Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I love this dog so much.

It’s crazy to me to think that many people would have euthanized him either before surgery or after, when he could neither walk nor go to the bathroom on his own. Basically when he was at his lowest, and I was at my most frightened, wondering: how can I possibly manage his condition all by myself? Yet, I never considered not trying. That thought only would have crossed my mind if he were suffering, which he was not, despite his new limitations. There were countless challenges with taking care of him in those early days and weeks - sometimes when I think about it now it seems like a dream - and I'm not sure how I did it.

But it’s amazing to me how far he has come in just over three months. I know he will walk again someday. I will never give up on him! And even if he never walks again, so be it. He is not in pain and remains the same happy, playful, goofy, sweet Ali he always was. Sure, there are things he can’t do anymore, but that’s true of people who are disabled too. And while dogs are not able to conceptualize or think about their disability the way people can, this actually seems to serve them quite well in terms of adjustment; dogs don’t dwell on their disability in the least. It’s the human caretakers who are most inconvenienced, of course: financially, physically, emotionally, socially…there are many lifestyle sacrifices that come along with taking care of a disabled dog. As far as I’m concerned this is what we all sign up for when we invite a helpless being into our lives with the tacit promise to take care of them (not to degrade Ali and his brethren by calling them helpless, but dogs have been [over]bred to be utterly dependent on humans and, in our anthropocentric society, they are, indeed, “helpless”). At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, I really wish other people valued their companion animals half as much. Yes, I have worked in animal shelters and have seen firsthand just how easily people discard their pets. Even with the magnitude of his injury and the massive cost of treatment, it never crossed my mind not to do everything I could for Ali. So, I have to go into debt. People are in debt for way worse and far more frivolous reasons than saving a life or helping out a friend in need – regardless of species. It just kills me to think of the comment one of Courtney’s friends made when she told him what was going on when Ali was still in the hospital: “a bullet would be cheaper.” All I can say is, I’m glad I don’t know that guy. Okay end of random rumination. I have to go hug my amazing dog now.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

It looks like he is just standing there, but…

…this is an important part of Ali’s physical therapy: weight bearing. At least twice a day we come to the park and I have him "stay" for ten minutes in a standing position so that he can put weight on his back legs. This type of exercise is important to counteract the effects of atrophy, which are already quite pronounced (his right hind leg, the weaker, is more atrophied than his left). If and when his motor function returns, it is important that he be strong enough to hold his own weight – otherwise we will have a situation where he can move his legs but is not strong enough to do really anything with them (stand up, walk). I also do “sit-to-stand” exercises with him a few times a day, which are pretty much as they sound. I start with him in a standing position and ask him to “sit” back onto my knee. Lots of praise! Then, with me supporting his hind end, I encourage him to push off and stand up. We repeat this a few times...as many as a wiggly, restless German shepherd can tolerate! This is good for strength and reawakening muscle memory.

So, in terms of Ali’s ongoing physical therapy, it is important to have him bear weight on a regular basis. It can be challenging; ten minutes seems like nothing but it can feel like an eternity to both of us while we are just standing there. I try to distract him with sticks and cookies to make the time go by quickly. It’s hard of course because he is a dog and standing still is not exactly a natural posture at the park! He is such a good boy, though. I can only imagine how much more difficult this exercise that looks like “nothing” would be with some other dogs who are less inclined to want to please their guardians (my late great husky, Kobi, immediately comes to mind!).

It is also challenging because people just love to walk right up to us in the park, with their dogs no less, even when we are hiding behind a rosebush trying to be inconspicuous. Of course no dog – no matter how well-behaved – can stay still in these circumstances so I have to politely tell them we are doing physical therapy and cannot talk at the moment, and sorry, but no, he cannot meet your dog right now. Ali’s wheelchair is an oddity and I knew he would draw attention but I am patently shocked at how many people flat out stare at us, turn their vehicles around in the street, and just approach us constantly with questions and comments, some innocuous and polite, others just plain annoying and nosy. Some dogs have reacted badly to Ali’s wheelchair and so I am much more cautious about him meeting other dogs in the park. In fact, I pretty much avoid it now. But I can’t take any chances. My neighbor’s dog recently tried to start a fight with Ali after they came up to us in the park and she assured me her dog was friendly. As soon as they sniffed noses her dog went for Ali and I had to pull him away from her – trying to make sure his wheelchair did not tip over in the process! Immediately she apologized and said she realized too late that her dog might react badly to Ali's wheels as she barks at strange objects...including people in wheelchairs (!). Um, I wish you had thought of that beforehand! Anyway, Ali was alright but it has made me even more cautious than I already was, which is why it is a constant challenge dealing with people walking right up to us with their dogs, without even asking if it is okay first. Even when I turn around and walk in the other direction they sometimes follow us! And this is not an off-leash dog park I should add, lest I sound overly harsh. There are signs posted that your dog must be on a leash. It is a de facto dog park however and I really don’t care if people violate the leash law, as long as their dogs are under control, which unfortunately usually they are not! Nothing new – careless dog owners abound in general – but the stakes are higher for sure now that Ali is disabled.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Both Dr. Tieber and Juli were happy with Ali’s progress at his re-check appointment on Friday. Dr. Tieber thinks he definitely has some pain sensation and this is good. She did not seem concerned about the cross extensor reflex. She said this is just a sign of a severe upper motor neuron lesion but does not mean he will not recover motor function. We put him in the underwater treadmill and he did well. When the tank filled up with water and Juli (who was in the tank with Ali) let go of him, he was able to stand with the weight of the water helping him. Although he wasn’t able to walk by himself on the treadmill, his left leg was definitely moving. Juli said he was not strong enough to break through the water on his own, but he was initiating movement and then she would help him complete the arc of a forward step. The right leg is his weaker and though she did not feel it moving she thinks there is “something there.” I am going to bring him back for hydro-therapy appointments once a week moving forward. He will only be in the tank for about 5 minutes each session until he gets stronger. Combined with the exercises we continue to do at home, it is my fervent hope he will continue to improve a little each day. I know he can do it!