Dogs, like their people, are heading into rehab
Ryan Summerlin March 12, 2013
I haven’t seen so many people hobbling around town on crutches and shoulder sporting slings since, well, since last spring when we were coming off a mediocre snow year.
By the looks of things, it seems the less snow we have, the more injuries people suffer.
But when we rip up a knee, sprain an ankle, jam a joint or tear important ligaments elsewhere in our bodies, there’s a team of people we can go to whose job it is to fix us up, and the pattern is pretty straightforward: Hospital, surgeon, physical therapist.
But what happens when Fido tears his ACL or Fluffy dislocates her shoulder? Turns out, there’s a simple formula for that too: Veterinarian, surgery, Utah Pet Rehab and Acupuncture.
One of the state’s only three full-service pet rehab centers is located right here in Park City, and right now, they’re just as busy as the people physical therapists.
"We are seeing a ton of knee injuries right now. The crusty hard snow and ice are hard on dogs too. They’re jumping out of SUVs onto the ice, and twisting in the slushy snow," says Pat Werner, canine (and cat and the occasional rabbit) rehab specialist.
Her office, located at 5532 Lillehammer Lane, tends to look like a scene out of "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," complete with an acupuncture room, underwater treadmill, doggie gym and what, upon first glance, appears to be a dog yoga lesson. "Downward dog isn’t just for humans," Pat says. "It’s also important for dogs, especially senior dogs, to stretch and keep limber, so with some patients we do stretching sessions."
Despite the first appearance, those who walk in the doors on four legs aren’t there for pampering. Most of the dogs Pat and her business partner Shawna McCall see have serious injuries and health issues.
And the magic they work makes a difference — in the lives of both the humans and their pets.
"We recently had a Rottweiler named Nena who was born with genetic disorder where her front leg didn’t grow. She had a hard time just walking. We got her set up with a prosthetic limb, taught her how to use it and now she is an active girl and hikes with her family. She’s truly a member of their pack, and her owners couldn’t be happier with her progress," noted Pat.
Shawa and Pat have been in business together since 2009, and in that time have seen close to one thousand animals on both sides of the Wasatch. Pat transitioned into the animal business after many years as a physical therapist for people, when her own dog was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease.
"At that time I was working with neuro patients in my practice and started implementing some of the tricks I would do with my patients on my dog, and I started to notice a difference in him. The more I studied it, the more I realized how much animals and people can learn from each other," Pat said. "As a neuro PT, you have to get really creative with your patients and the same is true with dogs. Sometimes you have to trick them into using a leg they don’t want to."
On the other paw, Shawna started her practice with animals — she was a general practice veterinarian for many years prior to focusing on acupuncture for animals. But this ‘poochapuncturist’ has always known her calling went beyond general veterinarian medicine.
"I’ve always had an interest in the orthopedic and neurological problems and solutions for pets," Shawna said. "When my family moved to Park City, it was the perfect time to focus on that. Animals are so active here, and such a part of our family. They suffer the same injuries we do, and people here understand our pets need the same kind of treatment for recovery we do."
In addition to providing acupuncture for pain relief, Shawna’s patients also come to her for a variety of neuro-related issues as well. "We’ve had a number of dogs that come to us in a wheelchair, with their back legs paralyzed. Through a variety of treatments, water therapy, lasers, stretching and acupuncture, they return to an active lifestyle. It’s rewarding to see," she added.
One of their current patients is a pro-bono guy named Ben, a Great Pyrenees who was hit by a car, suffered severe spinal injuries and was abandoned by his owner. Friends of Animals took him in and the ladies at Utah Pet Rehab and Acupuncture took him on. Because of their dedication, hard work and volunteer efforts, Ben is expected to recover and soon find a happy, forever home.
"To know that we played a small part in saving a dog’s life, that just keeps us going," Shawna said. "For a lot of people, we are their last resort. To know that we give people and their pets hope and can help prolong a loyal companion’s life and give both owner and dog a better quality of life, it’s really extraordinary," added Shawna.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley. If you have a story idea, please e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.