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A Christmas Miracle: Ringo Recovers From Ruptured Discs to Walk Again

Ringo came home the hospital on Christmas 2014, just four days after rupturing discs in his back. This year, he is celebrating the holidays on all four paws.

Joanne Contegiacomo  |  Dec 21st 2016


On a sunny Sunday morning, four days before Christmas in 2014, my dog Ringo set out for some playtime in the yard. He leapt after a squirrel, then I saw him lying on his side, flailing around like a fish out of water. The screams that came from him horrified me. The seconds it took me to run across the yard seemed like hours as I played rationalizing thoughts in my head. Did Ringo get his nail caught? Could he have gotten injured by a branch? I ran to his side, trying to figure out what had happened. As Ringo laid in my arms, he began frantically biting my arm due to the pain. Within a split second, he stopped moving and lay motionless. The realization that this was serious set in. Ringo was in shock, unable to move from the waist down.

I rushed Ringo to the emergency animal hospital. The doctor examined him, and he was sedated and made comfortable. An MRI confirmed that Ringo had ruptured discs in his mid-back, and shortly after surgery was performed. I was told to go home as the surgery would take a few hours. He was prepped for a surgical procedure called a hemilaminectomy in order to clean out the debris and remove the damaged discs.

As soon as I got home, I called my primary vet to inform him of Ringo’s condition. I wanted to know what our next move would be. My vet assured me that we would make plans but to just focus on a successful surgery. He said he’d call me tomorrow after he spoke with the surgeon. I turned the phone on silent, laid on the couch, and snuggled with my other dog, Molly. Tears fell from my eyes as the realization of the day’s events replayed in my head. Molly began to sooth me by licking the tears as they rolled down my face. Time seemed to be frozen as I waited.

Ringo before the accident.

Ringo with his Canine Good Citizen Certification medal. 

Suddenly, I heard the buzzing of my phone. It was the hospital. I recall the surgeon telling me that he had never seen anything so bad. He said that the discs looked like they had exploded. In the week that followed, I would come to learn that Ringo has something called intervertebral disc disease. I was told that there are typically warning signs, but we had no warning. I was also told by the surgeon that Ringo’s recovery was unknown. According to statistics, with a grade-5 spinal cord injury, Ringo had less than a 30 percent chance of ever walking independently again. Everything was “wait and see” according to the surgeon. It all depended on if the swelling on his spine decreased.

During the days that followed, I would receive very generic updates with no encouragement. Two days after Ringo’s surgery, I was finally permitted to see him. His eyes were so glassy from all of the medication. I held him gently as though he would break. Tears streamed down my face. The case worker told me that they were expressing his bladder but Ringo was also able to urinate on his own and showed some control. This was the first piece of good news I had received.

I informed the case worker that I would be providing his therapy myself as I could not afford their expensive prices. Little did I know that while I was tending to my little boy, there were angels watching over us. I found out that my agility instructor had set up a fundraising page for Ringo. We received so many wonderful donations. Family, close friends, strangers, people I volunteer with, colleagues, and the incredible agility and dog community all came together for him.

Ringo came home on Christmas Day. He was required to take a total of 16 doses of six different medications daily for two weeks. Ringo was bedridden for three months. From the day he came home, Molly guarded his crate as though she was his protector. Three days later, I met with the physical therapist from the hospital. I was trained in how to carry out his daily exercises, which would be done twice daily. Ringo was required to do range of motion, practice walking with a sling, and balance and weight-bearing exercises.

One week after Ringo’s accident, he began acupuncture and laser treatment in conjunction with his physical therapy. Just shy of two weeks, Ringo began to wag his tail on own. After the New Year, my primary vet took over the morning sessions of physical therapy five days a week. Six weeks after his accident, Ringo began swimming. As time went on, more exercises were added as he regained the muscle that was lost from atrophy after surgery. By May, Ringo was learning to walk on different floor textures, from grass and concrete to wood and linoleum.

pool

Ringo during swimming therapy.

Ringo has made a 95 percent recovery. All of his doctors and specialists call him the “Miracle Dog.” A recovery like this, with the injury’s severity, is unheard of. Sadly, one of the reasons why is because many dog owners are advised to euthanize their dog. This was never an option, never a thought in my mind. From the day he became injured, Ringo was going to walk again…PERIOD!

So many people rooted for him, willing him to fight. Every day I saw the determination in his eyes. We were going to beat this, and we did. I look back on this time and am amazed that somehow, I surrounded myself with people who wanted the very best for him. All of the people involved in Ringo’s therapy believed that helping Ringo walk again was more important than anything.

I am so grateful to all the incredible people in my life. Through Ringo, I have learned to believe in miracles and believe in paying it forward. Ringo has a Facebook page that I created shortly after his injury. It started as a therapeutic outlet for me but turned into something more.

We have been contacted by people all around the country whose dogs are suffering from IVDD. They ask questions about his recovery or therapies we utilized. Sometimes, they just need to find solace with someone who has been down this road. I have also received messages from people who are undergoing chemotherapy and radiation or who have other medical problems, and have been told that his story has given them strength to continue to fight.

Ringo’s Road to Recovery is about believing in the impossible, believing in miracles, and never giving up no matter how hard things get. In that spirit, I recently registered Ringo’s Road to Recovery as a non-profit organization so we can help others in this type of situation get the help they need.