I went running from my house when I heard Noble, my 9-year-old border collie, howling out in pain. It wasn’t the first time he was in trouble and cried out. Twice he has caught his rear leg on the fence trying to jump over it, virtually hanging himself upside down, yelping in pain. After cutting him down, he was able to walk, just a little shaken up. This time it was different. I found him sitting in the orchard unable to use his rear legs.
He didn’t seem to be in any pain, after the initial injury, but he seemed perplexed as to why his lower half of his body would not do what his brain was telling it to do. Seemingly, he did remember the pain and kept looking behind him frightened of an imaginary attacker. My husband was with him at the time and said he had just been running around as usual. It was raining that day and the deck of the nearby hale was wet and slippery. We think maybe he slipped or injured himself jumping off the 18″ deck.
We got the wheel barrow and loaded him up and took him inside. I searched the Internet in hopes of finding out what might have happened and what to do. Several articles mentioned that there was a available treatment window of 24 hours to get your dog to the vet for steroids and/or anti-inflammatory medicine.
I called several veterinary hospitals and if you do not have an established relationship with them, they will tell you they are not taking new patients today. Finally, I found one that would take him. Even though, Noble had never been to this establishment, I had taken other dogs I own there.
Within four hours we arrived at the vet. It’s not like the emergency room at the people’s hospital, you must wait a long time until the doctor can fit you in between scheduled appointments. I sat quietly in the waiting room hopefully staring at each potential doctor who came into the reception area. I was emotionally unavailable to take part in the casual pet chats by furbaby owners happening around me. Since Noble weighs over 50 pounds and couldn’t walk, the vet came out and examined him in the hatchback of my car.
After examining him, he told me that he had a herniated disc and they’d have to keep him there for two nights and they’d give him steroid injections. He told me Noble had a 50-50 percent chance of recovering and being able to walk again. The last vet who gave me those statistics, some 15 years ago, caused me to immediately put my Irish Wolfhound back in the car and drive to another vet. However, today, I was out of options and the useless diagnosis of a 50-50 chance was all I had.
The technician came out to scoop him up as tears welled up in my eyes as the reality of the situation set in. They performed no test, no x-rays nor a MRI to give us visual proof. The vet’s experience was all we had to go on. I went back into the office to run my credit card through and put down a deposit after receiving the $300 estimate. They were calling it a deposit but they actually charge you beforehand to ensure they get paid. This was just the beginning I thought. I’ve heard of dog back surgery costing well over $3,000.
We got back to the farm, it seemed terribly quiet and weirdly out of sorts even though I have four other border collies running around. Noble is the papa and alpha dog of all my other dogs. He literally lives up to the name “Noble” as he is a lordly, intelligent and a beautifully, large dog. I have often referred to him as the owner of Kumu Aina farm. He’s the glue that holds my farm together. His chosen jobs are the overseer of all farm activities and the keeper of order, always checking each hale and their occupants. Without him it all seemed stark and disorderly.
I busied myself looking online at apparatuses to cart Noble around with and doggie wheel chairs he could use to get around in. They have these rear or mid back halters, depending on where the injury occurred, to help lift up your dog so you can walk him outside. In addition, they have wheeled carts where you can place your dog in them and the wheels act as back legs and they can push themselves around using their front legs. Since the terrain on my farm is rocky in areas, I envisioned the heavy-duty off-road tires with the hefty $500 price tag. Instead of my usual plunging in to buy something to solve all my problems, I decided to wait until we had a clearer picture of what life would be like with a paralyzed dog.
The next day, we went to see him and reassure him that we were only temporarily leaving him. The vet had warned me of the possible life-threatening, flipped stomach condition (GDV, gastric dilatation volvulus) that often happens when big dogs are under stress. Having seen this several years ago with my sister’s dog, I was concerned and wanted to tell Noble through our actions that he was well loved and we weren’t leaving him.
He was so well-behaved in his kennel with his doggie pee pads and absorbent towels. Other dogs there were scared and barking incessantly. We hovered over him giving him reassurances and love. I brought along some marjoram essential oil known to help heal muscles and relieve stress. I sprinkled the fragrant oil on his towels and rubbed some on his fur. Later, I wondered to myself, what the vet techs must have thought about the bouquet of sweet marjoram wafting out from his kennel. I’m sure it was a nice break from the over-scrubbed but still smelling like a kennel odor.
The day arrived to fetch Noble and bring him home. The tech came out and handed me two medications for him to take, one was an oral steroid (dexamethasone, 5 mg) and one was to help him tolerate the stomach upset from the harshness of the steroid. She gave me a few pointers on how to care for him. I was to roll a bath towel and place in under him being careful not to pinch his penis and elevate his spine. I was glad to have him home and get him out of the odorous, panicked-dog kennel. That alone would lift his spirits I was sure
Really, I was unprepared for how much care he would need. We kept bedside vigil and he was never without either me or my husband for over a week. He had no control over his bowels and there was a constant puppy pad and towel changing need. Even in the middle of the night, we would take turns making him comfortable and changing his bedding. He would let us know he had relieved himself by gently whining. I later found out, from the vet, that the steroids were the big reason he often had to urinate.
During the day, we took him outside and I fashioned a halter for him from an old, cloth purse with big rope handles, I had found at the recycle center. Using it, we could lift his back legs and walk him outside during the day. He was excited and overjoyed at these short walks on the farm. After about three or four days, he started to use his right leg but the left one was dragging behind. How relieved we were! We weren’t sure what this meant but it was an improvement. He was still incredibly wobbly on his feet but could stand balancing his weight on three legs for a few minutes.
I took him back to the vet for evaluation about 10 days after the accident. The doctor confirmed, what I already knew, that when he first saw Noble, he thought he would never walk again. Now he told me that Noble would never be able to keep up with the other dogs but he would walk again. He prescribed prednisone at 10 mg every other day. He also told us to massage his legs to the point of almost causing him pain to help restore the nerves in his legs. It was hard to do because he had a sore spot– not a bed sore yet, but he winced in pain when it was touched. He recommended a chiropractor who treats dogs and I got his number at the front desk.
To our relief, just after three weeks, the left leg began to move! It was weak and in an atrophied state. We were super excited to see him use both his legs even if he still was somewhat dragging his left leg and wobbly on his feet. He wore down a few spots of fur on his paw and had a bit of “road” rash so we tried to keep it clean and prevent it from getting infected.
A lot of people gave me advice on what to do to improve his situation. A friend told me of a dog in the neighborhood who was paralyzed and the owner thought it was from rat lung worm. The neighbor had made his own cart and every time he put him in or took him out of the cart he would get poop on his hands. Ugh. I was just grateful to have taken Noble to the vet as soon as possible and gotten him immediate care. In my mind, the prospect of the care it would take, if I didn’t take him to the vet, was all the motivation I needed.
I was also giving him a bit of natural Korean Farming medicine (OHN, oriental herbal nutrition) from another friend and neighbor. I kept up using essential oils too. I also think being there for him and keeping him motivated to walk was helping him regain his movement.
One of the biggest immediate improvements was the chiropractic care. I waited to call for an appointment until he was able to walk on his own. The chiropractor required x-rays and I was able to get those for around $100 at the regular vet. The next day, I was to take him to the chiropractor, which was also $100, cash or check.
The chiropractor told me first thing that he could do nothing for him if it wasn’t structural. He looked at the x-rays and then began manipulating his spine. Noble stood while I held his head and the chiropractor worked his spine from behind. He found two places in his spine that were out of alignment. One, right at the injury site at the fourth vertebrae from the rear and surprisingly one at his neck. The doctor was very thorough and adjusted him several times and twice his back made an audible pop as the spine realigned. In between adjustments, we watched Noble walk and improve almost immediately.
After being adjusted a 30% improvement in his gait was noticeable. Instead of his left foot kind of sticking out to the side it was now in a forward position and moved more appropriately. Also, Noble’s attitude changed and he seemed happier. When we left, he made like he wanted to jump up into the car instead of my lifting him. I took this as a sign of further improvement.
The chiropractor recommended taking him swimming every day. I took him two days in a row but he hated it. I feel I may have pushed him, which made him hate it all the more. He would not go in on his own nor would he fetch anything I threw into the water. Using a new halter I bought him just for swimming, I held on as he paddled to get out. It would have worked if he liked the water.
He was injured 6 weeks ago and now he is moving very well and can run. He is still on the mend and with hope, further improvements will be made with time. What a relief it is not to have to place him in a doggie wheel chair or dealing with puppy pee pads anymore.
We are extremely lucky that our boy is able to move on his own but I don’t think he’ll be jumping off decks or over fences anymore. But that’s okay, we have our dog back, the guardian of Kumu Aina.
I want to thank all the people who supported us during this time of crisis. So many to mention; Mari, Beryl, Alex, Bobbi, Dr. Rodriques, Dr. Maysonet, Mieke, Gordon, and Furry Godmother. Thank you.