I arrived at Hip Dog Hydrotherapy (4965 Palmetto Avenue) just as Linda Brandt was getting in the pool with her dog Otis. Otis lost his right front leg to bone cancer just over 3 years ago. At the time she was told he would probably only live 6 to 9 months. They offered to do chemo and radiation treatments which might prolong his life to 11 months. She decided to spare Otis the radiation and chemo. For 2 months after the leg was gone Otis experienced phantom pain symptoms. Linda would hear him yelp in pain for no apparent reason. She bought him in for acupuncture and she feels that helped the pain. His recovery from the amputation was fairly rapid. He was up and walking within a week.
In the pool Cherylann Blay-Marques was massaging Otis's hip joints. He floated peacefully as Linda held his outstretched paw for support. Hart Campbell, Cherylann's assistant would often also help keep Otis secure and afloat. Hart's basset hound, Brain, was curious about what I was doing. Hart warned me to watch my pallet since Brain would most likely stick his nose in it. Brain came over and sat on my foot the whole time I was sketching. In the pool Cherylynn grasped Otis at the base of the skull and he let out a moan of pleasure. When all his joints were loose Linda backed up to the pool steps and Otis swam over to her. His movements in the water were graceful and smooth even with 3 legs. He hopped up out of the pool and shook the water off of his fur. Linda went to change out of her wet clothes and he waited anxiously for her, standing stoically by the fence.
The next appointment was for Oakly a black pointer who was terrified of water. His owner Julie Thompson has to drag him to the pools edge with the leash. He dug his claws into the concrete and they scratched in resistance. He tried sitting and leaning back resisting the pressure of the leash. Julie had to lift him up and he squirmed as she placed him on the pool steps. He tried everything possible to get his feet out of the water. If Julie held his front quarters he would step his hind quarters up and out. It was a long comical struggle between owner and pet. When he went in deeper water, he panicked and thrashed his front legs high up above the water splashing like crazy. It was just like a child play acting like they were about to drown. Finally Cherylann grabbed him securely. She began to massage him and he relaxed instantly. She wanted to assure him that he was in control of the situation so she let him go and allowed him to swim out of the pool. This time he swam with grace and speed. He actually seemed to enjoy the swim.
Hip Dog Hydrotherapy has been around for 9 years. Tom Nowicki who is also an actor started the business. Cherylann started working there 4 years ago. The business has grown into a non-profit and they have helped over a thousand dogs over the years. The business rents the pool from the owner of the property and the place is now up for sale. They are now looking for a new home for this inspiring enterprise.
Driving home I was surprised when I got choked up thinking about what I had just sketched. It is rewarding to watch a pointer overcome its fears and find joy in its natural behavior. Otis proved the vets wrong and is still going strong and enjoying life. He isn't letting his small handicap slow him down. As his owner Linda said, "I'm a very proud dog mommy! Otis is my hero."