—written by guest blogger Sharon Seltzer
As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m taking time to remember the special gifts in my life. While that sounds like a cliché, the most cherished time in my life was pretty unique because it was the five precious years I spent taking care of Sophie, my paralyzed dog.
Being the caretaker of a paraplegic dog was a demanding job that included hand feeding Sophie, constantly lifting her from one room to another and making sure she had four potty breaks every day. The experience was exhausting and rewarding and it taught me important life lessons that I wouldn’t have learned any other way.
Here is a glimpse of our life, what I learned from it and why I savor the memory.
The scariest day in my life was when my veterinarian told me that my 10 year-old dog was slowing becoming paralyzed in her hind legs. After months of tests and treatments I was left with the one diagnosis I didn’t want to hear. I went home feeling alone and wondering how I was going to take care of a paraplegic dog.
Like other pet owners in my situation I poured over every piece of information I could find on the Internet. All of them gave me little snips of information, but none gave me a complete look at what life would be like as the caretaker of a paralyzed dog. It took weeks for me to find all of the products I needed like a lifting harness, doggie diapers, sturdy boots and a pressurized bed. It took even more time to learn the techniques I needed to keep Sophie healthy. I taught myself how to express her bladder, prevent urinary tract infections and stop painful pressure sores.
All of this research went on while I was trying my best to take care of my sick dog.
After six months, Sophie’s paralysis was complete. She didn’t have any feeling or movement from her waist to the bottom of her paws. She wasn’t going to get better, but she wasn’t getting any worse. The two of us were rooted in a new routine and life was good again. It was at that point that I started to see Sophie’s condition as a gift. Sophie and I had done a good job creating a “new normal” way of life.
During the five years I learned lots of life lessons from my paralyzed dog, but these are my two favorites:
I learned these lessons by taking a fresh look at Sophie’s favorite activity. Before her illness Sophie loved to walk the 3-mile loop around our neighborhood. Every afternoon she and her two housemates, Shadow and Cody would run in circles until I put on their leashes and we headed out the door. All three dogs would run with me until their pent up energy was gone and then they would spend the rest of the walk enjoying the scents left behind from other dogs.
When Sophie couldn’t walk anymore, I didn’t have the heart to take away one of her greatest joys. Instead, I rounded up Shadow and Cody every afternoon, put on their leashes and walked the loop with Sophie safely tucked inside a large doggie stroller. She still felt the wind in her face and all the glorious smells around her. She even made some new friends because so many neighbors stopped to talk to her.
The ultimate lesson I learned from my dog was to make sure that other pet parents never had the lonely and isolated feeling I experienced when Sophie was diagnosed. I started a website called Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog in Sophie’s memory. It’s a place that answers all of the questions pet owners have when they are facing the challenges of taking care of a dog or cat with neurological, orthopedic or spinal problems.
This Thanksgiving I am grateful for the time I shared with my paralyzed dog. What are you thankful for?
Contributing Writer: American Animal Hospital Association Pets Matter