Thursday, February 02, 2012

When Surgery is Not an Option

Our Handsome Boy!
I realize that it has been quite a long time since I first wrote to you, but our Maxi is still hanging in there and has actually regained some of the muscle mass in his hind legs (confirmed by our Vet) since he has been using his WW (Walkin' Wheels).  Here is his story with all of the details that describe WHY we ended up purchasing and using WW for Max, when surgery was not an option.

Almost two years ago, our (then) 10 year old German Shepherd, Max, had been having a lot of discomfort in his neck for quite a long time and although we knew that he had arthritis in his right knee, following surgery for a ruptured CCL, he was also having more difficulty moving about in general.  X-ray results revealed spinal fusion from his neck to his tail.  But the worst news was regarding a lump on his throat which was now confirmed as Thyroid Carcinoma.  At nearly 11 years old and considering his orthopedic condition, along with the risks of operating in that area of his throat, we decided to forego surgery and monitor it.

As it turns out, that was the right decision at that time.  Despite his medical issues, Max has always been a very active boy.  He loves nothing more than to run around or simply mosey through our fenced five acres and we all looked forward to our evening walks together.  Max always wears a big smile and has SO much love to give to us and to his ‘sister’ Abby.  He is a Very Happy old fellow!!  And fortunately, our Veterinarian explained that since his spine was fused, he wasn’t feeling much pain in his back, and due to neurological damage, he actually wasn’t aware of his hind quarters most of the time.  This could explain his increasing weakness and the cause for his hind end to sometimes ‘tip over’ while walking, and he would fall into a seated position.  In spite of this, he continued to retain a very positive attitude.  There is so much we can learn from our Dogs, if only we would listen!

In December of 2010, Max ruptured the CCL on his left hind leg.  So, now we have a crucially injured eleven year old dog with acute arthritic conditions and thyroid cancer.  Again, after discussing the options in detail with his Doctor, we decided that surgery was not the best option for him.  As we’d been through CCL surgeries four times before, and while taking into consideration his other medical problems, we realized that had we opted for CCL surgery, Max would most likely never recover.  So, now he spent his days in the house, while we would be away at work and he was so unhappy.  Although Max wanted to be indoors with his ‘pack’ every evening, he preferred to be an outdoor dog, by day ... no matter what the weather, he wanted to be outside where he could survey ‘his estate’.  

We had no choice but to increase his pain medication significantly and try our best to keep him comfortable.  Even with his knee injury, Max continued to prove to us that it wasn’t his time.  He had a strong appetite, the willingness to get up and walk short distances, and he was still eager to TRY.  So, we wanted to wait and see how he would be in a couple of weeks.  Meanwhile, I was diligently researching what options would be available for him, in lieu of CCL surgery.  There were only two choices:  wear a stifle brace or put him in a wheelchair.  Both had pros and cons.  As long as he was willing, we were going to offer him every opportunity to continue living his life to the fullest, as long as he wasn’t  suffering.

My instincts were telling me to purchase the Walkin Wheels for Max.  Although he couldn’t use it when we weren’t with him, I thought that it would be the most uncomplicated for him to use, while offering him the support that he so desperately needed in his hind end.  So, I contacted my Vet and the PT specialist at our Clinic, to get their professional opinions on what to choose for him.  Both agreed that a custom-made stifle brace would best benefit Max, in that he could wear it all day long, once he learned how to move it in.

How could I debate my Veterinarian’s opinion??  So, I took Max back to the Vet Clinic for measuring and X-rays (as they had to have a precise measurement of his stifle).  Once it arrived, I had to take Max back into the Clinic to be fitted and for the PT to instruct me on how to put this very complicated contraption on him and change the ‘stays’ if he made progress.  Poor Max!  First of all this $400 brace did not fit properly, due to the atrophy in his upper leg.  It wouldn’t stay in place, as it was supposed to.  Apparently, even after providing exact measurements, they are not completely custom made, but are created out of materials to ‘best fit’ each dog.  A TOTAL WASTE OF $400 and putting Max through all of that for nothing!  Each time he would try to simply stand up with this splint, he would immediately collapse!  

I tried and tried, but clearly it wasn’t for him and, against even my husband’s opinion, I went straight to my computer and ordered the Walkin Wheels!  At this point, I was quite discouraged, but I wasn’t willing to give up on helping Max.  I would try this .. one last bit of hope .. and if the WW didn’t help him, then we would have to reconsider our options. 

A few days later … I was SO excited to receive Max’s new “transportation assist”!!  I had always been optimistic that this was what he needed … and it had to be a positive experience for him every step of the way.

That evening, I brought the two boxes into the living room, where Max’s bed was.  I opened the boxes and helped Max stand up.  I had put a tiny treat (Zuke’s Minis - yumm) inside each box.  Helping Max over to each box, he sniffed the bazaar object inside … smells good … kind of like a ‘Treat’! .. whenever he sniffed the WW and was rewarded = “Good Boy”.  Then, I assembled the WW a little at a time and allowed him to do the same each step of the way … sniff his wheelchair and get a reward.  I adjusted the halter, which is fabulous by the way, and placed it on him… reward = “Good Boy”.    Then, we took him outdoors where there was plenty of room and connected the frame to his harness = “Good Boy”.  I stood just a couple feet in front of him and told him to ‘come’ .. and he did (just a couple of steps) = “Good Boy”.   Then, a bit farther from him … and when he came to me = “Good Boy”.   We practiced it for about five minutes and then gave him a break.  Following these steps for another day, and that was all he needed to become comfortable in it. 

Max in his Walkin' Wheels dog wheelchair
Now, we can load both dogs, the ramp, and the WW into our car, take them to the bottom of our hill (to the flat country road) and hitch up our boy, and we were off.  He absolutely Loves It!!  Although it is adjusted so that both hind feet still touch the ground, we could immediately tell that the pressure was off of his injured knee, giving him support, as well as stability for his hind end.  From then on, we could all walk together again and we did this every day or two, depending upon how Max was feeling.  We got up to a mile and a half!!!  Not only was he so very much enjoying being able to go for walks again and smell everything, but he would venture ‘off-road’ without any hesitation, into the tall grass or farm fields or gravel roads and trails.  He was unstoppable and his joy for life had been restored.

We could certainly see the difference that the Walkin' Wheels dog wheelchair has made in Max’s life (and in OURS) from day one.  He had a new-found confidence!  We gave him the tool and he was enthusiastic to use it. 

Fortunately, the cancer has thus far not affected him at all!  At his recent exam, the Veterinarian was amazed that he had regained some of the muscle mass in his hind legs.  Max went proudly into the Clinic and, as is always the case when he’s in his Walkin Wheels, he was quite a sensation!  After the failure with the stifle splint, I informed our Vet that we had gotten Max the wheelchair and how well he had adjusted to using it … and that he could again go for walks.  I explained to him how valuable WW has been as a therapeutic tool to help rebuild Max’s strength, while providing him with safety and security.  Now, I believe that our Doctor will be more willing to recommend that some of his patients try WW as a means of rehabilitation, and not only for those animals who are completely disabled. 

Everywhere we walk, people stop and ask about Max and commend us for giving him the opportunity to live a longer and happier life.  WW has even benefited Abby, because she would not go for a walk without her brother, and now she is getting more exercise, as well.

Obviously, Max is more than just a Dog to us.  We are amazed at what he has accomplished and overcome.  To this day, he continues to be the happiest boy we have ever had … and he just keeps going ... getting a little stronger all the time.  Occasionally, there are days when he has played too hard and his knee is more painful … and those days we just stay home and take it easy.  But when he is feeling better, we all go out for our walks!  It has been over a year now, since he ruptured his CCL and he is doing remarkably well!  And when Max is happy, we are all thankful for it!
Well, that is the story of Max … and how Walkin Wheels has given him a chance to live again.  I highly recommend and endorse Walkin Wheels.  Thank you so very much for this magnificent product and for what it has done for our little boy!

Judy Farrell

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