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Michael’s long road back

    By Karin Michels

My dog Michael, half Black Mouth Cur and half Feist, is eleven years old. He was a performing dog from the time he was three until he was seven. Since then, he has always wanted to practice his tricks for treats, but due to a bulging disc that caused him excruciating pain two years ago, I had to stop the hoops and other leaping stunts.

Two years later, Michael became paralyzed on December 11th, 2009 at 1:45 a.m. It was a most horrific night to get through. Looking at my little boy lying on his side, motionless and in pain, was heartbreaking. I prayed asking for guidance and healing for Michael. Later that morning as Dr Sloan's Orthopedic Surgical Clinic was getting ready to open, I pleaded with them to get Dr Sloan to see Michael first thing. Dr. Sloan assessed Michael as having deep pain sensation, which meant that Michael had a good chance at recovery with surgery. (Although since then, I've learned through other's experiences on DodgersList that even without deep pain sensation, and given more time for recovery, dogs can still enjoy life.)

Dr. Sloan does not do surgery on weekends, so Michael stayed there Saturday and Sunday, on high doses of steroids in the hopes that the disc would shrink back, relieving the compression on the spinal cord. That gave me time to research on the Internet, speak to all my closest friends for advice, and make a decision by Monday morning based on the outcome of Michael's stay over the weekend. One friend was preparing me for making a decision to possibly euthanize Michael, saying, "he'll never be the same," comparing a situation she had concerning a monkey she once had that could no longer swing from tree branches. How could Michael not be the same little funny, playful guy? If he needed to use a wheel cart, I learned that many dogs use them and still express their playful, exuberant characters in them.

Monday morning, I called Dr. Sloan and he told me that Michael was still paralyzed. I told him I would chose having surgery for Michael. I drove up to see Michael, and they brought my little guy to me. He was lying on his side with all four limbs just straight and stiff. He whined, cried, and moved his head as though he wanted to climb right out of his skin and get out of there. They all left the room, and I sang Michael's favorite lullaby and stroked his face and kissed him, telling him that he had to "wait." He knows what that means. As much as he hates to wait for anything, he has been disciplined to know what "you have to wait" means, and he calmed down and laid his little head in my hands and closed his eyes.

A couple of hours later, Dr. Sloan called with the results of the Myelogram which showed two severely herniated discs, between C3&4 and 5 &6. I told Dr. Sloan I would like Michael to have surgery, but he kept telling me it was very severe. I told him I was convinced his expertise was going to heal Michael. Seven hours later, I got a call from Dr. Sloan saying that Michael was out of surgery and doing well. He could not move his limbs yet, and he was on an IV and painkillers. He said I would have to wait until Wednesday before coming in to see him.

I used the time to get things together for his homecoming. I purchased a playpen and a futon that would fit inside the playpen from Craig's list. When I finally got to see Michael, my heart dropped. He was laying there looking up at me with such sadness; yet, happy to see me. He was still paralyzed, and I realized this was going to take some time and hard work. He had an IV hooked into his upper paw, and his paw had been bleeding. I comforted my little boy, turned him over, gave him fresh water, and tried to feed him. He wouldn't eat. After spending time with him, I kissed him and told him I was coming right back (he understands that too). On Friday, four days after surgery, Michael could come home, and we were thrilled to bring him home. We had made a hammock-type carrying blanket out of the canvas that covered the futon, and covered that with an old comforter cover. We would use that to transport him into and out of the car. Michael was elated to see us, and he was so excited, he was shivering from excitement.

When we got home, our neighbor helped me carry him with this hammock into the house and straight into his playpen. And that hammock carry blanket became the top sheet of the comforter. We lined the pen with pee pads that I had bought at a medical supply shop. The aftercare instructions were extensive. Turn him over to the other side every two hours except during the night when he was sleeping. Lay him on his stomach, called the "sternal" position also as often as possible for an hour or so. Give him plenty of water to help wash out all the steroids, which would be making him very thirsty too. And give him all his medications on schedule. Massage his legs and paws and move his limbs through the range of motion three times a day. All these things kept my mom and me on our toes. I took a couple of weeks of vacation to care for him.

We kept Michael in the family room, where he could see us in the kitchen and the dining area through the mesh window. Michael loved the smell of food and the constant company and attention, as well as the good homemade, warm food.

After a week, Michael started to turn his head and stretching his neck to see over the playpen. He started wagging his tail about then too, and he could wiggle his toes on the right side. His left side took longer than the right because the disc had herniated disc to the left. Michael had been very constipated and I finally I realized that Michael was going to need some attention and assistance making his number two, I decided to take him out of the playpen, and put the futon on the floor in the living room. Then I decided to hold him up as though standing, and while I was lifting him from the belly, he went number two. I had read about this procedure online, and it worked for Michael. He was too heavy for me to take outside as some people do and it was too cold and often rainy in December and January. So, we were constantly cleaning up his mess and making a fresh bed for him indoors.

After the 3rd week, to my amazement, Michael began to crawl a little. I called a Canine Dog Physical Therapist and "Margaret", recommended that I encourage his crawling with treats. So every day, we practiced crawling about three times a day. I was back to work, so I would get him up before I left for work, come home at lunch and practice crawling, and then again in the evening. His left side was much weaker, I wasn't sure if his left side would ever be able to walk again from the looks of it back then. But, he became so proficient at crawling, I ended up buying a play yard at PetsMart, and we still use it today to keep Michael in at night. This way he doesn't roam around the house and get tempted to jump up and down from the furniture.

Then, I was fortunate in my research online to find DodgersList and also to connect with Deborah Carroll, a canine Physical Therapist in Texas at www.rehabilitationandconditioning foranimals.com or www.myspace.com/ austinanimalrehab. She gave me some pointers to help me get Michael balancing and eventually walking. She recommended I buy "Comfort Rider" seat belts which are harnesses with soft, sheep wool cushioning. One went on the front of him and one on the rear. I held them both up and would help Michael get the feel of balancing and walking. His right paw seemed to understand the concept, while the front left was still not ready, but had come Around week four, Michael developed a urinary tract infection. DodgersList moderators suggested I go get another urinalysis and also see a neurologist. So I went to another clinic and had an x-ray to ensure he didn't have any stones, and full blood work to be certain he was okay. The neurologist, told me to take Michael outside and leave him on the grass and he would urinate more often.

My main source of emotional and factual support came from DodgersList. We were welcomed with open arms, even though Michael is not a Dachshund. Several really knowledgeable moderators and members answered my questions, concerns, and shared in Michael's entire recovery. There were also some very thoughtful and kind members who followed Michael's progress. I can't imagine what it would have been like to go through this without all of them. That weekend was the beginning of Heaven for us. I made a video youtube of Michael's first outdoor episode going number one, then number two. They are so funny, because he wasn't able to walk yet, but after each episode, he would try and run away from his business. And that was the beginning of his road to walking.

Michael had acupuncture a couple of times, and then, water treadmill after he had been walking with a sling. I also decided to take him on longer outdoor walks. His first exposure to his old stomping grounds, the Library, was on Valentine's Day. He was so happy to smell all his pals' p-mail, and leave some. I videotaped and made a youtube of that too. Search flutingaway on youtube for his videos.

We have ramps that I bought at PetsMart for all of the patio edges and the front porch. I use one to get him in and out of the car. We still have rug runners over the tile and linoleum for him, as sometimes he still tends to slip and slide, but has vastly improved. His walking is good, with just a little bit of a wobble, but he is his old self – perky, happy and funny, always wanting to perform a trick for a treat! DodgersList, we thank you for being there; and Dr. Sloan, we love you too!



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