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Baxter overcame paralysis and proved that we can win against great odds with the help of a few good humans.

 

When Kayte Wolf moved from Philadelphia to Oregon, she didn’t know it would take her down a career path advocating for animals. While living on the East Coast, Kayte assisted individuals with traumatic brain injuries, along with volunteering at a local humane society and a farm-based animal rescue, so signing up as a volunteer at the Oregon Humane Society was a natural step after her move.

 

Kayte volunteered with the Animal-Assisted Therapy and running with dogs programs, but felt the drive to give more, so when the Spay & Save Assistant position opened up four years ago, she applied. She accepted the position and is now the Spay & Save Team Lead, where she passionately helps people by providing low cost resources that allow them to care for and keep their pets.

 

Bax thenIn November of 2013, one of Kayte’s OHS peers asked her to foster a dog because the organization had just rescued around 140 neglected animals from a breeder, where many were living in urine and feces, with no access to water. Kayte hesitantly agreed, and that is when Baxter - a shy, wire-haired Dachshund - came into her life.

 

Because he came from a neglectful puppy mill, Baxter was underweight, 

scared, and not potty-trained when he came into Kayte’s home. It only took a few weeks for Kayte to realize he was meant to be a part of their family, but because he was evidence, she was unable to have him neutered, adopt him, or share his photo publicly until he was relinquished officially 8 months later. Many of the other foster parents from this case had to wait up to 2 years for the resolution of the case to adopt their fosters.

 

For the next few years, Baxter lived the good life in Kayte’s family, 

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getting his fill of naps, cuddling, hiking, and coming to work with Kayte. But on a Saturday morning in December of 2016, Baxter experienced an injury that would change both of their lives. As he was going down their stairs, Baxter let out a cry and stopped walking. Throughout the day, he became increasingly uncomfortable and unable to ambulate, so Kayte took him to be seen at an emergency veterinary hospital.

 

Baxter’s diagnosis was hind-end weakness due to neurological issues, which the veterinarian recommended treating at home with medication. Unfortunately, his condition worsened quickly, and overnight his entire rear end became paralyzed. Kayte and Baxter visited multiple veterinary specialists, and he was eventually given a new diagnosis - a ruptured/herniated intervertebral disc pressing on his spinal cord.  Baxter was only five years old, and Kayte was determined to do what was needed to help him recover from this serious condition.

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IMG 4587Dr. Lillian Su, a board certified veterinary surgeon, of Sunstone Veterinary Specialists was one of the first specialists to see Baxter after his diagnosis. “It is always a shock for pet parents to have their dog become suddenly paralyzed and the decision to move forward with treatment needs to take a lot of factors into consideration. ‘What is the pet’s neurologic status? Is surgery an option? What type of aftercare can the pet’s family provide? Are they capable of properly caring for their pet during the post-op recovery? Is the family prepared for the possibility of a permanently disabled pet?’ In situations such as these, as heartbreaking as it is for all involved, sometimes the best decision for the pet and their family is to let them go. Thankfully, we did not have to make that decision for Baxter.”

 

 

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Even with surgery, Baxter’s prognosis was guarded, but Kayte wanted to give him every chance to recover - even if it meant him living life with a cart - so she decided to move ahead with surgery. Without surgery, Baxter’s chances of regaining use of his back legs were less than 10%. With surgery, those chances increased to 50%. Dr. Su explained to Kayte that after surgery, she would need to commit to a minimum of 6-8 weeks of home nursing care and rehabilitation, which would include medications, exercises, and expressing his bladder for him. These 6-8 weeks would be critical in determining whether Baxter would show signs of improvement.

Baxter made it through his surgery, and he and Kayte began the next stage in his treatment. “Those days immediately following the surgery were the hardest until the recovery came. I was faced with not only caring for a partially paralyzed dog, but also being the one who had to express his bladder to help him go to the bathroom. I have no idea what I would have done without my friends, family and co-workers by my side helping me through it all.”

 

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Kayte and Baxter started a rehabilitation plan prescribed by Dr. Mandi Blackwelder of Healing Arts Animal Care. This plan consisted of treadmill therapy, acupuncture, therapeutic laser, electrical stimulation and exercises, both in-clinic and at home. The exercises included pinching his toes, bouncing, bicycling, supported standing, and sit/stands. Dr. Blackwelder explains, “All of these exercises continued to use the muscles in a normal manner to help the body’s remember their job and increase their sensation and strength.”

 

Baxter’s prognosis was still questionable, as he was lacking what the medical field calls “deep pain,” or the ability to feel his toes. During his first acupuncture treatment, Baxter had a IMG 8458breakthrough when he let out a yelp and tried to bite. “While I never love it when my patients do that (we try to avoid pain at all costs), in Baxter’s case it was a cause to rejoice, as the point he felt was beyond the lesion in his back which means he had some sensation returning!” After a few water treadmill exercises, Dr. Blackwelder started to see Baxter step on his own here and there, and soon he was able to move both hind legs again.

 

Baxmobile

Kayte diligently continued to do the prescribed exercises with Baxter, coming to work almost every day to continue his physical therapy. She bought a wagon to help her transport him around. After a few weeks, Baxter reached a major milestone in his progress - he started to go to the bathroom on his own. Since that time, Baxter has continued to grow stronger and improve. He has even started to walk on his own. As Kayte describes it, “He learned to walk again - it’s not the prettiest walk in the world, sometimes he looks like he had a few too many, but it’s a walk!”

 

After going through this experience with Baxter, we asked Kayte how it has impacted their relationship. This is what she answered:

 

Bax Field“Baxter is the strongest, most determined little guy I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He struts down the halls at work with a slight hitch in his step, but still acts like he owns the place. People I don’t even know, know Baxter and me as Baxter’s mom. His reputation proceeds him. Baxter is my world. You know how you have that one soulmate animal in life? That one true being that you would do anything and everything for? That is Baxter. He has taught me that we can overcome many hardships. He has taught me the resilience that animals have: coming from a feces-covered barn floor to life on a cushy bed, to be knocked back down by the curse of a long spine, but then to work tirelessly to get back up again and walking. He has exceeded my and many of my animal professional friends’ expectations. He trusts me. What did I do to deserve this amazing little being in my life? I may never know but I will sure as heck enjoy every minute I get to spend with him.”

 

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Baxter’s recovery relied on the collaboration and dedication of everyone involved in his care. Kayte is grateful for Dr. Blackwelder’s team, who she describes as “some of the most incredible people in the world...they helped ease my mind with a lot of the worries and burden I was carrying on my shoulders. They helped me realize that it’s okay to be scared and that Baxter and I would have to learn this new way of life together.” She credits Dr. Su’s surgery for giving Baxter a second chance at life. Both doctors credit Kayte’s amazing commitment to Baxter and his treatment as a big reason for his recovery. Dr. Su says, “We are so glad Kayte was able to give Baxter the chance to get better. He’s been a success story in every way and I am so happy I was able to be a part of it!”

 

For those who may be going through similar challenges with their pets, here are some tips from Baxter’s care team:

 

  • Listen to your gut, and don’t be afraid to get second opinions from other animal professionals.
  • Find the time to take care of yourself. Kayte shares, “I wasn’t taking good care of myself during those first few days and it was making things a lot worse. You need to eat. You need to sleep. You might need some extra therapy sessions and meds to help get you through it, but you need to take care of you so that you can take care of your pet.  Thanks, Mom, for reminding me of this.”
  • Ask for help, both from your personal network and other resources, like online support groups or crowd-funding sites.
  • Find a specialist with specific credentials and experience in neurosurgery to discuss your pet’s options. Board certified veterinary neurologists (DACVIM-Neurology) and board certified veterinary surgeons (DACVS/DACVS-SA) have advanced training in spinal surgery that your family veterinary practitioner may not have.
  • Look for a rehabilitation professional who is a CCRP (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner) or a CCRT (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist). A professional who does only rehabilitation will have the most experience to draw from.
  • Get pet insurance that covers surgery and rehabilitation before there is a problem, especially if you have a high-risk breed like a Dachshund, French Bulldog, Boston Terrier, or Corgi. Without insurance, surgery and rehabilitation add up to $10,000.

Animal Community Talks thanks Kayte Wolf, Dr. Lillian Su, and Dr. Mandi Blackwelder for sharing Baxter’s inspirational story!