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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

News & Views August 2016 Issue

Within a Dog’s ‘Disability’ Often Lies a Gift

What the heart handles enriches it.

Three-legged Callie Mae brought amazing joy into her human family's life. Read about her on pages 14 and 15.

“The non-slip socks you wrote about a while ago finally arrived yesterday. My dog walked funny in them, but he was more stable on the stairs. Then the stair treads I ordered arrived. OMG what a difference! He doesn’t have a problem going down the stairs at all now. Whereas he was very reluctant to come upstairs over the past several days, now he has no hesitation because he knows he can get back down. In fact, he comes up to tell me it’s time for dinner.

This particular reader’s 10-year-old German shepherd suffers from degenerative myelopathy, a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs that begins with a loss of coordination in the hind limbs; an affected dog will wobble when walking and knuckle over or drag his feet. His owner took him home as a rescue when he was about a year old, and they have been family ever since. She says of his regained mobility on the stairs:

“I know it seems trivial, but you can’t imagine how relieved and happy this makes me. It means my dog can sleep in his bedroom bed again — he has been sleeping alone downstairs — and I don’t have to worry about him falling down the staircase when he wants to come back down.”

No, it doesn’t seem trivial at all. It seems like this person loves her dog, who has become a dog with special needs, and we would expect nothing less.

Everyone’s dog becomes a special needs dog at some point, contending with one or another disability. Often, it’s when the dog is older, as illustrated in the case here. But sometimes, it’s before the dog and the person have met. The dog is born blind, or deaf, or has had to undergo the amputation of a limb or has diabetes, which requires daily injections.

Many people, when picking out a dog, might think to pass over one who already has a health issue that could make life a little different. But those who choose a dog with a physical difference often find their bond with their pet is made all the stronger. And it fills their hearts — and may even strengthen their own health. Says veterinarian Michelle Salob, DVM, MPH, who has a blind dog herself, “since we also know that emotional health affects physical health, simply put, we just feel better when we are with dogs we feel need us.”

Read about Dr. Salob’s experience with her dog — and the bond between other people and their own differently abled dogs — in the story starting on page 13. It may just influence how you decide on your own next dog.

Happy tails to you,

Lawrence Lindner
Executive Editor

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