Gracie – Swimming To Recovery

Courtesy of Therapy Dogs International

By TDI Staff

Imagine. You return from vacation, well-rested and missing your dog who you had to regretfully leave behind at the kennel. You can’t wait to see the excitement on your pup’s face when you pick her up, and you’re already thinking about a long walk as soon as you get home. But as you greet the kennel workers, something feels wrong; they stare at you nervously.

“Hello, Mrs. Harris,” they say, trying not to panic, “um, before you see Daisy, you should know…”

Gracie (far left) with her TDI Dog friends
Gracie (far left) with her TDI Dog friends

Daisy has a limp. She has to drag her back legs to get to you. She’s scared and confused. Her big soft eyes look at you for help. You rush her to the veterinarian and surgery is needed. Something about spinal disks. After the operation, Daisy is heavily bandaged. She wants to move around but she can’t. Her hind-legs are paralyzed.

Unfortunately, this sad scenario actually happened to one of our members. Terri and her six-year-old miniature Dachshund, Gracie, had to go through this last February. There were times when Terri almost lost hope, but Gracie never gave up. And it started with water.

Physical Healing

Gracie found herself floating in a warm indoor pool, a therapist beside her. On land Gracie felt hopeless and clumsy, her back-legs dragging her down, causing pain and misery. Since the surgery her efforts to walk were futile, but in the pool-she felt light as a feather. Snug in a life jacket, Gracie would paddle around the water, building up strength in her front-legs and slowly rediscovering feeling in her hind-legs.

According to Cindy Horsfall, founder of the Association of Canine Water Therapy, “Water therapy provides a dog with 20 times the exercise of regular therapy [water is 20 times the resistance of air], without the restricted movement and strain from exercising on land.”

With sessions three times a day, Gracie was on the road to recovery. Function in her left hind-foot was returning, and she was even swimming at home; splashing around in the bathtub with Terri cheering her on. But on a placid April day, Gracie was paid visit by an unwelcome guest.

Love Thy Neighbor

For the first time since her surgery, Gracie sat outside on the grass, enjoying the fresh air that she had been missing. From a distance the neighbor’s dog-an adult Akita-spotted Gracie looking weak and defenseless, and ran from its yard. Before Terri could react, the Akita clutched Gracie in its mouth and shook her ferociously, growling from the thrill. It then threw Gracie’s limp body through the air, probably convinced she was dead.

Blood loss. Broken ribs. Punctured lungs. Fluid in the lung canal. The veterinarian was afraid Gracie would go into shock and die.

“I thought I was going to lose her,” said Terri. “My friends kept telling me: ‘Terri, she’s had enough… Paralyzed and attacked-she’s had enough.’ But I kept saying, ‘One more day… One more day for her to get better.”

As if she overheard her handler, day by day Gracie found more life, more fight to survive. Slowly, the wounds turned to scars, and once again the bandages came off. But scars sink deeper than the skin.

Emotional Healing

Months later Gracie found herself in the water once again. Her hind-legs still paralyzed, she was worse than when she started six months ago-the Akita attack had nearly killed her. What could swimming possibly do now?

“There’s an aspect of water therapy,” says Horsfall, “that we often overlook: The emotional healing.” According to Horsfall, being held and massaged in warm water helps calm the dog. “They feel safe and nurtured,” she says. “It restores their confidence.”

Gracie must have felt safe; the little Dachshund loved the water, wagging her tail and greeting her therapists before each session. Her confidence was gaining, and after three more months of water therapy, she could finally walk on her own. “She was a true fighter,” said Terri.

Returning To Therapy Work

Before her two surgeries Gracie loved going on therapy visits. Terri would say, “Gracie, time for work,” and she would run straight for the crate, ready to go. Now, nearly a year later, Gracie was ready to see her friends again.

Terri picked Gracie’s favorite place to visit: Yesteryear Adult Daycare Center, where the members adored Gracie. To lend support, friend and fellow TDI member Joan and her dog, Ginger, came along too.

Moved by Gracie’s story, the members at Yesteryear made sure to tell her how brave she was. But the little Dachshund was having too much fun to really listen. “She was running around and kissing her old friends,” said Terri. They stayed an extra ten minutes that day.

A Year Later

Gracie continues to improve; her hind-legs are almost fully functional, and she can now exercise on land. Overcoming spinal surgery and a life-threatening attack, Gracie swam her way back to health when everyone but Terri counted her out. With water therapy, Gracie was provided the freedom and safety to regain her confidence in walking. Terri shared this story to inspire others; to prove that a fighting spirit and a little water can go a long way.

Gracie still looks forward to her monthly water therapy sessions.

Would Your Dog Benefit From Water Therapy?

  • Water therapy can be prescribed by a veterinarian and is useful in helping dogs overcome injuries, soothing sore joints, and providing relaxation to any dog needing it.
  • A dog feels 90% lighter in water, allowing him or her “freedom of movement,” says Horsfall.
  • Find out more about the benefits of water therapy and the Association of Canine Water Therapy.