2013-10-18 / Front Page

Helping hands

Rehab center gives hope to animals
By Ann Fisher
Contributing Writer


At right, Lynn Caron, who is on track to be a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner, evaluates Keke, who was born with part of his lower hind legs missing. Keke is being held by his owner, Eliza Connell, a vet tech at Veterinary and Rehabilitation Center of Cape Elizabeth. The rehab part of the animal hospital celebrated its grand opening earlier this month. (Ann Fisher photo) At right, Lynn Caron, who is on track to be a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner, evaluates Keke, who was born with part of his lower hind legs missing. Keke is being held by his owner, Eliza Connell, a vet tech at Veterinary and Rehabilitation Center of Cape Elizabeth. The rehab part of the animal hospital celebrated its grand opening earlier this month. (Ann Fisher photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – Despite an accident that resulted in a broken leg, one thing about Daisy Day hasn’t changed: she still has “a cute little swagger.”

Daisy isn’t a model or an athlete – she isn’t even a “lady of the evening,” – unless her “mom,” Bev Day, takes her out for a walk at night, that is.

Daisy is Day’s 5-month-oldpuppy and, thanks to a new Cape Elizabeth rehab center, she is on her way to a full recovery.

According to Day, Daisy had her signature swagger before the accident happened six weeks ago and it returned after she healed. The rehab sessions will return the range of motion and muscle strength to Daisy’s left rear leg.


Daisy, a 5-month-old fox red lab, was the first formal rehab patient seen at Veterinary and Rehabilitation Center of Cape Elizabeth. She was evaluated by owner Dr. Ginger Browne Johnson and Lynn Caron, who will soon take her final exam to be a certifi ed canine rehabilitation practitioner. (Ann Fisher photo) Daisy, a 5-month-old fox red lab, was the first formal rehab patient seen at Veterinary and Rehabilitation Center of Cape Elizabeth. She was evaluated by owner Dr. Ginger Browne Johnson and Lynn Caron, who will soon take her final exam to be a certifi ed canine rehabilitation practitioner. (Ann Fisher photo) The red fox lab is the first patient to be formally seen at the animal hospital owned by Dr. Ginger Browne Johnson. Johnson bought the Veterinary and Rehabilitation Center of Cape Elizabeth at 207 Ocean House Road about a year ago. She has both a doctorate of veterinary medicine and is a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner. Lynn R. Caron, who was recently hired by Johnson, will soon complete her requirements to become certified as a canine rehab practitioner.

Caron is a registered physical therapist who treated people for 15 years after graduating from the physical therapy program at the University of New England. When asked why she switched species, Caron replied, “It’s the bonding and feeling with them. It’s so special.”

Soon Caron will graduate from Johnson’s alma mater, the University of Tennessee. Johnson said it offers the most rigorous and respected animal rehab programs in the country. Caron has completed her observation piece and case studies, along with the eight required courses. Johnson contacted Caron after posting on the university’s website that she was looking for a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner who was also a veterinary technician. When Caron is certified this winter, she and Johnson will be two of only five certified canine rehabilitation practitioners in the state. The next closest are in Berwick and Brunswick; the Cape center also takes referrals from other veterinary hospitals.

Dogs aren’t the only animals the women have observed in action – or inaction, as the case may be. Johnson observed a goose during her observation hours and Caron studied an alpaca. Not only is the anatomy different for each animal, said the women, but finding the animal’s motivation to cooperate with therapists is important as well.

“That’s what’s good about a puppy,” said Johnson as Bev, Daisy’s owner, dug her hand into the jar of treats.

Daisy spent most of her first rehab session playing, visiting, nipping, crunching on dog cookies and licking newcomers. In short, typical puppy behavior. But in some ways Daisy isn’t typical at all.

The break in her growth plate was caused when Daisy got tangled up in an Adirondack chair, said Day, and it was a potentially serious injury. If a pin had been inserted into the leg instead of having the injury treated by a Portland surgeon recommended by Johnson, the leg bone could have stopped growing.

“She had the best care in terms of surgery,” Johnson said.

It isn’t the first time Daisy beat the odds: she was the only puppy to survive in a litter of eight.

Her mother had contracted a virus during the pregnancy that prevented her from passing on her immunity to all her pups – save one.

If that wasn’t enough, Daisy was spayed the week before her first therapy session.

“She’s been through a lot in her brief five months,” Johnson said sympathetically.

Johnson is present during a patient’s initial therapy session, then she will bow out and let Caron take over. During Daisy’s evaluation, the women patiently measure the wriggling dog’s thigh bone, muscle strength and flexibility. Day assisted by alternately feeding Daisy treats and praise.

“Part of the process is getting her used to what we want her to do,” Johnson said.

No easy task when all the patient wants to do is, one by one, drag the stuffed toys scattered about the therapy room to the door. It was a not-so-subtle hint to the humans that the canine was ready to go home.

The roan-colored pup, however, had more work to do. Caron and Johnson pulled out toys of their own – a physioball they encouraged the dog to put her front legs on, and a low-slung hurdle, the bars of which they coaxed her to walk over one leg at a time. At first, she jumped with rear legs together to avoid putting weight on her previously injured limb.

Caron and Johnson said X-rays taken the day before show Daisy’s growth plate is fully healed. However, the dog doesn’t sense that and still shies away from any pressure that she thinks might cause pain.

It was hard for Day to see Daisy hurt – especially since Daisy is Day’s first dog.

“My very first,” said Day, who is semiretired. “I always wanted one, but I was a nurse and was too busy working.

“People asked me if I was crazy,” she added with a laugh.

If Day is crazy, she’s clearly crazy about Daisy, who is equally enamored of her. Day is eager to help Caron and Johnson with Daisy’s rehab, but she is careful to stay out of their way. Day listens carefully though, when they tell her that stairs, stretching her front legs on an ottoman and “dancing” are all good ways for Daisy to get rehab at home.

As Day takes Daisy after her 40-minute session, the door opens to admit a very different patient.

Keke is a 15-year-old marmalade tom cat whose owner happens to be Eliza Connell of South Portland, a veterinary technician who works at the veterinary and rehab center. Unlike Daisy, Keke was born with a handicap. He is missing a foot on one back leg and has no leg below the knee on the other side. Keke was adopted only four months ago from the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook by Connell after the cat’s owners died.

Although he has to drag his hindquarters to get around, Keke hardly looks fazed.

“He can climb stairs and gets up on the back of the couch,” said Connell with a hint of pride.

He also follows her around everywhere, she added.

Despite his serious birth defect, Johnson thinks Keke can still be helped by rehab. Specifically, Johnson recommends heat therapy and ultrasound to help his front legs, which have taken up the work in the absence of his rear limbs.

“He’s a good example of how animals compensate,” Johnson said. “We know our patients will benefit from these specialized services.”

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