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Leo the paraplegic dog might walk again

Published on

Cathy Dobson

There’s hope that a little dog found partially paralyzed on the far-off shores of Thailand may walk again thanks to the expertise of a Sarnia veterinarian.

Leo, a two-year-old shepherd mix, has been getting around with the help of a doggie wheelchair since being fostered by Jamie Marilyn Smith.

As Journal readers learned in February, Smith took on the daunting job of nursing Leo back to health after he was found on a Thai beach last year with a broken back, likely the result of a run-in with a motorcycle.

Leo’s two hind legs are paralyzed and he has no bladder control. But he’s put on 10 pounds and got rid of his bladder infection since coming to live with Smith in Sarnia last October.

About six weeks ago, she learned about highly specialized treatments offered by Dr. Sandy Taylor at Lakeshore Veterinary Clinic.

Taylor and two of her registered vet technicians have degrees in physical rehabilitation for small animals from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Taylor is also certified in pain management.

The team assessed Leo and believe there’s a possibility Leo might regain the use of his legs through electroacupuncture treatments and exercises that are similar to physical therapy for people.

“Leo has reflex on some of his (back) toes and has shown he feels deep pain,” said Taylor. “He has a fair prognosis. We have a chance to do this. To see him walk again would be great.”

Once a week for the past month, Leo has had a therapy session with Taylor and registered vet technician Karina Carletti.

Taylor strategically places acupuncture needles in Leo’s back and feet, then hooks some of them up to wires from an electroacupuncture machine that dispenses low levels of electrical current.

“We’re using traditional Chinese veterinary medicine which is helping Leo regain neuromuscular function,” Taylor said.

The therapy also involves exercises with Carletti, laser treatments, and may soon include an underwater treadmill.

“I was very surprised when Dr. Taylor said Leo might have a chance to walk again,” said Smith. “I’m excited for him but I know there are no guarantees.”

The cost of the dog’s specialized therapy is adding up.  Smith, who successfully raised money online to get Leo’s initial vet care, medication and specialized equipment last winter, has recently launched a Youcaring fundraising website called Love for Leo: Let’s help Leo walk again.

Donations have reached nearly $5,000, but Smith said therapy will cost substantially more, possibly as much as $10,000, especially since Leo requires braces to better position his back legs to walk again.

Last weekend, Leo was fitted for his braces at PawsAbility, an orthopedic and prosthetics outfitter in Toronto. The braces cost about $1,000, said Smith.

Leo has had four therapy sessions and is already showing progress.  Smith has noticed his tail is wagging more and he lifts it higher.

“Yay,” smiled Dr. Taylor.  “A happy tail wag when he sees another dog he likes is a sign his brain is giving his hind muscles the message.”

Leo was found in Thailand by Ottawa-based model Meagan Penman while on vacation. When she couldn’t find anyone there to help the pup, she flew Leo to Canada and found Smith on Facebook to foster him.

Smith has yet to decide if she’ll take the leap from fostering to full-fledged adoption. Leo needs a big backyard and she doesn’t have one, she said.

“But the therapy in Sarnia and the fact that he may walk again if he stays here to have therapy, may change everything.”

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