Category Archives: Acupuncture

6-month update: realism and optimism

Photo: Yesterday, Ali stood up and took a couple steps off his bed when he noticed I was getting his peanut butter Kong from the freezer. He has been doing this more lately – standing up on his own and taking a couple baby steps without falling over.

It has been six months since Ali’s surgeries and he continues to make functional progress. We are back at Animal Care Center doing underwater treadmill therapy once a week. Although Ali balked at the treadmill the second time, he is doing okay with it now. We think it is probably because his confidence level is higher as he is much stronger and has more mobility in his hind limbs. I have also worked hard to make it fun and not stressful for him. It’s not too difficult. He is so social that he loves going there and seeing people, and I just make sure I have lots of treats on hand along with a tennis ball to distract him. He has been walking 6-10 minutes on the treadmill each time. In the water he takes independent steps with both legs, but needs assistance with placement of his right hind leg.

Out of the water, he can take active steps with his left hind leg and his right hind leg is showing motor function down to about the knee, according to Juli. I think this is amazing considering his right leg was barely moving at all a few weeks ago. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence but it was when we started acupuncture that I noticed his right leg started to make subtle movements; now it is moving quite a lot in the cart! We also raised the cart about an inch and now he can take active steps with his left leg while in the cart. Before he was not able to clear the ground and place his left paw – he would “knuckle.” But with the added height he can take actual steps, which should be good for him. (Although the added height has caused us to have to make some other adjustments to the cart involving foam and duct tape – looks pretty DYI but we need to make sure the added height does not pressure his front shoulders too much. It’s challenging to get the correct balance.) The right leg is moving some, but not making complete steps. He continues to stand up on his own and it seems much easier for him now. I think is making great improvements with his balance. He can almost take a few steps on his own and he is really good about catching his balance if he starts to sway – he is able to reposition his left leg pretty well to catch himself.

We continue to go swimming as often as we can, which usually is not more than once a week, but ideally I would take him every other day if I could. There are just no good swimming spots around. The Petaluma River, close to our house, is really an estuary and as such is subject to the ocean tides. If it is low tide it is very treacherous to try to swim Ali there (speaking from experience – Ali and I have both sustained minor injuries on the exposed rocks. Luckily, I haven’t face planted on these jagged rocks yet, a fact Maggie was marveling at last time we were there. It’s only a matter of time, though, if we keep turning up there at low tide, and it will be extremely counterproductive if one of us gets seriously injured!). It is really only safe to go when the tide is high, but it only happens occasionally that the tide is high enough either after work (but before dark) or on the weekend during daylight hours. Plus, I am dependent on Maggie’s schedule and availability because I cannot take him out without assistance and she is my only friend in this godforsaken little town. Even more rarely we make it out to the Russian River, about an hour’s drive away. I go whenever I can, though – which means whenever one of my two friends who live out there can accompany me and Alec. I try to make it happen as often as I can because, although it’s hard trying to coordinate, I think swimming is the best thing for Ali to do regularly. I really think it has contributed immensely to his back strength, and I’m sure coordination as well.

We also continue to do acupuncture, once every 1-2 weeks, as well as standing exercises at home.

Alec’s official status at this point is “ambulatory with assistance; mild-moderate pelvic limb paraparesis.” Paraparesis means a slight paralysis or weakness of the hind legs – as opposed to paraplegia, which is complete paralysis of both legs. After his surgeries he was classified as “non-ambulatory and deep pain negative” and then “ambulatory paraplegic.” So parapetic is the proper word to describe his current condition, not paraplegic. In case you’re interested in the fine points. I am.

The neurologist had noted on his three-month evaluation report that “peak recovery may occur at 3-6 months post-injury; however recovery continues through a patient’s lifetime.” So this six-month mark is a little scary to me. I know it shouldn’t be, but as long as these improvements, incredible improvements, really, occurred before six months had passed…I don’t actually know. I just know I heard myself saying proudly several times when people remarked on this or that improvement he had made: “And it hasn’t even been six months yet!” Well, now it has been six months and part of me is afraid that he will stop progressing. I mean, that has been my fear all along. And it is not an ungrounded fear; nobody knows what will happen. The physical therapists talk a lot of being “realistic” but also “optimistic.” There are no guarantees in this field, and I remind myself of that a lot when I realize how far he has come and how grateful I am for that. I just really hope his right leg improves the point his left leg has, but that is not a given. Mobility could stop at the knee. But I guess I need to focus on the optimistic part of the equation. I feel like I have done a good job of balancing the realism/optimism equation thus far (of course, Ali’s amazing progress has helped with that!), and I know the six-month mark is just an approximate guideline; of course I know that. Juli has a client whose dog is two years post-surgery and just started walking on her own. So, we won’t give up! Bring on the next six months…I’m ready. And really thankful for how far he has come in just six months.

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Filed under Acupuncture, At-Home PT Exercises, Doggie Wheelchair, Milestones/Progress, Physical Therapy/Rehabilitation, River Swimming, Underwater Treadmill

Franken-shepherd, and a loss next door.

Ali had his fourth acupuncture treatment last week. Starting with the second time, Dr. Canon hooked his needles up to a little box of wires that transmit electricity (see photo). He looked like such a Frankenpuppy hooked up to those wires! The gauge on the electric box goes up to 4, which she said most dogs can handle, but once we reached 2 Ali’s hind legs sort of twitched and he sat straight up, indicating he felt something, even at that relatively low dose. So she let him “pickle” at number 2 for 20 or so minutes. The fact that he reacted to such a low dose of electricity suggests he may be more susceptible to the therapeutic aspects of the acupuncture so I think his “sensitivity” in this regard is actually a good sign. The last two weeks he was able to handle her turning it up to 4 (I could actually feel the current pumping through his muscles – they kind of pulsate – it was weird!).

Like Dr. Canon and others have said, it is difficult, or maybe impossible, to be able to tell with any certainty if acupuncture is working. Even if Ali were to show improvements after his sessions, we can’t necessarily know if this is attributable to the acupuncture, his “normal” course of recovery, or something else (like the other therapies we are doing). But, at about $40 a session it is relatively inexpensive and I do want to try everything feasible to give him the best chance. And acupuncture will not, from what I understand, hurt him, so I am not that concerned with being able to scientifically say whether it is working or not. The more I learn about this disease and recovery from it, the less I realize is actually definitively known. Nobody really knows what the heck is going on, basically. But I can say within the last few weeks that I have noticed his right leg moving slightly in the cart where until just recently there was nothing. I am going to keep monitoring this and hoping, hoping, hoping his right leg “wakes up” so it can catch up with the left. Who knows, maybe the acupuncture is helping! But I really do think I am seeing something over the last few weeks in his right leg that wasn’t there before.

On a sad note, my neighbors’ dog passed away this morning. His name was Scooby-doo and he was one of those adorable chow mixes that looks like a Teddy bear with a lion’s mane. I knew he had been sick, they thought it was Cushing’s disease, but last I heard they were treating him with some kind of medication. He was ten years old and they adopted him from the LA pound when he was 6 months old. Ali and I were heading home after our morning excursion to the park and I saw them on their porch and waved hello. Shane came up the fence separating our yards and I noticed he was crying and of course I had an awful sinking feeling. He said trough tears, “We lost Scooby this morning.” He was having trouble speaking; I felt so bad. Needless to say they really loved him and as he told me what happened and explained he was in shock I recognized all the terrible emotions I felt when I lost Kobi and how I felt when I almost lost Ali…that desperate, bottomless, raw grief that clutches your heart and squeezes until you can barely breathe. The world goes all crooked and nothing seems real. My heart broke for him and his wife and I wished so much I could just take their pain away. After I lost Kobi, I said I would never adopt another dog (I already had Ali), that the pain of losing him was just too much to go through again. Now, although I wish I didn’t and instead could just enjoy and appreciate every single second with him, I think a lot, probably too much, about losing Ali. I try so hard not to go there but it’s hard for my obsessive brain sometimes. I just love him so much. There are no words. He is a very precious individual to me. Our relationship, while of course different from my relationships with people, is special and unique. I honestly don’t know how people with kids do it. I would definitely be one of those crazy overprotective moms who would not let her child out of her sight until he was 18. I like to think I wouldn’t be, but I know myself…I am a worrier. I get that from my mom, of course. She would call me when I was away at college to warn me if it was going to rain that day and to tell me to be careful outside. She refuses to get on a plane and she did not want me to move to California because it was going to fall into the ocean any minute. You know the type. I am much more laid back and adventurous than she is (it would be hard not to – no offense, mom, you know I love you!) but I can’t shake off the anxiety completely. I am afraid of a lot of things: mountain lions, idiot drivers, heights, small spaces, and countless other everyday terrors. But most of all I am afraid of failing someone I love, someone who is dependent upon me to take care of them. And this overwhelming protective urge…I feel it so strongly sometimes. But there is only so much you can do to protect someone else.

Anyway, after Kobi died and I said I would never get another dog, people told me I would change my mind eventually. It’s been two years and I’m still not sure. Of course I have had Ali this whole time. I don’t know what it would be like to not share my life with a dog. Then again, it hurts so much to lose them, and we are pretty much guaranteed to lose them unless we meet an untimely end ourselves, given the huge disparity in our relative life spans. I strive for the Buddhist ideal of un-attachment – I know attachment only leads to suffering – but knowing and feeling are two very different things and I have not quite gotten it down yet.


Filed under Acupuncture, LOVE, Trans-Species Bond

Tiny Needles.

I took Ali for his first acupuncture session with Dr. Nicole Canon at Sebastopol Animal Clinic on Thursday. I know nothing about acupuncture and had not seen it done before. Just as I had heard, the needles really are tiny! Ali did not seem to mind at all, he was a very good boy, but then he had to sit very still with the needles in for 15 minutes (including one right on top of his head, a few in his back, and a couple in each leg)…always a challenge for a wiggly, anxious German shepherd! Again, he was really good, and I amused us both by taking pictures like those I have posted here. Dr. Canon said it’s usually 3 sessions before she sees any improvement, so I will bring him back once a week for two more weeks and then usually the treatments become more spread out. Acupuncture could potentially help his front legs and/or back legs. It would help his front legs because of the overcompensating pressure being applied that is causing his joints to wear down (similar to arthritis). It will be hard to know if it there is improvement in this area because he is currently on painkillers for his front joints, but I am hoping to be able to take him off this medication eventually. And I’m sure you know what we are hoping for with regard to his back legs!! So, keeping my fingers crossed it will help. It should not hurt, and I want to give him every chance. He is trying so hard! Tomorrow we have an appointment with another canine rehabilitation specialist at the UC-Davis veterinary medical teaching hospital; wish us luck!!

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Filed under Acupuncture