In late January 2007 a friend of mine sent me a link to the RSPCA web site regarding some horse rescue in QLD. The Burwood branch is just up the road from where I work so I idly clicked on the “Dog Adoptions Burwood” link and the rest is history as they say…
Gemma was a stray, picked up off the streets of Melbourne probably about 24 hrs away from total starvation. She was skin and bones. Her skin was like parchment, dry and wrinkled, her coat dull and staring. She was kept at first in intensive care at the RSPCA veterinary hospital because they did not think she would make it. Her card read “reassess in 2 hrs, reassess in 2 hrs” all the way through the first 24 hrs. Only her kind and friendly nature made them continue with the treatment.
She was put up for adoption when she was well enough to eat small meals and digest them properly. She was young (about 18 months old), completely unhandled and untrained. She had marks on her neck from a collar that had been left on and was too tight (she has ongoing issues with her throat to this day), she has a roached back and a damaged pelvis (the pelvis issue was not apparent until later).
When she first came home with me she did not stop walking for 2 days, wouldn’t settle, and didn’t seem to sleep.
I ended up using some veterinary prescribed mild sedation (for the benefit of all of us!) for a few days. She eventually settled and became part of the household (albeit a very active and slightly dizzy member).
Things continued well until one day I came home to find Gemma unable to walk properly, her strange back legs could not grip on any surface that was even slightly slippery and just splayed out behind her and her right side foreleg was dangling on the ground, unable to take any weight and knuckled over.
Some sort of accident or playing too hard during the day was the diagnoses along with ‘nerve damage’ and ‘spinal injury’.
She was put on anti-inflammatories and improved slightly, but still could not walk properly (and had no hope on slippery surfaces, her legs just shot out from underneath like she was wearing roller skates).
At that time (2009) I found a ‘human’ Osteopath who also worked with dogs (Brendan Atkin). His work was amazing and he managed to put Gemma back together again, so much so that she was almost as good as new, racing around everywhere as she normally did, her back legs strong and the only clue to the issue was the slightly wobbly front leg. Gemma’s condition is one that needs to be ‘managed’ and cannot be cured. Unfortunately for us, Brendan went to the UK for 2 years to further his osteopathic training so what to do now?
Enter Christian Langeder - mid 2011.
After a particularly hard weekend of accompanying me out with my horse and playing with her dog-friends Gemma was in some considerable physical trouble. She didn’t want to walk, had even more trouble getting in the car than she usually has and was obviously in some degree of pain. A week of rest and anti-inflammatories, then a trip to Christian (who had been recommended by a friend) was in order.
After the treatment on a Saturday morning Christian advised that Gemma would probably sleep for the rest of the day (she did) and may feel ‘hungover’ the next day (she was!). I took her out for a short walk on the Sunday evening and have not seen her run around as much for ages – she powered everywhere, legs flying, and obviously feeling 150%. It was a joy to see. If you had not seen her on the Friday or known of her issue, you would think she was just a normal dog out for a run.
She has since then continued to improve and almost jumped into the car last night. She is feeling very comfortable but there is also an undefinable quality about her – a relaxation, a quietness when she is sleeping – a softness in her skin.
She is a dog that needs ongoing treatment and I am glad (we are glad) to have found Christian to help us.
Update August/September 2012
Unbeknownst to me the kids next door had been playing basketball close to my fence line, sending my dogs into ecstatic frenzies when they heard the ball bouncing and causing Gemma to leap up the fence and yahoo around. I didn’t realise this until she collapsed one day, in considerable pain and completely paralysed. A quick look around the garden (in daylight hours) revealed the extra activity she had been taking.
A visit to the vet and an overnight stay on fluids and pain meds later, she came back home for careful observation. The vet prescribed surgery but I feel it is not an option for this dog. At this stage, Gemma could not walk at all and I feared the prognosis was not going to be good. So home we went and each day I evaluated her progress, monitored her pain and her general wellbeing.
The vet prescribed a strong pain killer and an anti-inflammatory. Her xrays revealed a disc prolapse in her lumbar spine but nothing in her cervical spine even though we suspected it was here that this latest problem was originating.
An urgent call to Christian is answered with three home visits (two on consecutive days and one about a week later) and we have Gemma up and walking again. I need to say at this stage that we had her pain controlled and she was eating, drinking and toileting well (if I helped her out into the garden she was able to manage on her own but this small trip left her completely exhausted).
I have to say here that if this dog ever shows signs of not responding to treatment, not wanting to continue, or being in ongong pain then I would not continue. But she is the one that just decides, OK, I’m feeling better, off I go again!
Now, about 4 weeks later, although she is still wobbly she is able to get up and down easily, trots around the garden and I have even taken her (in the car to a park nearby) out for short walks. Her stance is pretty much normal (ie she does not stand or move with the typical neck extension of a Wobblers dog), although her hind limb co-ordination is interesting (but it never was good, ever). Exercise (restricted and controlled) is important for her as it is her excellent muscle tone that supports and protects her spine. Swimming would be good too but she really hates the water and would not be happy about being in a pool with other dogs so I’ll wait till the summer and we’ll go down to a nice quiet beach. She knows she is fragile now and does not do half the things she used to (ie launching herself off the top of the retaining wall) and much to the disgust of my Labrador the garden has been halved with new fencing so they have no access to the kids next door. Gemma is happy at home with Lulu and with her friend Ogg (also a Lab, who belongs to a friend and visits from time to time) but is very wary of other dogs now (I guess she is afraid of being bumped as she easily falls) so her lifestyle is restricted but she really does not seem to mind and is happy climbing up onto the couch and lazing around : )
The strong pain killer has been discontinued and she is currently on 1.1ml of Meloxicam per day (her maximum dose can be 1.7 ml but she is doing fine on this smaller dose and I am reducing it slowly as she recovers).
She will continue on 2 to 3 weekly visits to Christian.
Gemma is on regular (every 2 or 3 months) cartrophen shots (and has been for about 12 months), a green lipped muscle formula for her joints and magnesium salts for her muscles.
Update August 2015
Gemma continues to do well. She is the luckiest dog – having had body work from so many of Australia’s best (including just this last week participating in an Emmett4dogs course and being Ross Emmett’s demonstration dog and receiving treatment from the man himself).
She is on a very low dose of Meloxicam (0.8 ml) and is very active still. At 10 years of age (roughly) she is a marvel and a credit to the powers of soft tissue therapy. Through her experience she has opened new door for me and started me on my life as a soft tissue specialist who is qualified to and who treats not only dogs and horses but people as well.