Chicago Clinic Rehabs Aged and Injured Pets

Thanks to Yahoo News for this article on a clinic that gives pets a new lease on life. Chicago pet rehab teaches old dogs new...

Joy  |  Jun 10th 2007


Thanks to Yahoo News for this article on a clinic that gives pets a new lease on life.

Chicago pet rehab teaches old dogs new tricks
by Mira Oberman

CHICAGO (AFP) – Getting an old dog to learn new tricks poses unique challenges, but at a Chicago clinic an underwater treadmill, acupuncture and trampoline are giving ageing or injured pets a fresh leash on life.

“Who’d have ever thought you could teach a dog to lift weights!” said Julie Mayer, a licensed veterinarian who had been performing holistic treatments through house calls until Integrative Pet Care was opened two years ago.

“We do a lot of positive reinforcement with treats, but it’s a lot of training,” she said, adding the pet’s “parent” plays a large role in the healing process.

“It’s like pediatrics if you think about – how’s Fifi today? How’s Jim today?”

Inside the clinic is designed to please both pets and their owners. Essential oils blown through a custom-designed ventilation system mask any residual wet dog smell.

Massive windows let in an abundance of natural light which bounces gently off the exposed brick walls and timber ceilings. Soothing music plays in the dimly lit acupuncture and massage therapy rooms.

“There’s a feeling of healing and peace to it,” said co-founder Kellee Joost. “It’s very Zen.”

While a number of traditional veterinary clinics have begun offering physical therapy to their patients, Integrative Pet Care is one of a handful of stand-alone facilities in the United States.

Their physical therapy treatments are based on protocols developed by the University of Tennessee and the three vets on staff have all been certified in veterinary acupuncture.

The custom-designed 40,000-dollar (30,000-euro) underwater treadmill is used to provide low-impact exercise as the warm water temperature helps increase circulation, relax muscles and prevent swelling.

On a recent sunny day, a nine-year-old German Shepard was strapped into a yellow lifejacket and led into the glass-encased treadmill.

Benny — a bomb sniffing dog who works at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and is recovering from knee surgery — looked around as the tank filled with water and then grabbed a toy with his teeth as the white rubber mat began to move.

“It’s coming along good,” said Gary Gozdecki, a Chicago police officer who has been Benny’s handler for nearly six years.

“He’s back at work and probably better than ever, but to make sure he doesn’t favor one leg and stuff like that it’s important to make sure he builds up his muscles. Plus he likes the water.”

Next Benny was led into the exercise room which uses the same type of low-impact flooring found in the weight room of the Chicago Bears football team.

He climbed up a steep ramp, walked back and forth across a low pole, stepped over four spokes sticking out of a traffic cone and jumped on and off a low trampoline without complaint.

Things weren’t as easy for Bailey, a 13-year-old border collie with a bad case of arthritis in her back.

She strode purposefully around five green cones set up on a bright red mat but had trouble on the inclined treadmill with its low metal grate to stop pets from jumping off the side.

With a comical, almost confused look on her black and white face, she took two steps, paused, slid down the ramp, and took two more steps before stretching out her tongue for a treat.

“It’s helped her to stay the same, I think she probably would have gotten worse” without the treatment, said owner Janice Turner.

Turner, who lives in a suburb of Chicago, has been driving an hour to the clinic every other week for more than a year for therapy costing from 45 to 75 dollars per treatment.

“I don’t have kids. I’ve got my dog. That’s pretty much it,” she explained.

Most of the patients at the clinic are beloved pets like Bailey, rather than working animals like Benny, said co-founder Joost.

Although the bulk of the patients are dogs, they’ve also seen a number of cats, bunnies, guinea pigs and even a chicken.

“We see anything that can come through the door,” Joost said.

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