Plainfield Couple Help Crippled Lab
Taylor wears a towel while being dried by Peggy Hollander after a therapy session on an underwater treadmill in Plainfield, N.H., on May 11, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Peggy Hollander, left, and her husband Jim Hollander lift their dog Taylor out of a homemade water treadmill after several minutes of exercise for Taylor's back legs at their home in Plainfield, N.H., on May 11, 2014. Taylor, a black lab mix, has been paralyzed in the hind quarters since November, when early onset arthritis led to a ruptured disk. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Peggy Hollander moves Taylor's hind legs on an underwater treadmill while Jim Hollander turns the speed up at their home in Plainfield, N.H., on May 11, 2014. Taylor, a black lab mix, has been paralyzed in the hind quarters since November, when early onset arthritis led to a ruptured disk. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
After a therapy session, Taylor dries off in the sun and chews a stick thrown by Jim Hollander in Plainfield, N.H., on May 11, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Plainfield — Days had passed since her last session, but when the treadmill started moving, Taylor’s front paws picked up the cadence right away.
“You remember how to do this,” Jim Hollander said, patting the 4-year-old dog’s head on a recent afternoon. “Good girl.”
Taylor, a black La b mix, became paralyzed in her hind quarters last fall . Since then, Hollander and his wife, Peggy, have been doing everything they can to help her recover or adapt, including building an underwater treadmill in their Plainfield home.
A set of “walking wheels” they bought enables her get around outside, and a new wooden ramp lets her come in and out of the house. The process has been expensive and time-consuming, but Taylor’s worth the effort, said Peggy Hollander, a longtime dog owner who puts her at “the top of the list.”
“She is so much more people-oriented than other dogs,” Hollander said.
“If you make eye contact with her, she just wags her tail. She just seems to have another level.”
A healthy, active dog, Taylor was just 8 or 9 weeks old when they adopted her from a rescue shelter. But apparently, she was born with certain weaknesses, including early onset spinal arthritis, that may have led to the injury.
One evening last November, Taylor had seemed restless and uncomfortable, possibly due to her arthritis. Her veterinarian prescribed medication, and the Hollanders placed a bed on the floor for her. But early the next morning, when she jumped the short distance from the mattress to the floor, “all hell broke loose,” Peggy Hollander said. “She screamed and couldn’t move.”
They immediately drove her to a local veterinary clinic. A disc in her back had bulged, causing a hemorrhage and cutting off nerve signals to her hind quarters, and the staff advised emergency surgery. Less than a day later, Taylor was on an operating table in Manchester, N.H.
“(The surgeon) did the best he could,” but he wasn’t very optimistic that she would walk again, Jim Hollander said.
Working with Judy Coates, a canine rehabilitation therapist, they developed a regimen that included daily muscle stimulation treatments and sessions on an underwater treadmill, which supports much of her weight, reducing the strain on her body.
The Hollanders took Taylor to a clinic in Nashua, N.H., that has an underwater treadmill, but being 90 minutes away, it was too far to drive for daily treatments.
They looked into buying their own underwater treadmill, but a professional unit costs about $40,000. Then Hollander, an engineer, was inspired by a homemade system he saw online.
They bought a treadmill, which Hollander transformed, adding a longer belt and moving the electronics so they would sit outside of the water. The machine rests on a platform inside a heated 300-gallon farm tank, and a pulley system helps them lift Taylor out of the tub.
The treadmill “doesn’t horrify her, but she doesn’t love it,” Peggy Hollander said. To put her at ease, they keep her favorite stuffed animals nearby and reward her with treats.
For six months, the Hollanders spent about 2 1/2 hours a day working with Taylor.
At times, the dog seems to be improving, but other times, “it’s kind of depressing,” she said. “It’s a roller coaster.”
Taylor can stand with support, but that could be just a reflex. “At some point, she’ll have to do something that will signify to us … (that her legs are receiving) a message from the brain,” she said.
A cheerful dog, Taylor was known to wag her tail even in her sleep. “That part of her personality is gone,” she said.
But despite her new limitations, Taylor seems to have kept her spirits up. She’s as playful as ever and still loves riding in the car. “As long as she’s with people, she’s happy,” she said.
Recently, the Hollanders stopped the muscle treatments and dialed back the treadmill workouts. “It just becomes a stressor,” Peggy Hollander said. “She’s definitely worth it, but when you don’t see progress …”
Whether or not Taylor will walk again is “the million-dollar question,” Coates, whose has an office in Lebanon, said in an email. “Some dogs never regain use of their legs, in which case a cart or doggie wheelchair is a fabulous option for keeping them active and maximizing their quality of life.”
Over the months, Taylor has adapted to her injury, pulling herself along somewhat like a seal. A rug “runway” prevents her front feet from sliding on the wood floors, and cloth booties protect her feet from abrasions.
The workouts and her new method of locomotion have strengthened her front legs and her back, and a few days ago, she tried something new.
Pivoting forward, she “un-weighted” her rear end so that it was barely touching the floor, Jim Hollander said in an email on Thursday.
“She was trying to walk on just her front legs, or so it struck us. I have seen this very rare canine phenomena on the Internet, so that is exciting.”
As Taylor finds her way, the Hollanders are making sure she can do the activities she enjoys, such as visiting a family cabin in Vermont. She likes to swim, and when the weather warms up, they plan to take her to a pond.
“When she was swimming, she didn’t really use her back legs,” Peggy Hollander said. “So it might be a fun thing.”
Aimee Caruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3210.