By Leslie Gallagher
At this point Maverick had been with us for almost three months. We had thrown everything including the kitchen sink at him. We had given him many, many hours of PT. We’d had every expert we knew of weigh in on how to help him. We had stretched and stretched and stretched his twisted limbs until none of us can take it any longer. We’d even been in tears on a few occasions as he cried and bit us while we put him through his paces, knowing that we needed to do what we were doing if he were ever to walk again, and wanting more than anything to stop and call it a day. And then one day it happened. We were working on him, stretching his limbs and mimicking the motions of standing and walking when all of the sudden mid-therapy Maverick wobbled to his feet. You could have heard a pin drop. At least three people screamed. The girls from reception grabbed their phones to photograph him. Everyone came running. “MAV JUST STOOD UP!” He had a grin on his face as big as the moon. Tail wagging furiously. And then he fell down.
It was one of those moments that takes your breath away. Everyone cheered and clapped as we stood around the grinning puppy. And then? He did it again. Wobbling like mad he struggled to his feet. YAYYYYYY!!! His therapy was working. At last.
After the cheers and the hugs had subsided my immediate concern was that his feet were still not screwed on straight. I didn’t want to encourage his standing or walking until his feet were going in the right direction. But I couldn’t STOP him from wanting to get up and walk, though I would have much preferred it to be with his feet working correctly. We now had his front feet solidly on the ground in a normal position but the back feet were still so twisted and his tendons so tight that if he stood up he could only walk on the tops of his feet. They were upside down! But it was a start.
The next day he took his first step. More progress! But here’s where it gets funny. He couldn’t walk forward, he could only walk backwards! I have no idea why. But for some reason it seemed to come more naturally or easier for him to go backwards than forwards. I couldn’t complain though. Being able to stand on his upside down feet and take a few steps backwards was a heck of an accomplishment for a dog that had been essentially a potted plant for the past three months. And boy, did it sap his energy. Even taking a few steps winded him. I realized that he had absolutely no cardio fitness. Which made sense because he hadn’t moved in months. His lungs probably hadn’t developed normally and what little cardio fitness he’d had at 10 weeks old was gone. Mav needed more time in the pool!
We decided at that point that every day Maverick would need to swim for at least half of his therapy. We had to build strength and muscle mass and, most importantly, get his lungs working. Fortunately, Maverick had been in the pool a few times and was a great little swimmer. Gotta love Goldens! For the next week or so, Mav continued to walk backwards as we furiously upgraded his therapy. We were constantly assessing and reassessing his progress and changing our plans accordingly. At about day seven Maverick took his first step forward. Again he brought the house down. There were screams and cheers and a few people surreptitiously wiping their eyes. The look on his face as he took his first step forward amidst the yelling of all of the staff and clients was priceless. He was beyond excited. So were we!! It was just like watching a toddler learning how to walk. He would struggle and fall. Get up and fall. Take one step and fall. All the while we are jumping behind him, trying to support him, trying to help him walk while letting him do as much as he could on his own, and trying to prevent him from hurting himself. I started to think he needed a helmet, wrist guards and knee pads. Then, of course, I started worrying. What if he fell into a bowl of water and couldn’t get his face out? What if he tries to get up and falls down some stairs? All the ridiculous things that I’m sure every parent of a toddler worries about. I don’t know how I actually thought thatwould ever happen since he was literally not out of SOMEONE’s sight 24 hours/day.
My even bigger concern, now that he was starting to move, was that he NOT learn to walk incorrectly. In physical therapy you never want to train the body to move in an improper way, you always want each movement to be as “perfect” and correct as possible. Because, unfortunately, it is possible to retrain the brain that walking with your feet upside down is the right way. I became even more panicky about every movement he made. Here’s where my back started to hate me….. Every time Maverick took a step I would hunch over behind him and try to flex/stretch his back feet to mimic normal gait patterning. But I couldn’t because his feet were still doubled over. The right foot was getting slightly better but the left foot was a nightmare. I was terrified that it had been MONTHS and his feet hadn’t turned around. I was even more terrified that I was never going to get them to flip over. I could NOT let him start weight-bearing on the tops of his feet. He had to walk on the pads of his feet or they would become a bloody mess with bones protruding through the skin. Several people had suggested amputating his feet and making him prosthetics. For me, that would have to be an absolute last, last resort. I knew that as he grew bigger and heavier an 85 pound male Golden Retriever wouldn’t last a week walking that way. I worried that I was failing him due to our inability to get those feet stretched enough. I worried that the ligaments and tendons couldn’t handle our stretching and that they would become thin and overstretched and possibly rupture. He was walking but he was still a mess. And so was I!
It became this stressful catch 22. He had to learn to walk, bear weight, build muscle mass and improve his cardio fitness. But he couldn’t do it the wrong way. The next few weeks I was constantly interrupting when a client or a visitor (or, god forbid, even a few well-intentioned veterinarians) would stop by and encourage him to get up and take a few steps. I knew they meant well. But I felt like the nagging wife stopping them from letting him lurch around the building on his upside down feet. It was hard to get any other work done because we were all now on high alert. In some ways life was so much easier when he couldn’t move!!!
Watch a video of Maverick’s amazing progress here
If you’d like to contribute towards Maverick’s recovery please call the front desk at Two Hands Four Paws. Thanks!