When people learn that I am a physical therapist who works exclusively with canine patients, they often ask how I got started
in canine rehabilitation. I have been a passionate dog lover since childhood, but my original career plan was to be a teacher.
One week before graduating from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in elementary education, I had a
traumatic bicycle accident and shattered my tibial plateau. After undergoing two major surgeries, I was told by my surgeon
that I would have to go through physical therapy if I wanted to avoid having a limp for the rest of my life. I did not know
much about physical therapy, but I was determined to return to my active lifestyle, so I started rehabilitation right away.
For nearly a year, I pushed myself as hard as I could, despite the excruciating pain. My physical therapists encouraged and
challenged me. They not only got me through the most difficult physical challenge I had ever faced, but they inspired me to
return to college for a degree in physical therapy.
I graduated from Nova Southeastern University with a master's degree in physical therapy in 1998. After graduation, I pursued
additional training in manual therapy at the University of Saint Augustine for the Health Sciences. I spent the next nine
years working in outpatient clinics, specializing in the areas of orthopedics and sports rehabilitation.
I found working as a physical therapist extremely rewarding. I was routinely challenged by the complexities of the cases I
saw and enjoyed the mental challenge involved in making clinical decisions. I felt privileged to be able to use my hands,
my head and my heart to help make lives better on a daily basis.
Transitioning from humans to canines
While in college, I adopted a mixed-breed dog named Jesse, and she was my constant companion for 12 years. When she started
to show the effects of age, Jesse became my first canine patient. Caring for musculoskeletal problems was second nature to
me, and I saw no reason why I couldn't use my knowledge and clinical reasoning skills to help my beloved pet.
Jesse's veterinarian could not believe how well she was doing. Her x-rays showed she should not be able to walk, but she was
going up and down the stairs in our three-story townhouse. He speculated that the physical therapy I was providing was a big
factor in her remarkable progress. This started me thinking that perhaps Jesse was not the only dog that would benefit from
these types of interventions.
Jesse eventually passed away from heart failure, and my husband and I adopted Kaya, a mischievous and precocious puppy. Our
obedience instructor suggested agility classes to provide an outlet for her energy and mental acuity, and we became avid agility
Around the same time, I began researching education and training in canine rehabilitation and made the decision to enroll
at the Canine Rehabilitation Institute, Wellington, Fla. I loved the Introduction to Canine Rehabilitation course but was
unsure what to do with my newfound knowledge. At an agility competition, I learned that there was a veterinarian in my area
who had been doing canine rehabilitation for a couple of years. I met with her to talk about how I could contribute to her
practice. The interview went very well, and her parting words were, "When can you start?"
I began working one day a week for Dr. Joyce Loeser at the Animal Recreation and Rehabilitation Center, Davie, Fla., while
still continuing my work with human patients. It was a great way for me to decide whether making the switch to veterinary
rehabilitation was right for me. I realized that my physical therapy knowledge and manual skills could be easily transferred
to canine rehabilitation.
Dr. Loeser was pleasantly surprised at how my knowledge as a physical therapist added to the rehabilitation department and
how fast I was able to help the dogs improve. I took great pride in formulating specific treatment plans to address each dog's
individual problems. After three months, Dr. Loeser hired me to work full-time to manage the rehabilitation department.
In 2008, while working with Dr. Loeser, I became a certified canine rehabilitation therapist through the Canine Rehabilitation
Institute. This certification helped immensely in making the transition from humans to canines. I also gained experience,
confidence and understanding of canine rehabilitation during the four years I worked with Dr. Loeser. The practice specialized
in neurologic rehabilitation, but I treated dogs with a variety of diagnoses including arthritis, sports injuries, cruciate
ruptures, disk disease and fractures.
My experiences with human and canine patients have taught me that there are definite differences. Canine rehabilitation is
more similar to pediatric rehabilitation. Dogs usually come with a very worried "parent." They have short attention spans
and can bite, scratch or cry at any moment, so they must be treated with care. Dogs cannot verbalize where the pain is or
what they like or dislike. I read their body language and watch for signs of what they are trying to communicate. I also make
rehabilitation fun and creative to motivate the patient to participate.
In addition, dogs are free from the emotional constraints that people have. They do not worry about their appearance after
having a limb amputated or being paralyzed. They only seem to care about being loved. They do not pity themselves and rarely
give up. I will always remember a dog named Tiga that was completely paralyzed from coonhound paralysis. She taught me the
most valuable lesson when it comes to rehabilitating dogs—never give up on them, especially if the owner is unwilling to give
up, too. I was not sure that she would ever walk again, but after three months of hard work, she started to run.