by Carol Swindaman
I work at Redwood Animal Hospital in Redmond WA. Anyone who works at an animal hospital knows that there is always an opportunity to adopt a new pet due to a variety of circumstances.
In the fall of 2000, Trooper came to us by way of Pasado’s Safe Haven, an animal rescue group based in Sultan, Washington. He was taken from a high kill shelter where he was certain to die. He was very thin and had a badly damaged left front leg. The story was that he had been roaming a neighborhood for 10 days or more with the damaged front leg, someone finally called and animal control brought him into the shelter.
At Redwood he was cared for as though he had an owner – Pasado’s was his owner until he was healthy again and could be placed in a new home. He had been at the emergency hospital where his leg was wrapped and stabilized. He came to Redwood the next morning. Besides the damaged leg, he had cracked teeth, gravel in his ears and various scrapes. I looked at this sweet beautiful chocolate-colored dog with huge soft ears and big brown eyes and hoped we could make him better. I know this sounds really goofy, but something happened that day when I looked at him in that cage. Our eyes met for a few seconds as I stood there in front of his cage, some kind of connection happened. I was not thinking about adopting him just making him feel better.
Dr Karen West was the surgeon on duty that day. After her exam and x-rays, It was determined that his leg was so badly shattered and had gone so long without treatment that amputation was necessary. His left front leg was amputated; he was neutered, cleaned up and the gravel removed from his ears where we could. The teeth would wait until he was healed and stronger. He was probably hit by a car or truck or fell out of a truck, we will never really know.
He went back to Pasado’s Safe Haven to recover and find a foster home or maybe someone to take him for his forever home. Trooper learned to walk missing that leg but it was not easy. He weighed about 90 pounds and is tall with a long body. He developed a funny sort of dipping gate that could cover ground pretty fast. Running was easier for him than walking.
Pasado’s placed him in a foster home in November and in January he was back at Redwood with severe neck pain. Things did not look good so a neurologist was called, who at the time was teaching at Washington State University. There was a huge snow storm in the pass so he could not travel for a week. We waited and kept Trooper comfortable with medication. I was worried that they might give up.
Dr Harrington made it to the hospital and determined that Trooper needed spinal surgery to repair the vertebrae in his neck. Surgery was done the next day and Trooper was on his way to recovery.
Pasado’s was concerned that finding a home for a dog like Trooper would be difficult as he was a special needs dog and may have problems in the future.
I took Trooper home on February 1, 2002. We made that day his birthday and guessed his age to be about 3 or 4 years old. He got his name from Craig, one of the veterinary technicians at Redwood who thought it suited him and his continuous positive attitude through everything. Our wonderful rescued Cat, Zora, met Trooper face to face on his first steps in his new home. They sniffed and both went about their business. I had been telling Zora about him and that he was coming home to live with us and that she must be nice.
The first day Trooper spent alone in the house in his crate. Zora slept close by on his big bed. She continues to be curious about him and often sniffs his nose, and sometimes sleeps close to him on the end of his bed.
That year we had a February snow in Seattle, which thrilled Trooper as much as much as us as we watched him play in the snow. With his neck shaved and a hobbled walk he was finally safe and having fun. Trooper continued to thrive and get stronger. We took him to beginning and advanced obedience and tried a beginning agility and tricks class. Trooper loved to do things, he learned fast and even though he could not do some of the agility equipment – we worked on things he could do. The tall A-Frame was his favorite, but was a bit scary to hear and watch as he pounded up the frame and down the other side.
The final test for the advanced class involved placing the dogs in a down stay; placing a hamburger about a foot in front of each and having all owners leave the arena!! Trooper was amazing, drooling profusely but never made a move until released. Then we all ate the hamburgers with our dogs. It was just one of the proud special moments I have spent with him since he came into our lives.
He loved to run in the park fetching a Kong toy and rolling on his back in the leaves, frosty grass or snow. He loves squeaky toys, balls and Kongs with peanut butter and carrots.
Trooper is a smiling dog. If he is ever doing something he should not and gets reminded of it, he smiles and snorts and sneezes. He loves to sleep on his back, rolling and wiggling until he gets comfortable then falling asleep with a smile on his face, his front leg sticking up in the air.
Several years ago Pascal and I noticed that his joints in his front leg were swelling and painful. After having joint taps done he was diagnosed with immune mediated poly arthritis. His joints were sore for a while, medication helped and he was back on his feet but much slower and stiffer when he walked. During this time frame I decided to learn what I could to help him feel better and heal no matter what the future held for him.
We took him to water therapy at La Paw Spa. I met a wonderful therapist and soon to be veterinary student at WSU, Tracy Romsland, who opened my eyes to what I could do with my work and position at Redwood Animal Hospital. With Dr. Ken Jacobsen’s approval and support I enrolled in the Northwest School of Animal Massage (NWSAM) and the rest as they say is history. I became a Small Animal Massage Practitioner (SAMP) and I was hired by Teri Sahm at Heavenly Spa to swim dogs in July of 2004.
I practiced my work at the hospital and continued my education by watching surgery and finishing the 300 level small animal massage and rehabilitation program at the NWSAM. Trooper was my teacher then and has continued to be every day.
Two years ago it became apparent that he was really having difficulty walking. We decided to purchase a custom Quad cart for him from K-9 Carts so he could learn to walk with support. We had an MRI done in January of 2005 which revealed more problems with the disks in his back. Surgery was not an option. We opted for all kinds of treatment from acupuncture to swimming. In June of 2006, Trooper quit walking altogether.
He could not get up or coordinate his limbs. We worried and wondered what to do?? We decided to give him some time and see what would happen. When he first quit walking, he could barley move anything except his head and he was depressed. His amazing spirit and resilience kept him and us going.
After a month he could move more and as time went by he could move all of his legs, sit up, and then he could roll over. Each week he seemed to gain more movement. He was still the goofy, happy sweet dog, the same dog but he just could not walk. Medically he was fine – everything else worked…just not his spine. We developed ways to drag him around the house. We bought a soft stretcher and one with wheels; we built a ramp down the back step; we took him out in his cart; we took him to Heavenly Spa, a dog therapy pool, to swim and float.
He had learned to swim when we first got him and was strong enough to not use a float. He needs a vest now but loves the water and the special ball he gets to play with.
We have done just about everything you can think of to help him walk again; Supplements, Chinese herbs, acupuncture, physical therapy, massage, swimming, and Chiropractic. I learned physical therapy techniques, purchased physio rolls – exercise balls so Trooper could sit up right and feel his weight.
I found Animal Suspension Technology (AST) in Bellingham, WA that made Trooper a custom coat he could wear and be suspended so his paws could touch the ground. From a wonderful pool client, Craig and his dog Looie, we learned about a way to suspend Trooper from the ceiling of our shop on a track that slides so if he could he would move down the track.
Much of my research has been in the human field of spinal injuries as most people are not equipped to keep a dog like Trooper, so not much research or techniques have been developed to help dogs.
To date, Trooper is a normal healthy dog that cannot walk. He is not in pain, not incontinent and is a most amazing boy. We recently installed the track and bungee system in our shop so that with his new custom made AST Pet Support Suit he can stand suspended from the ceiling.
We take him for cart walks where one of us or both pull him along and he moves is legs and tail as I run in front of him to motivate him along. It is quite a workout pulling a 90 pound dog so we both benefit.
Living with Trooper day in and day out is a lot of work. Our days are planned around his schedule and vacations together are not something we can do. We do it all for love, for the promise I made to him when I first took him home that he would never be left or hurt or abandoned again. We play ball, and hide the toy under the pillow. His favorite spot is in the kitchen especially when Pascal is cooking. Food seems to just fly his direction which makes him very happy. We are considering another drug protocol – one used in human spinal cord injuries. I am always researching, looking for another doctor, therapy or protocol that will help him.
Trooper has taught us more than any class or book or human could teach. We always have hope. You cannot look in his eyes and not have hope. When we get tired or frustrated or sad I just think of how short the time is he will spend with us compared to all he has given us. You cannot help but smile when you look at him. Kids cannot keep their hands off of his ears and he is always teaching as I tell his story wherever we go. Trooper has not given up so how can we?
For more information on the Animal Suspension Technology Pet Support Suit, visit: www.petsupportsuit.com