Over the course of 30 years of in the pet care business, Pet Pleasers’ pet sitters have cared for dogs and cats in animal wheelchairs, blind animals, deaf animals and animals with other mobility issues such as leg amputations, birth defects and incontinence.
Animals can have the same problems some people do, whether caused by genetics, injury or age. The amazing miracle is that animals adapt to and accept any disability far better than most humans do. And there are loads of products available to assist these animals/owners — from customized wheelchairs to belly wraps.
If you find that your pet is heading in that direction, do some research on the internet to learn more about your pet’s disability, support groups and products available to help.
I have experienced most of the above with my pets over the years. The most dramatic and miraculous was with my Pekingese, Emma Sue.
She and my other dog, Herbie, a Lhasa Apso, went out in our fenced in yard for their usually trip to the bathroom before bed. Herbie came back, but not Emma.
She loved to “patrol” the fence so didn’t think much about it. Finally I went out to see where she was and she was just sitting on the deck and could not move her back legs to walk. We never knew what happened to cause this.
Next day we were at the vet very early and subsequently referred to an orthopedic vet in Richmond. Emma was 12 years old, very healthy with tons of energy. Even so, the orthopedic surgeon who evaluated her said that in his opinion/ she was “too old” to do anything.
This was totally unacceptable to me so I called my vet and requested a referral to the Veterinarian Referral and Critical Care Hospital in Manakin-Sabot, just northwest of Richmond. It is a state-of-the-art, 24-hour a day facility. We went right away, their surgeon did some testing and discovered she had a herniated disk. She still had some deep pain response in her back feet so he felt it was worth the effort and recommended surgery. It was performed and we brought her home from the hospital a few days later, absolutely terrified that we were now in charge of her care.
We put plastic bags and potty pads on our couch and made her comfortable. She could not lift her head to drink or eat (we would hold her head up for a drink and hand feed), she just went to the bathroom on the potty pads (that was fine), but for the most part just lay there in her one position until we rolled her over.
It was terrifying — we were so worried about hurting her, although she was paralyzed in the back legs. At that time, there were no physical therapists or rehab places for dogs in Richmond so I contacted the school of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University to learn whether they had any recommended therapies for her particular injury.
A wonderful therapist created a video demonstrating various exercises we could do to strengthen the muscles in her back legs. Every day, my husband and I did an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening with her.
She never complained. She’d just look at us with those big brown eyes as if to say “I don’t know what is going on, but I trust you to take care of me!” It was an awesome responsibility and a very humbling experience!
We returned to the vet for checkups about every 4 weeks and although she seemed to be happy, eating and gaining strength in her back legs, she made no attempt to walk. I joined a support group on the internet which I found very helpful. Just knowing that other pet owners were going through the same experience was encouraging.
We tried to give Emma a lot of normalcy to her life. I got a stroller and Herbie and I took her for walks in the neighborhood. I would wheel her outside to her favorite “patrol post” so she could enjoy the fresh air and watch the wildlife in the woods behind our house. I discovered she enjoyed watching cartoons in the morning, so we settled into a fairly varied and productive routine for Emma.
Months went by, and in spite of the exercise routine and the constant attention, Emma did not try to stand up or walk. She seemed very happy and content and Herbie stayed by her side all the time. At that point, we began looking into wheelchairs for dogs.
We also began putting her on the floor and placed a liver treat a few inches out of her reach. Low and behold, she began pulling herself over to get the treat. Gradually, we moved the treat further and further away from her — and she kept pulling herself to get it.
She would pull with the front legs and drag the back ones. Finally, over six months after her paralysis began, she started trying to pull herself into a standing position. It was a struggle, but she did it!! She could stand for a few seconds, then she would flop back down.
This went on for a while and then with the aid of those wonderful liver treats placed out of her range, she started taking some tentative steps. We were all crying and cheering her on and you could see the happiness and triumph in her face! She was so proud of herself and her accomplishments.
From that day on, she walked a little more each day. It wasn’t her former walk and we had to put throw rugs all over the house so she wouldn’t slip and fall, but she was moving under her own steam. We had a ramp from the deck to the back yard which she used to go up and down.
Before the accident, Emma, an all black Pekingese, could run like the wind with her long coat flowing behind her — a beautiful sight to behold. Now, there was no more running, but the beauty of her come-back and her ability to walk was far more meaningful to her and to us. She gave us so much more than we gave her; and, we learned how much trust and love an animal can give no matter what the circumstances.
If you have a special needs pet and you need in-home pet care when you’re out of town, we understand and hope you’ll rely on us to cover the bases when you’re away.
And if you’re looking for resources for your pets with special needs, here are a few links we found helpful:
Carole Tomas is the owner and president of Pet Pleasers, Inc. She is a graduate of Ohio University and a Charter Member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. When she began Pet Pleasers in 1985, business was conducted Old School via a landline, snail mail and an answering machine the size of a breadbox. No internet, email, text messaging, digital photos, social media or mobile phones! What has remained constant over three decades: Carole’s love of animals and an unwavering passion for professional pet sitting.