I Walk Beside You – Post-Cancer, Post-Surgery, Post-Pneumonia Kenny Takes His First (Assisted) Steps!

Chapter 13

By Leslie Gallagher

The crisis appeared to be over. Kenny’s pneumonia had resolved (thank god) and his heart appeared to be stable. Dr. Ettinger was checking it and listening to it every day which allowed me to focus on my real job: getting Kenny to walk on his own. This is where our work gets really fun. When we are boarding a paralyzed dog we try to do as much physical therapy as the animal can possibly handle. We learned a lot about rehabbing paralysis thanks to Christopher Reeve. Because of his horseback riding accident and subsequent paralysis from the neck down, he funded ongoing research at UCLA on paralysis. And because the world works in mysterious ways, my running partner happened to run this department.

So several times I week on our runs I would quiz her about what the latest research was, and what kind of results they were getting. The coolest thing? Reeve was getting up to seven hours of PT a day! “More” really was turning out to be “more”. Another cool thing? They donated one of their body weight support systems that they were using to support him for his PT!  We then converted it to use for dogs.

Of course I applied this to Ken (and all of our other paralyzed boarders). Ken got rehab non-stop throughout the day. Every hour we would pick him up in his harnesses, walk him around the building, stretch out his legs, pop him in the quad cart, massage, ice, work, work, work. When we were all tired, we would rest. (ok well really just Ken would rest. The rest of us went back to work on other dogs.) Even cooler? It was working!!! Ken was starting to weight bear a little bit more every day. At first we all kept our thoughts to ourselves, wondering if we were just imagining it or was he in fact bearing more weight? Then we’d quiz each other. “Do you notice any difference? I feel like Ken is supporting more of his own weight”. The consensus? He was getting stronger!

We only needed to use the ginormous quad cart for about two weeks. Then we transitioned to just the front and back Walkabout harnesses with one person supporting the front and one supporting the back. We had special booties on his feet to keep them from bleeding as he still didn’t have the strength to always place his feet properly. Day in and day out we walked and walked and walked with Kenny picking up and putting down his feet all by himself. Ken was absolutely thrilled. He was desperate to help us. He was over the moon to be up in a standing position and actually moving under some of his own control again after several months of being more like a harp seal.

As rewarding as this is for all of us it is also backbreaking. Kenny weighed about 90 lbs. As much as he wanted to help us, we were still doing most of the work. I have to constantly remind my staff to take care of themselves as well, especially their backs. It is very, very common for vet techs and veterinarians to hurt their backs because our work is so physical. One client with a paralyzed Cavalier King Charles spaniel complained to me about how hard it was to walk her dog and I had to fight to keep a straight face. The dog weighed all of about 20 pounds. I could literally walk her in her harness just using my index finger to hold her up. Try walking a paralyzed Rottweiler, Dobie or German Shepherd and see how hard it is! We once boarded a tetraparetic Great Dane (paralyzed in all four legs) who weighed about 165 pounds. It took four of us to walk her and four of us in the pool with her. Talk about back pain…..

One of the tricks I use when trying to walk any paralyzed dog is to have a staff member supporting the dog in the harness and I scoot around on a skateboard either in front of or behind the dog “walking” the feet for him. This gives my back a bit of a break and works really well in retraining the dog’s brain that those feet are still attached and need to start working. And Kenny loved this. He was so eager for his therapy and so excited to be bearing some of his own weight.

I knew we were getting close to the day that Kenny was going to start walking on his own. What I didn’t realize was how soon that would be…..


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