed hip surgery on one side, but the couple was ready to do it all over again to bring their other puppy back to health. Now the sisters are back to being active, playful dogs embracing the life they were meant to live.
Maura and Shawn Thomas heard about a big dog that was struck by a car and was now looking for a loving home.
“His great fortune was that a kind person who had driven by him as he lay on the side of the road looked in the rear view mirror just in time to see him lift his head. She immediately turned around and after she stopped, a vet pulled up behind her,” Maura said. “We were eager to adopt the gorgeous boy, but after about six months with us it became clear that Elliot’s shattered leg would never heal properly.”
The couple took their veterinarian’s advice and moved forward with amputation.
Maura recalls the night after his surgery.
“We stayed on the floor with him all night long as he lay on soft towels in our living room. He slept fitfully that night, getting up every once in a while to walk around in small circles trying to find his missing leg.”
Soon after his surgical site healed, Elliot was cleared for activity, so they went back to his favorite spot: the dog park.
“It generally takes a while for people to realize that he is on three legs as they watch him run after his favorite green racquetball,” said Maura. “We’ve frequently overheard people exclaim, ‘That dog is missing a leg!’ Not having all four legs has never slowed him down or made him sad.”
Perhaps that is the lesson our dogs teach us. Shrug off your limitations and fully embrace life. Those who care for handicapped dogs are inspired by their pets and they, in turn, inspire us.