by Claudia Silberlicht
When my friend’s dog was diagnosed with Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyleopathy, a spinal cord condition that eventually winds up in paralysis of the hind legs, we made minor adjustments in his house to accommodate her. We carpeted the existing stairway leading up to the second floor to give her better traction. We built a set of stairs and placed it against his bed, where she now slept each night, so she wouldn’t need to leap the30 inchesfrom the floor just to reach it. And as her condition worsened, we came up with additional means for her to retain her mobility: a buggy we constructed using parts from an unused shopping cart and bicycle for exercise – and water therapy.
3B had always been active, playing with other dogs in what I often referred to as “doggie day camp.” A local woman who ran a dog sitting business religiously took all of her clients’ companions to the bay where they could frolic, running and swimming, chasing sticks and balls for the hour it took for her to walk from one end of the beach to the other. Frequently people she met in the area accompanied her with their dogs, eager for their four-legged friends to socialize. 3B learned to swim there. She raced with the other dogs, often outrunning the greyhounds.
But for the moment, the bay was no place for her, the small rocks too rough for her now delicate back paws. Getting her down to the water’s edge would be no easier. We needed a place that would be gentle on her, a place where she felt safe – and knew. At least until she understood the concept of our bicycle-like contraption and adjusted to utilizing it to her own benefit, keeping herself moving so as not to atrophy her front paws. We needed a place that would show her that in spite of her handicap, she could still do the things she loved, the things that made her happy.
Our eureka moment had come rather unexpectedly, at a time when Hal and I brought a guest staying with him for a few days to see one of the off the beaten track sites, 3B in tow. As we stood talking to his visitor, I heard paws dragging through the sand. I turned around. 3B was making her way toward us from where we placed her over by the van when we arrived. She was trying to head to the water. It had been the first time in weeks that she had expressed an interest in an activity outside of her occasional attempts to chase Harry, her feline brother, around the property. We weren’t sure if it was the warm, summer sun that had triggered her efforts, or memories of the pond, a familiar place to her, having played periodically with some of her dog buddies there. It didn’t matter. We now knew this was where she had to be.
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I had only recently come to think of Scallop Pond in terms of a refuge when visitors in the area began to ask me about the birds lying in the nests atop the tall poles – platforms erected to attract nesting ospreys, encouraging their return in the wake of the DDT ban decades before, DDT having destroyed their population. I considered the whole concept symbolic, representative of a fight where victory had prevailed. Bringing 3B here of all places was significant.
There was no doubt in our minds that the elements would protect her, either. The soft, beige colored sand would be gentle on her feet when she would dismount the “bike” to enter what was usually calm water. At low tide, she could walk with ease; the current would work her muscles, keep her legs strong enough to support her when necessary.
That first morning we drove up to the Pond for a trial run, parking at the beginning of the road that led down to the water so 3B could get plenty of exercise and practice. Sabine, the woman who ran the dog service, had offered days before to bring some of the dogs 3B had been friendly with over the years, aware that that first time could be traumatic. She arrived with her small entourage just as we were getting started. We placed 3B inside the cradle of the bike, her front paws on the ground, her hind legs resting on a pair of shorts tied to its cart-like frame in order to cushion the harshness of the metal beneath her.