It all started innocently enough. Just a couple beers to unwind after a long harrowing day spent napping in the heavily wooded fenced back yard, chasing the occasional squirrel. Then he started hanging out with the wrong crowd, snorting biscuit crumbs and– No wait. Sorry. Not that kind of rehab. We’re talking physical therapy here.
It all started last summer, with surgery to repair a torn cruciate ligament in Quincy’s knee. And he was recovering quite nicely, thank you very much. Until last fall when, in an enthusiastic attempt to live up to his nickname, he did something to re-injure himself. No idea what, it could have been anything. I’m sure there are highly technical terms for all this, but basically he screwed up his knee and stopped using his back right leg. He is incredibly strong and losing the use of one leg didn’t slow him down all that much.
Quincy the Wonder Dog seemed indifferent about the disability but we humans thought it was unacceptable, not to mention heart-wrenchingly awful, and took him back to the vet. The vet said a ligament was “loose,” causing the kneecap to dislocate periodically, and recommended more surgery. Surgery that involved slicing off a chunk of bone, moving it over and reattaching it elsewhere for a tighter muscle fit. I suggested maybe strengthening (i.e., tightening) that muscle would be a more logical first step. I have bad knees and both have dislocated many times. I know about knees. The vet disagreed and said surgery was the only option. I said something short and pithy and rude, but only to myself. Because I’m nice that way. After much hemming and hawing and gnashing of teeth, The Dog’s Favorite Person finally agreed with me. And Quincy the Wonder Dog entered rehab.
Here is the plan as I understood it: QtWD would go to rehab three days a week (M-W-F) for several weeks and stay all day. They’d start him off walking on an underwater treadmill, where they could adjust weight bearing by changing the water level, as well as resistance by using underwater Jacuzzi-type jets. It’s an amazing and bizarre-looking contraption — basically a treadmill enclosed in a large clear plastic tank hooked up to water and electricity. A Houdini stunt without the straight jacket. After that, he would progress to a regular treadmill, just like the ones people use. And then he would move on to walking between and around traffic cones, to restore his maneuverability. They said it was a matter of strengthening muscles, along with having him re-learn how to walk properly, and that when he wasn’t in rehab we had to keep him quiet and doing as little walking as possible. The more time he spent walking “incorrectly” (on three legs), the longer it would take for him to adjust back to using all four.
Uh huh. Right. Once I stopped laughing, I realized they were completely serious. And I thought, Bless their hearts, they really think they can do this.
They sent us home with four different medications — the first known case of rehab resulting in increased drug use — and said they’d see us bright and early Monday morning. That was almost four weeks ago.
Okay, let me explain a few things about QtWD. First of all, he is incredibly strong. I believe I might have mentioned that. Second, he is exuberant as hell. Translation: This is one crazy-ass, out-of-control maniac of a black lab dog. He understands the concepts of “sit” and “stay” and will even do so on occasion — but mostly he considers all that to be optional. Third, putting a leash on this dog is his cue to Take Off. You do not take QtWD for a walk. You grab hold of the leash and hang on for dear life and you either learn to run or are dragged face down along vast unforgiving stretches of sidewalk, dislocated arm flopping uselessly in your wake. God help you if he sees a bird. Or a squirrel. Or a dog. Or a car. I do not walk QtWD. Ever. Before The Injury, exercise consisted of throwing the ball for him in the back yard. He loves that. And I don’t get hurt.
I could not imagine him being well-behaved enough to do ANY of the things they had talked about. I was sure he was going to be the first dog ever kicked out of rehab. Oh, the shame.
After the first week of rehab, they said QtWD initially had “a bit of an attention problem.” Gosh and golly gee whiz. No kidding? But they were still cheerful and optimistic and absolutely confident. At the end of the second week, even I could see signs of improvement. QtWD was actually using that fourth leg on occasion.
At the end of the third week, he was looking and moving better than he has in years. And he’s only seven and a half years old, so that’s really saying something. Time flies. Honestly, it has been like watching a miracle in progress.
Ah, but now we have progressed to homework. On the days he is not in rehab, we’re supposed to walk him twice a day. At first it was ten minutes at 1.5 miles per hour. This is very slow. It’s hard to walk this slowly. Then 15 minutes at 1.7 MPH. Not sure how we were supposed to gauge the difference. I explained about not being able to walk him without incurring grievous bodily harm. They smiled and nodded understandingly. Yes, some of the female techs were having trouble controlling him too. Just do your best, they said. Not once did I catch any of them smirking. Really, these people are amazing.
So The Dog’s Favorite Person now has walking duties four days a week. He returned QtWD after the first walk session, shook his head and with a combination of awe and disbelief said, “They taught him to heel. He walked slowly. Unbelievable.”
Yesterday we got instructions to walk him twice a day for 15 minutes at 1.8 MPH — we’re talking real progress here — and one of those times should be with bells attached to his back legs. Yes, bells. Dark green reindeer bells attached to a Velcro strap that wraps around his leg. For some mystical unknown reason, the bells cause the dog to lift his legs higher. Which in turn strengthens muscles and increases range of motion. Giddy-up jingle horse, pick up your feet. And you thought it was just a silly lyric.
Here is The Wonder Dog’s drug stash and his jingle bells:
They also told me that he had progressed to working with the cones. But here’s the catch: we now have to construct a traffic cone and PVC pipe contraption of our own. No, they absolutely do not believe in that saying about not trying this at home. In fact, they threa– um, promised that when I pick him up on Wednesday, they are going to show me how to get QtWD to use the treadmill. So I can “take him for a walk” without hurting myself. They’ve been right about everything else, but this I gotta see to believe.
I guess this will be my new excuse for not exercising. “Uh, no, actually I did not walk on the treadmill today. The dog was using it.”
I’m hoping they plan to give me the secret incantation and magic fairy dust that will make all this possible and not cause Quincy the Wonder Dog to fly off the back of the treadmill and land in a tangled heap of partially rehabilitated limbs.
We’ll see which one of us ends up wearing the ankle bells.