Sophie's Story



Holistic Therapies Give Ailing Poodle a Second Chance

A few years ago Sophie the Dog dreamed of a life without pain.

Now, at age nine, the intrepid Poodle cuts a mean swath around her backyard obstacle course, uses special stairs to get on the couch, and loves to play chase with her best Poodle buddy, Chloe.  A bystander would never guess that the eight-pound pooch could barely walk two years ago.

Sophie’s story began at age three when Nancy (last name excluded by request) found her in a newspaper ad.  When Sophie was handed over sans vet records Nancy grew suspicious, and soon she realized her companion had been mistreated.  “My husband raised his foot to step forward and Sophie took off,” Nancy remembers.  “It became obvious to us that she’d suffered abuse.”

Though the sweet brown-eyed girl soon stabilized, vestiges of her former life occasionally haunted her.  At age six, she developed a profound weakness in her back and kneecaps; her condition, not uncommon for poodles, deteriorated rapidly.

A diagnosis of spinal disc compression and patellar subluxation (shifting kneecaps) gave Nancy two choices:  surgery or euthanasia.  The undaunted canine apparel seamstress chose Option #3, a regimen of holistic therapies that moved Sophie from withering to thriving.

These days Sophie has a Dream Team.  Nancy first employed acupuncturist Becky Pearl, formerly of Dogwood Pet Hospital in Gresham, but when Pearl left the practice the following year, Nancy gravitated to another form of rehab — canine swim therapy.  She found Diane Kunkle of Paws Aquatics in Milwaukie through an ad in Spot Magazine, and signed Sophie up in early 2011.

Diane Kunkle and Sophie prepare for their swim exercise.

Diane Kunkle and Sophie prepare for their swim exercise.

Kunkle chats while standing mid-pool, helping Sophie balance on a boogie board. She says aquatic therapy includes manual manipulation, range of motion, balance, and muscle strengthening exercises and that over 65% of her clients use it while recovering from injuries or surgeries, or to slow chronic ailments, such as back and hip weakness. Others use the pool for dock diving and/or recreational swimming. Sophie wobbles on the board but stays upright. “I wouldn’t let her fall,” Kunkle smiles.

Kunkle stretches Sophie’s silver-gray legs, holding her “float coat” and creating traction so that Sophie must kick her legs harder to swim.  Though the day is wintry, Kunkle’s house is warm as Hawaii, the pool a tropical 88 degrees.

Relieved to get back on terra firma, Sophie welcomes the blow dryer that poofs her fur.  Kunkle notes that Sophie’s muscles have limbered up quite a bit.

After her swim, Sophie goes on to her other form of regular rehab:  massage therapy from Rubi Sullivan, a certified animal massage therapist whose mobile practice Heal Animal Massage was added five months ago to Sophie’s regime. According to Sullivan, massage can shorten the healing time for muscle or ligament strains, reduce post-surgery scar tissue, increase blood flow, and decrease joint pain, swelling and stress.

An instructor with the Northwest School of Animal Massage, Sullivan takes Sophie into Kunkle’s den and sits Indian style on a large cushion.  Sophie grunts as Sullivan manipulates her legs.  Sullivan explains, “One dog will make a sound that means ‘Ow, that hurts,’ while another will make the same sound, but it means ‘That feels good.’”  Sophie is simply emoting, she says.

Sophie closes her eyes at Sullivan’s light touch, just what the doctor ordered, as animals do not require deep tissue work like humans do.

Sophie enjoys a massage treatment from Rubi Sullivan.

Sophie enjoys a massage treatment from Rubi Sullivan.

An entirely mobile clinic, Heal operates out of vet clinics and clients’ homes or offices.  Sullivan also visits clients in doggie daycares and boarding facilities, where massage reduces stress and promotes circulation.

Her massage complete, Sophie is ready for some hard time on the couch watching TV.  Sullivan says, after a few months of treatments, she already sees improvement in her client’s muscle strength and sensitivity.

Recently a third component was added to Sophie’s therapy — chiropractic adjustments.  In January, she had her first session with Mary Mandeville, DC, who transitioned from human to animal chiropractic care after her own dog, Molly, lost a leg in a car accident.

Mandeville sees most patients by veterinary referral and says chiropractic adjustments can slow arthritis and help animals regain mobility, balance, coordination and even bowel function after an injury or operation.  She works out of her home office in NE Portland, where she has seen dogs, cats, rabbits, even a pet rat.  While adjusting Sophie, Mandeville gives a quick lesson in canine anatomy.  People think of dogs as having four legs, she says, but in fact their hind legs have knee joints and connect to hips and spine while their forelegs have elbow joints and attach to shoulders.  “If they ever develop opposable thumbs, watch out,” she laughs.

Nancy says Sophie’s first chiropractic sessions were mindboggling.  “Sophie was running and jumping afterward; it was like she was three-years-old again,” says Nancy.

Mary Mandeville, D.C., does chiropractic adjustments on Sophie.

Mary Mandeville, D.C., does chiropractic adjustments on Sophie.

Seeing her in action it is indeed hard to believe this dog was ever immobilized by back and leg pain.  Nancy credits the entire group of practitioners.  She says she is lucky to live in the Northwest where holistic treatment has become mainstream, even hip . . . and treatments are affordable.

While praising others, Nancy refuses to take any credit.  In the middle of running her home-based custom dog apparel business, Dog Paws Only, Nancy scurries like a soccer mom with two A-list kids.  She discusses Sophie’s condition with caregivers, constantly expanding her own knowledge.  And while Sophie’s rehab is not exorbitant, it is also not free.  Without Nancy’s openness, curiosity, and commitment, Sophie’s life might have ended much earlier.

While HealPaws Aquatics, and Dr. Mandeville have all received recent media attention and their companies have grown via word of mouth, Nancy maintains, with palpable emotion, “So many owners don’t know where to turn.  They don’t want to put their dog down, or spend thousands of dollars on invasive operations.  This is a reasonable alternative for them.” 

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