GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Adoptions are an everyday occurrence at Colorado Animal Rescue’s (CARE) shelter, but Thursday afternoon was something truly special.
The staff, on duty and off, crowded behind the desk to await the arrival of Ernie’s new owner.
Ernie, a dog who recently began walking again after being found partially paralyzed in Veltus Park just after Christmas, seemed a little overwhelmed with all the attention. In addition to CARE employees and volunteers, several students for Colorado Mountain College were in attendance, wrapping up a short film about Ernie’s treatment and recovery. Someone painted a little sign to read “Ernie is going home!”
As each new car approached the facility, the assembly looked up expectantly. Ernie, meanwhile, was content to bask in affection, cuddle with his feline friend, and occasionally chase a worn tennis ball in awkward but surprisingly quick bounds.
When Susan and Matt Cooley of Littleton responded to a link on Facebook and agreed to adopt Ernie, he didn’t have any use of his back legs. Several veterinarians had examined him, but whatever trauma had caused the paralysis seemed old and indefinite. He wasn’t a candidate for surgery, and even with rehab the prognosis was murky at best.
“It was hard to say in Ernie’s situation because we didn’t know what caused his paralysis,” veterinarian Elizabeth Dooher explained.
He was undergoing integrative therapies and rehab with Dooher, and while no one ruled out the chance of recovery, it seemed a long shot.
According to Kindra Bohrer, foster care coordinator for CARE, the Cooleys were “fully prepared to care for a dog in a cart.”
The pair had, in fact, cared for disabled pets in the past.
“I always get not-perfect ones,” Susan Cooley said.
It wasn’t until March 14 that Ernie began to show signs of recovery.
“Little by little we saw a little bit of movement in his hind legs and he started to gain courage,” Dr. Dooher said.
They notified the Cooleys and sent them a short video of Ernie walking.
“I watched it a zillion times and reposted it on Facebook, I had to show everyone,” Susan Cooley recalled.
Dooher had been treating Ernie for several weeks using integrated therapies, an approach which adds acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, and laser therapy to more traditional animal rehabilitation.
“This is an example of some great things that can happen with integrative therapies,” Dooher said, “When people look outside the scope of what regular veterinary medicine can offer we sometimes can tap into healing.”
She emphasized that integrative treatments are an enhancement to regular veterinary medicine.
The use of treatments like acupuncture and chiropractic on animals is a fairly new idea, but it’s beginning to gain traction.
“It’s starting to become more mainstream, but none of this is taught in vet school,” Dooher said, “It’s been postgraduate work that I’ve done. It’s really exciting stuff — an up and coming area of veterinary medicine. We’re starting to see success where didn’t previously.”
Ernie also received weekly acupuncture elsewhere in the valley.
It’s a huge amount of improvement in the course of a week, but Ernie’s recovery isn’t finished.
“He’s still a little bit wobbly,” Bohrer observed.
His steps are halting and his hind legs drag occasionally. CARE is sending him home with a cart and some baby-sized, paw-print-themed socks to give him better traction on tile or wood.
K-9 Body Shop in Arvada donated 10 free therapy sessions, so Ernie will have every opportunity to make a full recovery.
Susan Cooley seemed a little taken aback by the crowd when she arrived to pick Ernie up but didn’t hesitate to kneel and pet her new dog. They stayed side be side as the staff explained his needs and his progress. They separated for Cooley to fill out the final adoption forms. She described her household as having several cats as well as chickens, and was confident that Ernie, mobile or not, would fit in well.
“We’re super excited,” she said, “It’s going to be awesome.”
“Little by little we saw a little bit of movement in his hind legs and he started to gain courage.”
Dr. Elizabeth Dooher