PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — Sometimes the most important lessons we humans can learn come from our furry friends. At Safe Harbor Animal Hospital in Pensacola, several patients are modeling the value of persevering in the face of unexpected and difficult circumstances.
At least four dogs have been recently treated, or are currently being treated, for spinal cord injuries that left them without the use of their back legs. The newest patient is Zena, a 12-year-old dachshund who was injured in a fall. When she came to the clinic a few weeks ago, she could not move her back legs at all. Now, with the help of therapy, including chiropractic care, she is able to scoot short distances and according to veterinarian Dr. Gina Forgey, “She took 3 steps the other day.”
Forgey says it may make people sad to watch Zena scooting across the floor, but the veterinary staff is “ecstatic, because it’s proof that she’s making so much progress and that she is resilient.”
Zena is one of several dogs with spinal cord injuries that have been treated at Safe Harbor. The first was Cadillac, who came to the clinic 11 years ago with a broken back. A stray, she had wandered into a yard where a big dog lived. The dog shook Cadillac until her back was broken and her back legs paralyzed. Animal control took Cadillac to Safe Harbor.
“By the time she’d stayed 5 days, we were attached and decided we would keep her,” said Forgey.
Treatment and therapy were unable to restore use of those legs, but Cadillac still gets around with the use of a customized wheelchair.
“She rules the clinic. She’s stubborn and she’s feisty and opinionated,” said Forgey.
And, she is something of a role model for other injured dogs, like Riley, whose back legs are also paralyzed. Riley is just learning to use his wheelchair but is thriving with the attention of clinic staff, who are hoping to find a “forever home” for him.
“As long as they have someone dedicated to taking the time to care for them, these dogs do very well,” said Forgey.
Pumpkin is proof of that. Also injured in an accident, the long-haired dachshund had surgery and therapy which included the temporary use of a wheelchair. Her mom, Martha Calloway, says the wheelchair worked wonders.
“She was able to move her legs, but not put pressure on them to pull along with her front legs. Moving her hind legs in the air as if she was walking helped build the strength in her muscles and joints.”
So, what do these four dogs have in common besides their injuries? And what can we learn from them?
Maybe it’s the way they’ve overcome and persevered.
“Animals just accept things as they come. ‘Yep… I can’t walk, let’s do it this way.’ Every day’s a new day, if you have a bad day, the next day just keep trying and things get better with time,” said Forgey.
Maybe it’s the lesson that being “different” is ok.
“Most people, when they see Cadillac in her wheelchair they say, ‘Oh, that poor little dog,” and then when they stop and pet her or see her chase a ball or watch her beg for a cookie, they see she is pretty much like any other dog. She just doesn’t walk on her back legs.”
Maybe it’s the lesson of starting over as many times as it takes.
“You set your goals and you might take a couple steps backwards, but you can always recharge,” said Calloway.
And maybe, it’s the lesson that if you keep trying, you’ll find your way… a different way perhaps, but a way that leads to a happy and productive life nonetheless.
By the way, Riley was surrendered by his owner following his spinal cord injury and is in need of a forever home. He truly is the sweetest little dog. If you are interested in adopting Riley, get in touch with Safe Harbor Animal Hospital at 850-476-5571 or at www.safeharboranimal.com. You can also find them on Facebook.