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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Occupational Therapy for Dogs

Published January 26, 2017 12:30 PM by Debra Karplus

My 50-year-old friend, Sam, called. His back and knees are hurting because he has been carrying his beloved pooch up and down flights of stairs since the elevator to his sixth floor New York apartment has recently been out of service.

But he is more concerned about his ailing 60 pound basset hound, Jamal. Jamal is nearly 13 years old and has problems with his hips - not unusual in that breed of dog. Because of these hip problems, Jamal wears a harness for his daily walk to do his business; putting Jamal in and out of this harness requires Sam to do a lot of bending. He pulls Jamal in a wagon for some outings which requires him to lift the pup in and out of his little vehicle. For longer journeys or during inclement weather, Sam resorts to hiring a pet taxi to transport Jamal.

Sam tells me that Jamal has been diagnosed with arthritis and takes an anti-inflammatory medication and periodically is treated with acupuncture. Our family hasn't had a dog since about 1987; we'd had our dog, Harold, since 1974, and he was a very healthy and sturdy canine until he died from leukemia. I am now beginning to understand that dogs have some of the same maladies that humans have.

I feel that both man and dog could use some help from occupational therapy. Sam needs some guidance on body mechanics, specifically to remember to bend at the knees. And at some point, dog or no dog, Sam, no longer a youngster, may want to rethink living on a sixth floor because that's a lot of stairs to handle on the occasion that the elevator may fail again in the future.

Sam might also benefit from some special services. Looking online, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there are rehabilitative services for dogs with physical disabilities. I learned that, here in my own town, the University of Illinois, known for its top-notch school of veterinary medicine, offers therapy services for dogs. I was delighted to learn that programs such as this exist all over the country, including in New York City where Sam and Jamal are trying to make the most of every day.

This situation with Sam and his disabled furry friend made me wonder if there is a place for occupational therapy in the world of animals, especially dogs. I've been searching online and putting much thought into the possibility of adaptive equipment or mobility devices for Jamal to use to make life a little better - for both him and Sam.

I am very curious to hear from occupational therapists and other health care providers of man and dog on this intriguing (at least to me) subject of special equipment for the activities of daily living for dogs, specifically for their mobility.

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