Ebony – Water Therapy for Strength Building

by Gigi Callaizakis – www.HarmoniaBH.com

Sometimes when our canine companions get older and their abilities begin to become compromised, we need to seek solutions and to offer help. Here is one story of a woman and her dog – true and equal partners in this life – as they balance their relationship and each help each other to evolve during this process.

I watch Ebony rest peacefully and I think back to her wilder younger years when I affectionately called her my lab/terror mix. This, for the most part, is an exaggeration, but the kernel of truth remains. Ebony picked us for her family. My daughters and I were looking for a pup and she was quite clear with us when we walked into the kennel that we had come to the right place. From the beginning Ebony was very confident with who she was and was sure she should dominate the household.


It was a challenge for me at first, but we managed to work out an agreement that I could be Alpha, I think, except she got to be very clear about her physical boundaries and who got to socialize any puppies that came into our world. In almost thirteen years we have learned to respect each other’s needs and boundaries with very little conflict and we have been good companions.

In Eb’s desire to play hard, she blew out her ACL and had a TPLO surgery on her right knee at age seven. She also had some hip issues. Last June (2008), she began to deteriorate significantly. I decided to try stem cell injections. Using Vet Stem services, we had both knees and her left hip. Within two days the right knee blew up to about 3 times its normal size. The left side could not support her back end on its own. Her hindquarters were virtually immobilized. We also believe that she may have damaged a disc in a fall she took while in this condition.

She was in a great deal of pain and I thought I was going to lose her. While I think the stem cells helped her left side eventually, they clearly damaged something in her right knee. To this day we have episodes with her right knee and we don’t know what the problem is.

We tried aspirating the knee and that helped to some extent. We did x-rays, ultrasound, and CT Scans. All were indeterminate. She went on Heparin because a small blood clot was found behind the left knee. At various times, she was taking five different antibiotics, pain killers, natural remedies, ayurvedic remedies, and prednisone. She wouldn’t eat – well, except ice cream, which became the answer to getting these pills into her. Finally, one day she got up and walked. Improvement was a sporadic back and forth process. On top of it all, the surgery where they harvested her fat cells to make the stem cells was not healing well. Throughout all of this I was also doing energy work on her, Jin Shin Jyutsu. She responded well to this and I noticed that on the side where my hands touched her most her surgery healed best. Almost a year later, her hair has not grown back in some places though.

I made an upcoming trip to Denver a road trip so Eb could come with me. While there, we reconnected with the surgeon who had done her TPLO. Once he swallowed his frustration that I had done anything to the knee where he had performed his surgery, he began to work with her using an electromagnetic device (BiCom 2000). This gave her the most marked immediate improvement. The improvement had begun to slip away when I decided to take her to LaPaw Spa for massage and water therapy. This helped strengthen her muscles, relax and grow her confidence. She loves these sessions and continues them regularly. She also has had acupuncture periodically and takes homeopathic tinctures for arthritis.

Ebony in the pool with Cindy

Though her condition strengthened, I found it necessary to use support devices for her mobility. Sometimes, due to the semi-paralysis in her back legs, her stability would falter and she would fall. One time she squatted to defecate and her back legs gave out on her. The results of this were not only dismaying for me who had to clean up, but also a horrible blow to her pride. I knew I had to find a better way. One item that I had gotten from Cindy Horsfal at LaPaw Spa was a Walkabout rear harness (some suppliers with whom I have familiarity and have positive experiences are Walkabout HarnessesWest Coast Pet Supply and K-9 Cart). 

While using a sling or towel to support her in getting up was helpful, the Walkabout gave her better ergonomic support that allowed me to provide just enough tension and reassurance to her so that she would walk, run, and sometimes even play with confidence (with me in tow if I was hanging on). I often allow her to walk freely with it on. If she looks unsteady or is attempting something that may cause her to lose her stability I take the straps and support her. If she gets tired of walking without assistance, she stops and waits for me to take the straps. This is a big shift for Ebony who is a very confident and independent dog. Making this shift, while having a way to maintain some control and self-respect, has been vitally important to her emotional and psychological well-being.

Because Ebony now carried more of her weight in front than in back, I also felt a need to support her front legs. So, in addition to the rear Walkabout, I use a front Walkabout. This is ideal for longer walks where she cannot lay down and rest as needed. I will gently pull up on both Walkabouts and take weight off her for a few moments. This gives her enough relief to allow her to continue to have the pleasure of these longer walks. We do also have a K-9 Cart for her; however, she is not yet a fan of this device. We use it to take her to a park where there is a wide open space and she can run around, play and chase the other dogs. She cannot lie down and, I suspect, feels as if she has less control, therefore is not yet comfortable. I continue to believe it will grow more useful as she ages.

Car travel with Ebony was a challenge for a while because she does not take kindly to being lifted (a control issue perhaps). We learned a compromise strategy was to lay a blanket on the ground and she would lie down and allow us to sling her into the car. The problem was that it took two people (at her peak weight she was 75 pounds). Now, with both Walkabout harnesses on, Ebony “jumps” into the back of my Subaru Forester. I assist by lifting as she jumps. This makes traveling alone with her quite doable.

She has also very much come to enjoy the energy work I do with her. If she doesn’t need it or I am not doing the flow she needs, she will squirm or try to get me to pet her instead. If it is what she needs, she lets out a sigh and lies completely down on her side. As she grows more restful during the treatment her legs begin to twitch. If I stop, and she is not asleep, she almost immediately sits up and looks around at me. If I begin again and she still feels the need for the session she lies back down.

While in Florida on a recent trip where I was dealing with some very difficult family circumstances including the death of my father, Ebony was with me and she was picking up on and involved in some of these situations. This resulted in her again losing use of her hindquarters during two particularly stressful occasions. I have reason to believe from tests done by two vets, an educated guess from a third vet, and my own energy work with Ebony that she has some damage to her spine(the disc damage I mentioned earlier) that causes this paralysis. In both cases energy work, pain relievers, rest followed by gradually increased exercise and wet heat helped her get back on all four feet. She is now regaining her strength and is almost back to where she was before we left. She has lost some weight and this makes walking more comfortable for her. She will be thirteen years old on May 15, 2009. Her spirit is a determined and courageous one with a good bit of sweetness mixed in (if she decides to let you see it). I am grateful for my time with Eb and am looking forward to a few more years of life lessons with her.

by Gigi Callaizakis – www.HarmoniaBH.com