One day, your young dog is wagging and running around; the next, he’s barely able to move. Cory Laslocky lived through this nightmare a few months ago.
On a Sunday in August, Laslocky's son Nathan left for overnight camp. The family’s four-year-old Australian cattle dog Ranger happily bid his human buddy goodbye. The following morning, Ranger was limping. By the end of the day, he was unable to stand and didn’t respond to any touch of his hind limbs.
“My vet had evening office hours so I rushed Ranger over as soon as I got home from work,” recalled Laslocky. “The doctor suspected a neurological issue and recommended we go right to Penn Vet for evaluation. Ryan Hospital is about 15 minutes from my home in New Jersey. Within an hour we were there. Ranger was admitted immediately that night.”
The next morning, an MRI found a ruptured spinal disc. Dr. Scott Petesch, a resident in Neurology and Neurosurgery, performed surgery to relieve the spinal compression.
Even though surgery went smoothly and Ranger responded during recovery when his toes were pinched, the dog faced just a 50 percent chance of ever regaining use of his back legs. And he would need intense physical therapy (PT) to get his body back to working order.
So, Ranger’s Penn Vet care team grew to include Dr. Molly Flaherty, staff veterinarian in Physical Rehabilitation Medicine, and Physical Rehabilitation Medicine nurse Allison Kyler.
The day after surgery, Flaherty and Kyler started Ranger’s inpatient rehab program. “We began with acupuncture to stimulate his nerves and laser therapy to increase cellular energy for healing — both also help with pain relief,” said Flaherty. “We also did some standing exercises. Because Ranger couldn’t stand or move his legs on his own, we used an inflated peanut ball to support his body weight and mimic the natural sensations of standing. We wanted to jumpstart his neurologic awareness of where his legs are.”
After a week in the hospital, Ranger was discharged with a home care plan, pain medications, and a lineup of visits with Flaherty and Kyler. Once a week since the end of August, Laslocky has dropped the dog with the two for a physical therapy regimen that includes movement activities, acupuncture, and laser treatment to facilitate healing, pain relief, and mobility. On other days, Cory and Nathan take the dog through prescribed exercises and monitor his activity level. Ranger also regularly undergoes hydrotherapy at an outside facility.
Beating the Odds
“On his first post-op visit, Ranger could move his back legs a bit, but he wasn’t yet standing or walking,” said Flaherty. “A week later, he was able to stand on his own and take a few steps before falling. By mid-September, he could take several steps without stumbling. We then increased his activity, adding more involved movements. At the end of September, a month after his surgery, I met Cory and Ranger in the Ryan Hospital lobby, and Ranger proudly walked in on his own.”
Flaherty acknowledges owner dedication plays a large role in successful physical therapy and rehabilitation, citing the work the Laslockys — father and son — have done to get Ranger back on his feet.
“Ranger would not have had this kind of progress if his owners were not so dedicated to him and committed to his rehabilitation work,” said Flaherty, who joined Penn Vet in May 2018 to help expand Ryan Hospital’s Physical Rehabilitation Medicine Program. Her patients in this time have included dogs, cats, and rabbits. Although the program’s services are currently available only to Penn Vet patients with an internal referral, Flaherty has plans to open it to outside referring veterinarians. She also wants to add new staff and services, like onsite water therapy.
For their part, Cory and Nathan view Ranger’s rehab as a part of their daily routine – and it also helps, said Laslocky, that they have a deep bench of friends and family to support the pup’s care. “Sometimes Ranger gets tired or annoyed,” said Nathan. “But we know it’s good for him to keep going – he’s such a sweet dog and I’m glad he’s able to start doing some stuff with us again.”
Cory has been especially thankful for Penn Vet’s comprehensive approach to Ranger’s treatment and recovery. “Whenever there’s a potential problem or something to check out, neurology experts are in the same building, and Dr. Petesch or Dr. [Greg] Kaiman can check in on Ranger while he’s doing PT.”
And, Cory laughed, “Ranger has become a rock star at Penn Vet. When he walks into the hospital, people I don’t know greet him and spread the word that ‘Ranger’s in the house.’”