Local clinic uses human procedures to help ailing dogs

STONE MOUNTAIN - This is where the aging hope to recapture the agility of their prime.

It's where the crippled learn to walk again and the injured seek an escape from pain.

It's a rehabilitation clinic much like any other, where physical therapists guide their patients down a demanding road to recovery - except patients at Caring Canine in Stone Mountain are dogs.

Breeze, a Chesapeake Bay retriever with weakness in her back legs, works on an underwater treadmill.

General, a 12-year-old lab who struggles to walk, rehabs in the metal harness.

Pablo, a miniature poodle abused as a pup, gets therapeutic massages.

Caring Canine in Stone Mountain is one of a growing number of veterinary practices in the United States taking the medical knowledge and technology of human physical therapy and applying it to dogs.

Almost unheard of a decade ago, animal physical therapy is practiced around the world today, with nearly 100 clinics in the United States.

Caring Canine is one of two facilities in Georgia - the other clinic is in Savannah - according to a Web site run by a pioneer in the field, Dr. David Levine with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Fueling the trend is the willingness of Americans to shell out big money for a variety of pet services - including several that might raise a few eyebrows among even the most ardent animal lovers.

Today there are pet butlers, pet massage therapists and even pet travel agents.

Americans are expected to spend nearly $36 billion on various forms of pet care this year, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers


The advancement in veterinary medicine has provided pet owners with a variety of services and treatments unavailable a generation ago, including rehabilitation.

That's a good thing for Pablo.

Without recent breakthroughs, the 2-year-old poodle couldn't play Frisbee or wrestle with other dogs - his favorite things to do, says his owner Samantha Fogg.

Pablo led an unfortunate life.

As a pup, he was abused - burned with chemicals - then abandoned. He was eventually adopted, but he began biting.

Seen as aggressive and unpredictable, he was given up. He was probably heading for a sad ending - euthanasia.

Then Fogg stepped in and took him to Caring Canine.

Pablo wasn't mean, just in pain.

The problem was the scar tissue and inflammation from his chemical burns. Every time someone picked him up, it hurt and he snapped at them. The remedy: massage and therapeutic ultrasound.

In the old days, "He might have been euthanized, because that's what would happen to dogs that bit people," Fogg said. "There weren't as many treatments around."

Pablo also shows how attitudes toward pets have changed in recent decades. No longer just domesticated animals, pets are like family.

Dogs were originally bred mainly for helping humans work and hunt. But those skills are irrelevant as Americans continue moving from a rural to urban existence.

"They are eating from the table and sleeping beside us at night," said veterinarian Steven Rosenblatt, author of "Happy Healthy Dogs: Slim Dogs Live Longer."

"It's a good thing from the dog's point of view," he said, "but probably not very healthy for them in the long-run."

Although a growing trend, dog rehab found a hard time catching on.

A few industry pioneers led the charge, including Levine with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and John Sherman with North Carolina State University.

A few years ago, John Meehan found it difficult to convince vets to buy his company's line of treadmills.

Meehan is the product marketing director of Ferno Veterinary Systems, whose bread-and-butter was originally aquatic therapy for humans. Then, more veterinarians began asking if the company could make an underwater treadmill for dogs.

The results were remarkable, Meehan said.

"I saw dogs that were essentially quadriplegic start to walk and run again," Meehan said.

Seizing the opportunity, the company took its products to veterinary industry trade shows. The Wilmington, Ohio-based company has sold 400 underwater treadmills, and it's now delving into electrotherapy treatments, including ultrasound.

"This whole thing is exploding for us," Meehan said.

Pet owners will typically spend more than $100 for initial exams at canine rehab clinics, then more for additional therapy. Caring Canine charges about $30 for every 15 minutes of treatment after the first exam.

Money is sometimes a concern, but rarely an obstacle.

Dr. Lisa Bedenbaugh, a Caring Canine physical therapist, said animal rehab was once aimed at top-of-the-line horses, whose owners had millions invested in the animals. The profession later focused on rehabilitating service dogs, such as police canines.

Now, Bedenbaugh said, 90 percent of the pet owners she sees "simply love their pets and want to treat them like family."