By Leslie Gallagher
Kenny’s melanoma had been removed, with clean margins. That was the good news. The bad news was that he was still paralyzed.
What’s it like to live with a paralyzed dog? It can be really hard, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. It can be is terrifying, exhausting, overwhelming and often depressing. You try not to let it break your heart or your spirit. You know how badly your paralyzed dog wants to get up and run around with the other dogs, playing, chasing, wrestling, going on long walks. They want to be mobile. They just want to be NORMAL. I try to not think about all that because it could get so overwhelming I’d never function. It seems so bloody unfair. What did a dog ever do wrong to be made paralyzed? Why couldn’t this happen only to really mean people who do terrible things? Why does it have to happen to an innocent dog who never did anything bad to anyone?
In the beginning, with my first paralyzed dog, Sophie I used to silently curse the owners of other German Shepherds that could walk normally. I so resented them not having to deal with an 80+ pound paralyzed German Shepherd. It just wasn’t FAIR. Sophie was the kindest, sweetest, most gentle loving dog I’d ever known. I don’t believe in karma. I don’t think bad things ever happen to evil people. And I’ll never understand why animals, children and the elderly are abused. I’ll never understand why kids and animals get cancer (what did THEY ever do to deserve that?) and I’ll never understand why murderers and rapists and terrorists don’t live lives of pure hell for the havoc they wreak.
With a paralyzed dog in the house many of your own needs get pushed aside. You have to make adjustments. You don’t always have the freedom you used to. Can’t just go out for hours on end knowing the back door is open and all the dogs can relieve themselves whenever they need to. A paralyzed dog is perched or prone on a bed just waiting for you to come back and carry him out, express his bladder, clean him up if he’s had an accident and change positions so he isn’t lying on the same side for more than a few hours. You worry that he might have to go, try to drag himself off his bed and get stuck under a piece of furniture. Or that he is thirsty and can’t reach the water bowl. Or worse, he reaches the water bowl and then drowns in it because he can’t hold his head up. Every nightmare scenario you can possibly imagine runs through your head when you’re not at home. You become a bit of a freak worrying. Its exhausting. And, if you need to go out of town for work, pleasure or emergency who is going to look after him? (Which is why, in my spare(!) time, I board clients’ paralyzed dogs in my home.) But the knowledge that time and a lot of hard work may get this beautiful animal up again makes it all worthwhile. So what if I have a lot more grey hair than I used to? More wrinkles. High cholesterol. What.Ever. This dog depends on you for everything and it is up to you to help him!
Having said all of this there is also a ton of joy living with a paralyzed dog. Dogs feel no self pity. They attempt to do everything all the able bodied dogs are doing. They don’t wallow in their misfortune. They are as delighted to go for a walk in their wheelchair or walkabout as the dogs who can walk without assistance. They are just as playful, just as joyful, just as full of waggy tails and licks and kisses. To them, their lives are just as worth living as anyone else’s. They are a constant daily reminder to live each day to the fullest, enjoy every moment, every ray of sunshine on your back, every good whiff in the neighbor’s grass, every nibble on their favorite bone. Disabled dogs are an amazing lesson in how not to feel self pity. You can’t have a bad day when you see a crazy German Shepherd running down the street as fast as she can in her wheelchair, mouth wide open in a huge grin, tail flying in the wind!
But so it is. I’ve chosen this life and will spend every day of it trying to get these animals back to normal, back to walking, back to living a good life. And with that comes a lot of sadness and pain. Some dogs don’t walk again despite turning yourself inside out to help them. The good news is that most of them do walk again. Statistically, about 80% of paralyzed dogs will walk again with therapy. With Ken I had no choice. Ken HAD to walk again. I couldn’t bear the thought of this gorgeous, funny, elegant guy spending the rest of his life being carried around like a ginormous loaf of bread. My back couldn’t bear it either J. And because his front legs didn’t work I couldn’t do it all by myself. I had to have my husband help every step of the way, probably sorely trying his patience as I was/am always foisting these projects on him. When it comes to animals I seem to have more patience than normal and I know that not everyone shares that trait. Ken had become the focus of my life and my staff and I were going to do everything we could to ensure there was one LESS paralyzed dog in the world. Ken WAS going to walk again.