A Paralyzed Dog Named Sophie | Lessons Learned Living With A Special Needs Pet
By Rachele Baker, DVM – I am very pleased to share a guest post written by Sharon Seltzer about her experiences living with her special needs dog Sophie. Sharon is a writer and mom to dogs Cody and Bailey and cats Spike and Tiger. Sharon started her blog Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog in honor of her dog Sophie who was paralyzed for five years.
A Paralyzed Dog Named Sophie
Lessons Learned Living With A Special Needs Pet
By Sharon Seltzer
Every animal lover has at least one pet that stands out above the rest either because of their quirky personality, their special bond with you, or because you have gone through a unique experience with them. All of these applied to my little Shepherd mix, Sophie. She was a natural-born leader with my other dogs and a bit of a princess. We had a very strong bond and together we shared five years of her being paralyzed from an undiagnosed progressive illness. She was my hero and her story inspired me to start a blog about the lessons I learned during our journey.
Running was Sophie’s greatest pleasure. My family used to call her the fastest runner at the dog park. She would literally run past all the other dogs at the park to get their attention and when she was in the lead position, she would stop and look back at them. Then, as if daring the other dogs to a game of chase, she would dash away from the crowd and run as fast as she could with all of the other dogs behind her. When they finally caught up with her, she would stop, look back, and start the chase all over again. It was a game she played until 2008 when she became paralyzed in her hind legs.
We first noticed a problem during a walk with our three dogs Sophie, Shadow, and Cody. Sophie, who was ten years old at the time, started to lag behind the group and scuffed her rear paws when she walked. A few days later, we noticed that Sophie’s legs were slipping out from under her for no apparent reason so we decided to visit the vet.
A series of tests were performed, but we could not get a definitive diagnosis. It was a frustrating time. Our dog was getting worse and no one knew why. After a little more than six months, Sophie was completely paralyzed in her rear legs.
My husband and I realized that, although Sophie could not walk, her spirit and personality were the same. She was not ready to give up on life, so we adjusted and created what we called a “new normal” way to live. It included a world of doggie diapers, boots, dog wheelchairs, harnesses, a big dog stroller, and lots of life lessons.
One of the first and best lessons I discovered is that just about anything can be learned on YouTube. Sophie had become incontinent and I needed to learn how to express her bladder. Our veterinarian showed us how to do this with Sophie lying down, but when I got home and tried it out, I found that Sophie hated the idea of lying on the ground to pee. She was used to standing. I went to YouTube, typed in the words “expressing a dog’s bladder,” and up popped the exact video I needed. We used the technique taught in the video for the next five years.
Another lesson I learned was that Sophie needed to keep her mind stimulated like any other dog or she would have died from boredom and loneliness. I searched and discovered many types of dog puzzles that can be filled with yummy treats and toys that can be stuffed with peanut butter. Each one challenged Sophie’s mind and kept her sharp. My other two dogs took care of playtime with Sophie. They modified tug-of-war and a crisscross neck game that they had played when Sophie could stand into fun games that could be played while Sophie was laying down.
We learned that car rides and going on daily errands were still an important part of Sophie’s life. So we made modifications to make sure that she could go along on car rides. Sophie was carried to the car and propped up to keep her body steady. She loved those outings.
We also learned that trips to the park to see children playing perked up Sophie’s spirits, so we made sure to go several times a week. Sophie adored seeing the kids, and we discovered they liked being with her too. Adults always felt sorry for Sophie, but children wanted to sit with her and stroke her head.
Some lessons were harder to learn than others. At one point my husband and I realized that we spent our whole day taking care of Sophie’s physical needs, but had completely stopped touching or talking to her. We had to step back and remember to pet our dog and not worry so much about the schedule.
Over the years we had to ward off well-meaning friends who only talked about euthanasia. We dealt with showers at 2:00 a.m. because Sophie had soiled herself. We handled urinary tract infections, pressure sores, and preparing special food that she would eat near the end. Each task was challenging and rewarding at the same time.
On April 20, 2013, Sophie’s battle with paralysis ended and she crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Her illness had worked its way into other parts of her body and she became very weak. Ultimately, cancer got hold of her.
Sophie’s life was my inspiration to start my blog Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog. I wanted to be a resource for pet owners facing the challenges of a dog or cat with paralysis. I did not want them to struggle to find the resources and information that I had already gathered. When I first tried to find all of the items that Sophie needed for daily living, it took me weeks to track them down and then analyze the products. Now I can supply that information to pet parents so that they can focus on the job of taking care of their sick or injured dog or cat.
In my blog, I try to review a wide variety of products for handicapped pets and let people know which products worked best for us. I talk about the bed made by Grreat Choice® that I chose because it fit into my washing machine, the rear-harness from HandicappedPets that we used, and how I loved our big, sturdy stroller by DoggyRide.
I hope your pets stay healthy, but if you ever find yourself on the journey of living with a special needs pet, I hope you will drop by my blog Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog.
Thank you, Sharon, for sharing your experiences with Sophie with us. You showed Sophie so much love and you worked so hard to make her life as good as possible in spite of her disability. I hope that your experiences that you have shared with us and the information in your blog will help others who may find themselves in a similar situation with their pet.