We don’t know much about Sweet Pea’s life before she landed at the ASPCA, paralyzed and emaciated, covered with pressure sores on all her boney prominences. All we know is that she was given the name Sweet Pea, because in the face of all that suffering, her loving spirit inspired others to want to save her. Were it not for the efforts of the ASPCA staff and the volunteers who advocated for her, Sweet Pea’s life might not have had this happy outcome.
We were not looking for another dog to adopt – we had three already, Daisy, Toby and Autumn, but when Sweet Pea adopted us that Friday morning in June 2006, we knew we had much to learn from her – about her breed, her disabilities, and her capacity for healing. It was clear that being a disabled pitbull with a history of abuse, she was not going to be able to find a forever home – unless it was with us.
She has unique disabilities, and showed tremendous potential for rehabilitation. She had a spinal injury around the center of her back that created her disabilities, but unlike most paralyzed dogs, she can walk on her front legs, while keeping her rump elevated. She used her rear legs like a pogo stick, and bounced, forcing all her weight on to her shoulders. This has put all her muscles in contraction, and after any exercise, in or out of a cart, she has a lot of pain and soreness.
Joseph Rivera (www.ANGELSon4.com), a certified canine massage therapist, was the first to realize this, and gave Sweet Pea regular massages when she was at the ASPCA. . Once we adopted her, it was decided that we would explore all kinds of rehabilitation to help Sweet Pea be more comfortable in her body. Several of her angels from the ASPCA sent us a “dowry” to defray the cost of her rehab treatments.
We started with our friend and associate, Meryl Wells, giving her special blend of energetic healing. Meryl sensed diffuse, spasmodic energy from the middle of her spine down to her tail and legs.
On July 19th, Sweet Pea had her first rehab evaluation at River Meadow Farm (www.rivermeadowfarm.com) in Windsor, Ct. Dr. Mike Stewart and Erika McElwey, canine rehab specialist, evaluated her gait in and out of her cart, and examined while in a hydroptherapy pool. It was discovered during this evaluation that Sweet Pea has feeling in her legs and feet and shows excellent prospects for rehabilitation.
After the first session with the underwater treadmill with Erika helping her maintain a gait with her rear legs, Sweet Pea was able to walk in her cart with her paws on the ground for 20 paces before she knuckled over again. Everyone was ecstatic!
Erika showed us what muscles were most in contracture, causing Sweet Pea’s arched posture, and instructed us in some simple stretching techniques we could use to help lengthen and flatten her spine to achieve a normal top line.
Sweet Pea’s rehab routine at River Meadow begins with a relaxing massage in the hydrotherapy pool with the Jacuzzi bubbles. Above, Michele starts at the head and works down the spine.
Sweet Pea howled when she gently stretched her back legs into a dog leg position.
Then there’s a workout on the underwater treadmill, with the therapist moving her legs in rhythm with her forward stride, re-patterning her rear legs and teaching her how to walk on four legs again while the buoyancy of the water keeps her upright.
After two years of rehab, Sweet Pea’s condition started to deteriorate and she began to lose strength and function in her rear legs. It turned out that her lumbar spine was continuing to deteriorate, and a large hump began to appear, forcing her pelvis to tilt upward. A conversation with an animal communicator, and treatment by Patricia Kortekaas, an osteopath (www.fullspectrumcaninetherapy.com) confirmed that Sweet Pea was uncomfortable in her cart, as the saddle was putting pressure on her internal organs. Eddie re-designed her saddle so that it was adjustable and could tilt to match her physical condition.
At times her spinal issues cause her to be painful and we medicate her pain. She no longer has any use of her rear legs, and so they are suspended in stirrups. But she still loves to chase a stick and go for walks into the village of Shelburne Falls. She enjoys greeting the dogs who come here to measured and fitted in their carts, and she adores her new brother and sister – Willa and Webster, the chi-weiners we adopted in January 2010, who were born with no front legs. She is vastly entertained by their daily shenanigans.