Once-paralyzed dog finds her footing with family’s help

Spearmint Sally lying on a dog bed in front of a Christmas tree, a person and three other dogs
Spearmint Sally was paralyzed as a puppy, but now she can stand on her own — and her family’s been with her every step of the way.
By Sarah Thornton

“Yes, good girl! You can do it. Oh, nice step!”

Encouragement and praise fill the room as Spearmint Sally puts one foot in front of the other and pushes forward against the submerged treadmill. Occasionally, a hind paw falls out of sync and catches around her ankle, causing her to hop for a second or two, but she soon sorts it out and is right back to steady steps. With a little support from the water and her life vest (as well as a helping hand when her paws get a bit too tangled), she is walking all on her own. And that’s a pretty big deal.

Two years ago, when Sally arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, she was just a puppy — a puppy whose back end was fully paralyzed. She had been hurt in an accident, and her family surrendered her to a rescue organization. They reached out to Best Friends, and soon the little puppy was on her way to the Sanctuary.

When Best Friends veterinarians examined her, they found she had nerve damage from the accident, but nothing was broken. They were hopeful that she might one day be able to get back on her feet. So Sally’s treatment began in earnest with laser therapy, acupuncture, regular back and foot massages, and hydrotherapy.

She went into foster care with Phyllis Meyer-Parthemore, who’d worked at the Best Friends clinic for many years before retiring. She led Sally through twice-daily physical therapy exercises. Over time, Sally became stronger, and the damaged nerves started firing again. As she ran around in her wheeled cart, Sally’s back feet began to move and tense ever so slightly.

Phyllis cheered on Sally and guided her through some big milestones, from her first time standing up on her own to her first uneasy steps. And now, they’re getting ready to celebrate another: the one-year anniversary of Sally officially joining the family.

A few steps from foster care

It wasn’t always the plan for Sally to go from foster pet to family. Phyllis already had dogs of her own, several of them seniors, and not all of them were big fans of the tiny puppy who’d come charging in at top speed with her wheels. But since she was still just a baby, and (mostly) listened to their corrections, they tolerated her. One dog even fell a little in love and indulged Sally at playtime.

[FAQs About Dogs in Wheelchairs and Carts]

But that delicate peace was tested as she got bigger and wanted to play rougher. Even if she couldn’t stand for very long and still mostly scooted around with her front legs, she was a scrappy little dog with a whole lot of energy compared to her older housemates. “Some of them took it fine, and they’d either tell her what-for or they’d ignore her,” Phyllis says. “But there were the odd ones who didn’t.”

Then, Sally was adopted, and although the parting was bittersweet, the timing seemed perfect. The older dogs were ready for a break from all that puppy energy.

The adopter kept in touch with Phyllis, and for the next three months, she sent updates on how Sally was doing in her new home. She was growing up fast and very much loved. But unfortunately, it ended up not being the right fit. Life was changing, and would keep changing, and the adopter realized that with her special medical needs, Sally needed more stability.

But Phyllis was there, ready to welcome Sally back again. The young dog settled right in with all the familiar faces, and this time she greeted the older dogs with a more measured (though still very happy) energy that they could handle.

It felt like home — because it was. And on Christmas Eve, they made it official.

Standing together with her family

Although Sally didn’t get much bigger, she grew stronger and more confident in the year that followed her adoption. When she’s going for speed, she still scoots along with her front legs and pulls her hind end behind her. But she can push herself up and hold her own on all fours when she wants to.

Returning to Phyllis’ home meant returning to weekly hydrotherapy appointments, as well as her daily exercises. And she still loves all of it.

When it’s time to stretch her hamstrings and Phyllis is rolling and bouncing her on an inflatable exercise “peanut,” Sally sees it as the perfect opportunity to play with her other person, Phyllis’ husband Terry. Or when they’re doing it as a pre-hydrotherapy workout at the Sanctuary (in a special arrangement made to keep Sally healthy and happy post-adoption), it’s time for Mary Otjens, the volunteer in charge, to get kisses all over her face.

[Once-paralyzed puppy ditches his wheels]

As she’s walking along in the hydrotherapy tank, Sally soaks up all the attention and praise Phyllis and Mary (and any bystanders) lavish upon her. And if there’s a momentary lapse in that praise, Sally is sure to let everyone know. “She’s a very sensitive dog,” says Mary.

“If we’re just talking,” Phyllis explains with a laugh, “and we’re not paying attention to her, she gets jealous.”

But there’s never a dull moment, as far as Sally is concerned. Physical therapy is a game for her, and there’s always something new to play with — plus plenty of tasty treats at the end.

At home, there’s even more fun to be had. She bounces around the house, switching from all fours to front-paw drive as she pleases. And she darts out the doggy door to play catch with Terry or chase with whomever of her canine siblings is feeling up for it that day. She’s more conscious of their limits now.

When Phyllis and Terry leave the house, Sally has a spacious sunroom to herself, where she can nap or play with her toys. When they’re home, she’s right in the middle of everything, looking for snuggles and attention from everyone around her.

“They love her to pieces, and she’s got them wrapped around her little paw,” Mary says. “It’s fun to watch.”

Spearmint Sally is making progress every day — untangling her feet faster, standing longer, or taking a few more steps. In just two years, she’s gone from having no feeling in her feet to being able to do it all. She will probably be in physical therapy for the rest of her life, but that seems fine with her. It’s a blast as long as she has her family by her side.

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