It’s a dog’s life | SierraSun.com

It’s a dog’s life

Katherine Morris
--by Katherine MorrisWoelz uses many of the same techniques to treat canines that physical therapists use on humans. Here, Boca is being hooked up to neuromuscular electrical stimulation equipment.
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When Boca, a big yellow Labrador with knowing eyes was struck by a pickup truck two weeks ago, no one knew if he’d ever be the same.

When the monstrous all-weather radials rolled over his hips, he sustained what his veterinarian labeled a serious “crush injury” – a fractured pelvis and significant damage to various muscles and the sciatic nerve.

About a week ago, after emergency hip surgery, Boca’s owners, the Kresys, were able to take home him. They literally had to carry him, as their once vibrant 1-year-old was unable to walk, much less stand on his own.

“When I first saw Boca a week ago, he had a very guarded prognosis,” said Jackie Woelz, a local physical therapist specializing in canines. “But today, look at him. Boca’s a perfect example of why animal physical therapy is so exciting. Animals tend to heal so much faster than humans.”

After just a couple intensive sessions with Woelz, Boca already shows tremendous progress. Three days ago, he took his first steps with Woelz at his side.

She lets him walk on his own, at his own pace. She encourages him, but cradles him at the same time.

“It’s important to support him, to keep his movements slow and controlled,” she says as she keeps a gentle hand on Boca’s shaved back, carefully avoiding the painful staples still in his sides. “We want him to get his symmetry back and to get a normal walking pattern rather than get used to keeping all of his weight to one side.”

Boca is lucky to have access to this kind of specialized therapy in a field that is still largely in its infancy. According to Woelz, she is one of only about 12 animal physical therapists actively practicing in the United States.

“Since there are so few of us, we do a lot of networking and all know each other, go to the same conferences and take the same classes,” said Woelz, who has treated more than 90 dogs in the greater Lake Tahoe area since she began her career as a canine therapist two years ago.

Canine physical therapy aims to help dogs suffering from many of the same ailments that humans suffer from including pain – both injury and non-injury related – muscle, tendon and ligament injuries, surgical recoveries, neurological conditions, gait abnormalities, geriatrics, and strength and conditioning issues for canine athletes.

Not only are the ailments similar, but the treatments as well.

“Some of the techniques I use include manual therapy, soft tissue mobilization, therapeutic exercise, strength and conditioning, and hydrotherapy,” Woelz said.

She also uses ultrasound equipment, iontophoresis and neuromusclar electrical stimulation for rehabilitation, as well as trains the canines’ owners so they can continue with the rehabilitation routine without her.

She generally spends an hour and a half to two hours with her patients, although an initial visit might require more time. The frequency of visits also ranges from three times total, to as many as three times a week for several months depending on the severity of the problem.

Woelz points to her 11-years experience as a physical therapist for people as a major influence on and assistance to her current practice.

“I’ve always loved animals and biology and physical therapy, so this was really the perfect profession for me,” she said.

Aside from earning a bachelor’s in animal physiology from the University of California at San Diego and a master’s in physical therapy from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Woelz has also worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the San Diego Zoo Research Department and a variety of veterinary hospitals.

Woelz currently treats a variety of dogs, all shapes, sizes and breeds, from family dogs like Boca, to hunting, agility, and therapy dogs – even police K-9s.

“I’d eventually really love to work with the avalanche search and rescue dogs,” Woelz said, as she carefully massaged Boca’s right rear leg.

Woelz definitely has a way with animals, as Boca is mellow and relaxed despite the five or so electrodes strapped to his body. A combination of treats, soothing words of encouragement and gentle pets from his therapist help calm him.

Currently, the majority of Woelz’s patients come from referrals by local veterinarians and UC Davis.

“I have spent a great deal of time and energy trying to develop a strong working relationship with the local veterinarians here because, to help the animals, it really needs to be a collaborative effort between all of us,” Woelz said.

Dr. Joanne Hodges of the Donner-Truckee Veterinary Hospital is one such doctor who has worked with Woelz.

“Jackie’s services are extremely beneficial for those clients who are willing to take the extra step for their pets,” Hodges said. “Physical therapy is particularly helpful for treating post-surgical problems and conditions.”

Through detailed reports, digital photos and even video of the dog’s rehabilitation and progress, Woelz tries to keep her patient’s primary veterinarians abreast of the animals’ condition every step of the way.

For Woelz, the most rewarding part of her job is being able to help these animals return to their normal lives and get back doing the things they want to be doing.

“These animals have so much drive and desire to get better. It’s really amazing to see how driven dogs are, especially, to get back to their jobs,” she said, handing Boca a doggy treat. “For Boca, that job is as the family pet, and I have no doubt that he’ll be back there in no time.”

For more information, contact Jackie at (530) 582-5083.