Whoa Stop! Hey! Come back Charlie!


The sounds of someone on the move…. these words are music to any health care provider’s ears when they have been caring for someone who is challenged in their mobility.

I had been working with Charlie for about 3 weeks when he arrived in my back parking lot and apparently had ‘gotten away’ from his person and was ambling across the field in back… just the week prior, Charlie was completely paralyzed in his back legs and the idea of him ‘getting away’ was inconceivable.

Like so many dogs who seek out massage and warm water therapy, Charlie had come in for help in regaining mobility. In Charlie’s case, this was after a spinal injury and subsequent surgery. Charlie hadn’t been able to move his back legs for several weeks and our discussions of late had included carts and other possible mobility aides as we covered some possible solutions for his future.

These were the subjects I had researched in preparation for our appointment that day, research I happily set aside as I watched little Charlie take off on his new found hind legs.

I always tell my students that in our work, we do need to have a plan, but we need to always remain fluid in that plan and change as circumstances change.

As I listened to Charlie’s “mom” dash across the parking lot in pursuit of her runaway dachshund, I set aside the wheel chair information that I had gathered and happily pondered all the wonderful gait and strength building possibilities in water and made a new plan for the session.

I have learned in my business that ‘healing’ can mean different things. Sometimes ‘healing’ can mean a dog regains mobility like Charlie. But just as often, ‘healing’ may mean that a dog will not regain mobility but instead will move into the wonderful world of special needs support products and care. No one really knows what is in store. As therapists, the best we can do is be present, create a safe environment and stay fluid in the way we serve…

In Charlie’s case, these are some of the steps I took in order to help facilitate this process :

  1. From my communications with the client, I was aware that Charlie had a paralyzing injury, lives with several other dogs and had surgery on his spine. From this information, I assumed there might be emotional trauma for both Charlie and his devoted family. I created as emotionally safe of an environment as I could for all of them and booked extra time on our first session so that we could progress at a comfortable and relaxed pace.
  2. The first session in the water is always about emotions – even for a dog who loves water, an indoor pool is not a natural body of water and it’s all a bit unusual. I proceeded slowly into the water and held Charlie and introduced him to massage as I continued to talk to his people. This allowed Charlie time to settle in and get to know me and build trust; and allowed his people to do the same.
  3. In my bodywork, I listened for responses in Charlie’s body that might mean tender or vulnerable places. I took note of the tension is his body and compensating tensions due to his current gait of pulling himself everywhere and not having the use of his hind legs. I tested reflexes and was happy to note that he could feel my work in his back paws.
  4. I worked down the spine and also gave his family some ideas of how to pet him and offer light massage and range of motion work at home.
  5. We proceeded into a short swim and although he had reflexes in his hind paws, he wasn’t using his hind legs in the gait of swimming. I took comfort in knowing that water can be used successfully to fool the mind in a situation like this … and can be a wonderful medium for a dog to explore his body in a safe way, gaining confidence in using body parts that had previously failed them.
  6. I continued my first session with body work, stretches, short swims and building confidence in Charlie. I was happy to see Charlie’s people were more relaxed, hopeful and motivated. I gave them some ideas for how to keep life safe for Charlie during the next week and how to motivate him to begin to identify with his hind legs again. They took home a sling so that he could walk in a straight line with assistance and begin to feel the ground under his back paws.
  7. The next week we began to see some progress as his reflexes were growing stronger and he was beginning to twitch those back feet in rhythm in this swimming. Everyone seemed more relaxed, hopeful and motivated.
  8. In the third week, we had even more mobility. Charlie appeared to be identifying with his back legs as being strong and useful in the pool, which is often the first step in translating that confidence onto land. In an effort to not get ahead of ourselves, I cautioned all of us to continue as we had been, to remain patient and thankful for every moment in the process.

As a therapist, being a part of Charlie’s family and health care team is quite an honor. To be witness to mobility being regained is a wonderful progression to be a part of – it is always a miracle to witness the body’s desire to heal and can involve profound moments for all involved.

As I serve in this capacity, I strive to remain humble and present in the process and then raise my arms to the heavens in gratitude when those words float through the windows……

WHOA CHARLIE !!!!!!!!!