By Leslie Gallagher
Starting Maverick’s therapy was a tad overwhelming. Treating a paralyzed dog is normally a piece of cake for me. I know exactly what to do every step of the way. My staff and I can figure out how to make each muscle move the way it needs to, we can stretch tight ligaments, relax angry trigger points that are keeping a back stiff and work each joint through its proper range of motion. We can start assisted walking with harnesses, wheelchairs and treadmills. It’s all pretty straightforward. But Maverick? Where to start?! I honestly didn’t know what to tackle first. Every single joint needed correcting. Nothing moved in the right direction!
I figured that we’d have to start with the back feet as they seemed to be in the worst shape. Not that he could stand on his front feet, either, but at least his front feet weren’t quite as bad. His back feet were literally upside down, so that if he tried to walk (which he couldn’t, anyway!) but if he could, he would be walking on the tops of his feet instead of his pads like all other animals do. This would be our first major challenge, figuring out how to stretch the bejeezus out of those back feet and their controlling tendons so that Maverick would be able to flip his feet over and start bearing weight properly. Now, having said that and then trying to do it, it kind of felt like stretching your computer screen. Or a wooden door. They just wouldn’t budge. And the nervous-making thing was that he had no muscle to support his joints. So, the risk of injuring him was really high. Not only could he not really feel his feet but it would be very easy for him to tear his weak, underdeveloped ligaments. And the last thing I wanted to do was hurt him while trying to help him. Massage and stretching had to be very, very gentle. And Maverick hated it. If there wasn’t a treat-filled Kong to distract him your hands would be pierced by razor-sharp puppy teeth. It was slow going.
To mix things up we made one completely hilarious sojourn into the underwater treadmill. Poor Maverick was wearing every brace, harness and sling in the building. We had him strung up stem to stern. Only problem was that it was kind of crowded in the treadmill with one therapist in front trying to bend and flex his front legs, one therapist in the back trying to do the same with the back legs, one therapist behind the front therapist trying to coax him to move with delicious treats, and two therapists manning the treadmill and helping to support him along with the poles he was hanging from. You either had to laugh or cry. The poor dog just could not have looked more miserable. Next!
I decided we’d put the underwater treadmill on hold for a while. Clearly that wasn’t going to go too well. We then tried “walking” him around the building in a wheelchair Bryan had put hours into adjusting for him. I tied some therabands to his front feet so that a tech could walk backwards in front of him, essentially pulling his front feet forward. I then sat down behind him on a small dolly and tried to walk his back legs, while another person basically crawled backwards with his treats right in front of his nose to try to get him to move. Comedy ensued all around. We ended up sweating, laughing, and falling on the floor as this poor puppy just looked bewildered. Oh, and did I mention miserable?
The other thing that was bothering me with all the assisted walking was how wobbly his wrists were. Unlike most of his other joints, his wrists were like jello. Not only did they move, they moved sideways instead of forward (think of the swinging pendulum in a big clock). So, as we tried to get the elbows and shoulders to flex and extend in the normal walking position, his wrists were flopping sideways, not forward and backwards. My solution? More bracing! I found some extra-large (what the heck!) carpal supports that we velcroed around his carpi to see if we could stop the sideways motion. You can only imagine his joy. Maverick’s response to every device attached to his body was to basically freeze and fall over dead. He was less than helpful.
We then tried the land treadmill. This was easier on our backs because it’s elevated, reducing the hunching over for Team Maverick. We did basically the same thing as in the water treadmill without having multiple people crammed into a small tank of water on their hands and knees trying to act cheerful like this was all a big game. Maverick had seen right through that one. The land treadmill has some cables strung up to the ceiling so we hooked him up to that and had a go. Within about five minutes we were all sweating bullets, desperately trying to move rigid joints, while Maverick reminded us in no uncertain terms that he hadn’t signed up for this.
None of this was going very well. I consoled myself with the fact that he was on some very good herbs, at least they HAD to be helping. We were also doing electrical stimulation to all of his muscles, trying to kick-start them back to life. He hated that with some kinda passion. Thank god for the peanut butter Kong. AND we were doing acupuncture up and down his body to, again, try to wake up what little muscle he had. Oh, and did I mention the stretching? Every minute of the day, when staff, volunteers or friends showed up I pointed in his direction and said, “Stretch his feet, please!!!” Everyone, from the receptionists to our Medical Director was consigned to daily foot stretching when they looked like they had a spare minute. Maverick became the office water cooler. If you were on a break, needed a rest, needed to chat with someone, you gathered around his bed and stretched him. Thank god for Dr. Wisely’s holistic pain meds. All this therapy made him tired and sore, sore, sore. But it had to be done! Which I reminded him of about 5000 times a day.
If you’d like to contribute towards Maverick’s recovery please call the front desk at Two Hands Four Paws. Thanks!