Running on Empty – And Running Out of Options

Chapter 6

By Leslie Gallagher

Things weren’t going so well in the Kenny department. At this point we had now had Kenny for about three weeks and I was feeling frustrated. We were KILLING ourselves to get his limbs going but with very little success. Usually after three weeks of really intensive physical therapy we start to see some good results both with dogs that have had surgery and even with dogs that couldn’t get surgery. Ken was still in intense pain (I felt) and he was starting to develop contractures. Contractures happen when limbs don’t move. It almost looks like rigor mortis. His legs were getting harder and harder to flex and the muscles were getting tight and rigid. I was panicking.



Our team would spend every available hour they had doing range of motion exercises of both front and back legs. If you don’t keep the muscles and joints supple and flexible, if and when the dog ever does start to walk again they can’t because the limbs are in lock down mode. We couldn’t afford to let this happen. I jokingly always tell clients with paralyzed dogs that they could effectively quit their day jobs and spend 24/7 performing range of motion on their pets. I’m only halfway kidding. Its vitally important to put each limb through its proper range throughout the day.

Kenny getting therapy in the pool

Kenny’s Team Therapy Sessions

So what did we do? Four of us would get into our swimming gear, put Ken’s life vest on and carry him to the pool and spend as much time as possible with each one of us “swimming” his legs. We had to mimic the swimming or walking motion in water. Ken, not being a water dog, just hated it. I think he considered drowning himself on several occasions. Tough.

Then back on land, we’d do the same thing, constantly, sometimes every hour, all day long. He was such a trooper but even HE knew his legs were starting to lock up. Then we’d sling him up on our land treadmill with harnesses on both front and back legs and four of us would walk his legs for him. It was comical as we could never get the proper sequence, “left front, right rear, right front, left rear”. Try saying that five times fast. Or doing it!! We’d inevitably be arguing and giggling at the same time as no one could keep proper order. Or Ken would occasionally try to “help” and it would mess up our rhythm. Even funnier, we’d then assign ourselves a number, Dr. Bailey was leg #1, Kendra leg #2, Leslie leg #3 and Shawn leg #4 and we’d call out One! Two! Three! Four! But soon it would be One! Three! Shoot! Two! Four! Damn! One! Four! No two! You get the picture.



Then later in the day we’d do the same thing but in the underwater treadmill. As we couldn’t cram all four of us in the tank we tied therabands to his feet (long elastic stretchy rubber bands) and we’d sequence his feet going on the treadmill in water. Again comedy would ensue as we struggled to keep proper sequence. In addition to all of this we were massaging him which he LOVED, and doing daily acupuncture, stretching, assisted standing, standing on a theraball, you name it. Poor Ken was game for everything. With any other dog at this point we would have started to see (usually a LOT ) of movement by now. With Ken? Forget about it!!

I tried not to get depressed. We were just killing ourselves and he seemed to be getting worse if that was possible. He still couldn’t urinate on his own, could stand for a few seconds with lots of support and all of us were about to need back surgery of our own because of all the work we were doing on a 90 pound Doberman. I was pretty sure that even if we won the lottery and could have afforded the MRI and surgery that it was out of the question as it had been so long since his injury. With a spinal cord injury every hour is critical. The longer the cord has disc material (and blood, etc) sitting on it the less chance it will recover. We generally say that you have between 5-8 hours after a spinal cord injury to get into surgery. If you wait much longer than that the damage has been done and the cord doesn’t recover. What the heck was I going to do? What was going on??  Range of motion, underwater treadmill, land treadmill, therabands, laser, swimming pool,heat therapy, cold therapy, massage therapy, assisted standing, quad cart, one tech, two techs, three techs, four.  “WHY WASN’T IT WORKING???!!!”


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