As Vanessa says, "Bryson’s job is to allow owners to practice some of the rehab techniques on him prior to taking their own dog home after surgery." What a great idea for pet parents who need to learn rehab techniques to apply to their fur babies. Since Bryson is such a good boy, he's a great teacher. No need to stress out pets in pain or with mobility issues pre-surgery.
Read more for a written summary version of the interview...
Please tell me more about yourself, and your background with dogs in general.
Dogs have always been a staple in my life. They have really taught me so much and I can’t imagine life without them. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had good “dog people” around me for many years and if I wasn’t participating myself I was still able to join them and learn about different sports and activities. That’s always ongoing! I was able to get exposure to the different physical demands that come with them. I was drawn to learning about canine anatomy and how they move, and fascinated by how their health could be affected by their individual structure and lifestyle. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Before you know it what started as a casual interest soon became a formal education. As exciting as the canine sports and competitions can be, I really developed a passion for helping owners navigate through their dog’s recovery after surgery. Don’t even get me started on the senior dogs, I’m a sucker for them.
I can’t talk about myself without introducing Bryson. He is nearly 8 years old and he is a mixed french bulldog. He’s definitely a “once in a lifetime” dog for me. He is Mr. calm, cool and collected, even as a puppy. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to not only have him, but to be able integrate him so seamlessly into this meaningful job that we get to do together.
Tell me what’s involved, for you and your dog, in being a practice dog for other dog owners learning how to care for their dogs after orthopedic surgery.
After surgery there is some basic but important care that needs to take place. While we are in this acute stage these dogs are at home recovering with their families. Our goal is to educate pet owners to know what to expect, what to do, how to do it correctly and to open a comfortable line of communication should they need support. We discuss how to best set up their home environment, what not to do and strategies to help keep their dog’s minds busy while we try and restrict their activity during this healing phase.
Bryson’s job is to allow owners to practice some of the rehab techniques on him prior to taking their own dog home after surgery. We book a session ahead of time and Bryson helps us with the coaching. Once we get started he lies down on his side in front of us and lets his limbs completely relax so we can pick them up and move them around. One of the first things we start with is massage, so as you can imagine it took very little “training” to get him used to the routine. He absolutely loves his role.
What’s involved in orthopedic surgery for dogs, and the rehab that follows?
Typically they are brought to the Hospital the morning of their surgery and we often do our learning session immediately after they have been admitted. A good number of the surgeries are tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO). It’s a surgery that is performed on dogs to stabilize the stifle joint after ruptures of the cranial cruciate ligament, which is like our anterior cruciate ligament or “ACL”. For a knee that has undergone a TPLO, the range of motion they have by the end of week two can be an indicator of their future mobility. The success with this surgery is very good, but I want to ensure they will have a smooth and safe transition back into their daily activities. We cover quite a bit in our session, what to do and proper techniques of course. There is also emphasis on strategies, environmental modifications, recognizing subtle pain cues and ultimately that their home care experience needs to be gentle and positive.
Why is it important for these dog owners to have a practice dog before their dog goes through surgery?
Proper technique is important so that we aren't putting any undesirable forces on the surgical site and so that the patient can remain comfortable. The majority of what is taught is done with the dog lying on their side. Most dogs are not comfortable lying on their side when they go to appointments and additionally we don’t want to work on an injured and painful dog. So it’s very helpful to have a dog who is relaxed enough to lay down and allow us to work on him without any worry.
What sorts of early rehab techniques are they taught via your dog?
Things like how and where to apply ice or a cold pack, heat, massage, passive range of motion, stretching and sometimes early weight bearing as well. The window of time in which they need to be performed is within the first few days to the first few weeks so it’s important that owners come away feeling confident with the aftercare plan. Videos online and written instructions are certainly great tools but you can’t ask them questions and there isn’t really anything that replaces hands on practice. With Bryson, I can offer that. Of course Bryson isn’t injured or painful so he has excellent range of motion compared to what a post surgical dog might have but we address what differences to expect.
How did you and your dog come to be involved in this line of work?
As I was completing my Rehab externship at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, I was impressed by the hands-on owner education that went into discharging their post surgical patients. I really felt that they were set up for the best possible success. I wanted to bring that experience to my local Veterinary Hospital with whom I was already working with delivering laser therapy treatments. They were of course very supportive. Realizing there would be some challenges trying to use uncomfortable pre surgical dogs for a hands- on experience Bryson was just a perfect answer. He’s very social and has such a calm energy.
Find out more about Vanessa's business, Kinetic K9 & Equine, as well as Unionville South Pet Hospital.
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Regan is a certified Canine Massage Therapist (CCMT), has certification in First Aid and CPR for Pets, and some beginner training in Herbal Remedies and Aromatherapy for personal use.