Thursday, 3 December 2015

Living with Integrity

Northern Cape RSA
What is it to live with integrity? I have lived through many interpretations of this, and it is not set in stone. However, I have always held that my business dealings occur with absolute integrity. In my mind, and heart, this means being honest about a patient’s condition, the prognosis, and expected outcome of any treatments. I have delivered veterinary services in this manner from the day I started working.

One of my good friends commented that if you don’t lie, there is less to remember! Apart from always telling the truth about a diagnosis there is also the aspect of always doing one’s best. To me, this is also part of living with integrity. If I do everything within my power and abilities (and abilities change) to save the animal or minimise suffering, then I have acted according to my own code and done the best that I can.

By working within these boundaries (set by me) I am able to sleep at night. Has this acceptance come easily? No. Were there things I would have done differently had a client given me permission? Absolutely. But in that moment I have always done what I believe to be right for the patient AND with the best of intention. So, within my professional life, I live with integrity.
Northern Cape

Most recently, I have had to question whether I live with integrity in my personal life. I have always believed this to be so but towards the end of 2014 I faced a challenge. Within one of my close relationships I was forced to admit that I was not being honest – with myself. What a shock admission! I had hidden my dissatisfaction with certain aspects of my life so well that I did not even recognise it. Talk about denial! I had glossed over unease with platitudes. I believed that this particular (non)event was truly not important.

When I was diagnosed with ‘burn out’ I had to do much soul-searching to find what was responsible for my emotional distress. I eventually uncovered this “lie”. I was forced to accept the truth. The hard work followed; admission of guilt, labelling the problem and finally beginning to heal the hurt. Was I living this relationship with integrity? No. Is it improving now that I have owned the feelings? Absolutely!
Northern Cape

What have I learnt? To be able to function well and relatively stress free, to reach an optimum level, we have to be honest about that which makes us unhappy. I am not advocating that all others in your life are stomped on in order for you to express yourself and be free. Respect must be upheld. I am saying that we must be utterly honest, first with ourselves, before we can move into a living a life of integrity. As another friend said, “Living with integrity means doing the right thing.” Yes, for ourselves, too.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Tyson Merton

Very often our animal companions have more to teach us about ourselves than we would ever imagine possible. Devotion, consistency and non-judgemental honesty all come to mind. Sometimes, we meet a true hero in a companion, and it can change our perception of our own lives and what really matters.
Tyson was 12 years old when I met him. He had just undergone extensive surgery to repair a torn cruciate ligament in the knee. This procedure is costly and invasive and I was, quite frankly, surprised that it had been performed on a large breed dog of this age.
As a vet, I have often been called upon to discuss the pros and cons to the family of an animal companion facing surgery or some other form of costly, invasive procedure. Some issues are purely financial, others involve the likely success, risks and recovery factors of the procedure.  Other issues involve the biological stress on the specific animal companion and include the impact on the long term quality of life of undergoing a particular procedure.
Tyson, at first glance, would not have appeared to be an ideal candidate for such an expensive surgery and lengthy anaesthetic. He was clearly old, and blind in one eye. Notwithstanding his condition, his obviously devoted family opted to take the risks and costs of the extensive surgical repairs.
When it came to taking down Tyson’s history, I soon learned the true nature of his injuries and the source of his family’s unswerving commitment to achieving the best quality of life possible for him.
Matt told me that a couple years before Tyson’s operation, there was an attempted hijack at their home. The family were coming home, late, after a celebration of Matt’s birthday. As Matt was unpacking his gifts from the boot of the car in the driveway, he was stunned by an explosion and caught sight of the flash of a gunshot and watched in horror as Tyson fell. Frustrated by a closing gate the attackers fled, but not before Matt was able to look them in the face. It was 22:15 in the evening and a seriously injured Tyson was lying on the ground in a pool of blood after successfully defending his family from a potentially fatal attack. After a frantic drive and a number of desperate phone calls, Tyson got the medical attention he needed. He survived, but lost his eye to that gunshot.
Some time later, Tyson began to experience pain and inflammation in his one knee joint. His family used the prescribed anti-inflammatories to manage these symptoms but soon he was not able to bear any weight on the affected limb. When the family was faced with a decision regarding Tyson’s knee injury, rather than see him in pain for the rest of his life, they did not hesitate to choose surgery to repair the damage. They followed this with three months of physical rehabilitation at my facility. Tyson went on to walk well on the affected leg.

Fate had not finished with Tyson. Mid 2012 he was diagnosed with cancer. They were draining blood from him every few days and he was very ill. But just like the hero that he was, he fought valiantly to stay with his beloved family. After months of pain and discomfort, his family decided to take the step of letting him leave his this world. It was so very hard for them but they knew, from the depths of their hearts, that it was the right thing to do. Tyson touched his family’s life, like no other pet ever had.
Matt writes: “My parents said that they could not go through the heartbreak again. My dad was also diagnosed with cancer mid last year and life has seemed one endless battle. In June this year my Mom ordered a Boxer puppy. A house is not a home without a beloved Boxer. We received Harley on the 2 October 2013 and he is helping my Dad and the family tremendously. He is not Tyson but his own unique self, although we like to believe that Tyson is giving him guidance.”
From my perspective, it is easy to for us to pass judgement from a very human viewpoint. We do it all the time. Would I put my 11 year old companion through such an extensive surgical procedure? My initial response is no. I have had to re-evaluate that. This family made the decision which best suited all of them and honoured the life of a cherished, valiant companion. They believed Tyson deserved the best life they could give him and they did everything they could to ensure that, for as long as they could.

Is there a moral to the story? Absolutely! The value of our companions cannot be measured in monetary terms. So often they show us what it is to be fully human: how to live lives of unconditional, unselfish love and service. They show us what it is to be courageous, and to how defend those we hold dear without the slightest consideration of personal cost. They also teach us how to persevere and be patient in the face of suffering. And, as if that was not enough, they go on to bring out in us the noblest of human attributes:  generosity and appreciation.

Saturday, 17 October 2015


"Experience is not what happens, but what we do with what happens." Aldous Huxley

This is a story about people. I want to pay tribute to all the people that walk into my life. In this instance I am referring to those that walk through the doors of my physical rehabilitation facility, or those associated with it in some way.

To begin, there are my very loyal clients that have been there from the beginning. We have become friends and I value your honesty and opinions. When there is change, I know I can rely on you to help me stay in focus. I look forward to our appointments, whether weekly or monthly. You are my stabilising force.

Then there are the challenges. For me these are made up of clients who demand a lot from me in terms of emotional investment. Any emotional vibration, especially in the form of distress, can be overpowering and it is easy to be drawn into the drama. You have challenged me to keep the balance between objectivity and compassion. You have taught me to go deep within myself to find personal stability so that I can focus these consultations into positive experiences, perhaps not always for the humans but hopefully always for my patients. You are the force that drives me to develop a sense of equilibrium.

The well-read and knowledgeable clients keep me on my toes. Those that think out of the box and are often faced with difficult decisions about the quality of life of their companions. You continue to encourage me to find solutions, often unconventional and, admittedly, not always successful. You stimulate my mind and it is exciting to consider options and make new discoveries. Many of you recognise that we are on a journey and this motivates me to seek answers. You broaden my horizons. I store all of these new experiences and am able to draw on them for future patients. You are the force that stimulates me to grow both professionally and intellectually.

This story would be incomplete without mentioning my colleagues. Animal physical rehabilitation is an emerging field, and as it grows we bring in more aspects that allow us to improve our results. Each one of us seems to have a different interest within the field. I am delighted that all are willing to share training and experiences. This also opens my eyes and increases my considerations. You are my guides.

Not to be forgotten, and a more recent development at the hydro, are the students. These come from all walks of life - vets, nurses, physio students and canine behaviourists. Your perspective is unique. By listening to your ideas and views, the programs developed for the patients are more diverse and comprehensive. You are my teachers.

Last, but not least, my team at Animal Health and Hydro, past and present. Each one of you adds value. I embrace your individuality. Although working with so many different personalities is sometimes difficult you have taught me much about business structure, time management and leadership. I have had to embrace aspects of myself that have laid dormant all my life, and which I would have preferred to ignore. You are my stimulus to evaluate and respond.

In closing, my heartfelt thanks and gratitude. You are part of my journey as I am part of yours. Long may it continue.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Cole's Story

I am one of the suppliersof BioPreparation, a remarkable algae formulation which assist animals, and people, to attain optimum health. I was privileged to play a small role in Cole's story but even more heartwarming is the story as related by his guardian. This is such a good example of considering all aspects of healing. What a result!

Here is the link:

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Physically Challenged Dogs

Printed All About Dogs Nov/Dec 2014 
When is a dog considered physically challenged? I would include amputees, deaf dogs, blind dogs, dogs that have spinal injury or disease and their hindquarters are compromised, even tetraparetic individuals. As humans, supposedly having “dominion” over our canine friends, when should we make a decision to allow their lives to continue? That, of course, is very personal but I would like to give my views based on 14 years of small animal private veterinary practice, and a further 6 years as a physical rehabilitation veterinarian. 
Dogs do not have the psychological issues associated with disability, which humans have. Running around on three legs does not make them less of a dog in their minds. I would like to make the point that many disabled dogs live full and happy lives.
All dogs have a keen sense of smell. The olfactory sense of a blind dog is even more-developed. This, along with an acute sense of hearing, allows him to negotiate his surroundings. Provided there are not too many changes in the environment, and hazards such as swimming pools are appropriately barricaded, blind dogs can continue happily for years. There are even photographs of blind dogs having ‘guide’ dogs! These are other dogs that have taken on a role of being the blind dog’s eyes. Often these companions are inseparable. 
Deaf dogs should also not be discriminated against. Dalmatians have a genetic line which predisposes some to deafness. Their sight is unaffected. I have watched such a dog, and a teenage boy, build such a strong bond that they outdid all the other people and dogs in their training class. I am sure they had many pleasurable years together. 
Single limb amputees, whether front or back, are able to run and play with the same gusto as a four-legged dog. Consideration for the remaining limb is important but can be managed. I met Hanna, a Labrador x Bull Terrier, when she was two years old. She was hit by a car and had to have one of her front limbs amputated at 7 months of age. Hanna has been on hydrotherapy program since we met, in order to maintain the strength and mobility of the remaining front limb. Hanna’s guardian was hoping for 5 years but next year March she will be 10! Earlier this year we invested in a neoprene support for her wrist as she has developed arthritis in this joint. She lives on a smallholding with numerous other dogs and runs around like a mad thing! She also attends a private training session once a week where the focus is on mental stimulation as opposed intensive physical training.
Since I have been involved in physical rehabilitation of our canine companions, I have seen many dogs with compromised hindquarters. These dogs are unable to walk with their back legs and often drag them.
 Being disabled in this manner does not stop these dogs at all! Mobility carts are becoming more readily available and are a necessity if such a dog is permanently paralysed. When in the cart, these dogs cannot be left unsupervised as the cart may catch on an obstacle or even tip over in the dog’s excitement to chase someone. However, these individuals never consider that their so-called disability requires them to stop participating in life. They can and do catch a ball, and also chase the visitors at the gate. Recently, Pug Rescue SA (PRSA) received a 7 month old Pug with a spinal condition which is inoperable, leaving Pug-Lee paralysed in his back legs. PRSA is a pro-life shelter that has made the decision to give Pug-Lee an opportunity to live life. His mobility cart is on order. He is a part of daily life in the centre and is moved around from office to outdoors, based on activities. He has a specific set of exercises which he must complete daily. He also enjoys a daily massage and stretching session. He is interactive, eats well and is already much-loved.
In conclusion, living with a disabled pet has its challenges. The largest of which is adapting the dog’s environment to ensure it is a safe playground. Cognisance of compensatory patterns of movement is essential, and necessary adjustments must be made. Awareness is the key but these pets live a fulfilling life and it is most rewarding for their human family, too.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Franki Hoffmann

When dealing with the disabled among us we often confront a number of issues that are surprisingly uncomfortable. Even more so when faced with disability in our animal companions. True to the gift that they are to their human families, they bring us a deeper understanding and acceptance of ourselves.

Franki ‘Blue Eyes’ Hoffmann was a most unusual Ragdoll cat.

He started seizuring at nine weeks of age. I met him when he was 16 weeks old with a request from his family to try acupuncture to control his fits, or at least lessen their intensity.

Blood tests, MRI scans and other diagnostic tests had yielded no positive diagnosis and so Franki was labelled an epileptic.

Franki was a special cat, not entirely true to the Ragdoll nature but quite accepting of his lot. He initially visited once a week for needles. He was also taking anti-epileptic medication. The fits reduced in frequency and intensity.

When Franki reached nine months of age, his guardian, Suzanne, asked me if we could swim him. She felt he was really slow (he was) and that his hind quarters were weak (they were). At this stage the underwater treadmill was not yet installed.

I agreed and then the questions began: how would I swim a cat? What was the best way to introduce him to the pool? Was he brain-damaged? Could he process being placed in the water? And, could I elicit the desired swimming response? – which is usually instinctive?

I started with a buoyancy aide (or life-jacket). Franki refused to move – both on the ground and in the water. I was afraid to drown him. We moved to a harness. Still Franki refused to move. I asked Suzanne to place the harness on him at home so he could become accustomed to it. I wanted a ‘handle’ in the pool!

Franki sat in one place at home for two hours! To call him stubborn would be a gross understatement!

Eventually I relented, and we (Franki and I) entered the water without any attachments. He refused to swim. After eight weeks of gentle encouragements and begging, I removed my hand, which was supporting Franki under his belly. He started to move his legs! Break through!!

From that moment on, we progressed. Franki swam; we balanced him on a boogie board in the pool; and walked up ramps. The treadmill was out of the question but he did balance exercises on the Pilates ball – until he punctured it.

Franki was a regular patient for almost four years. He taught me patience and tolerance; he forced me to find new ways to achieve the goals I wanted. I would say that Franki was mentally disabled, but he had his routine, and he was a happy cat. 

What did I learn? Disabled pets cannot be managed by everyone, but we should give them the benefit of the doubt and try to find a way to give them a quality life. I am blessed to have known and worked with Franki. He showed me there are paths, even if mainstream society ‘says’ there are not. We have a choice – always.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Space – Kyle Bond

In a previous blog I mentioned ‘space’, particularly with regard to creating and holding space. What do I mean?

Over the last three weeks I met, and have treated, a 6 year old Dachshund called Kyle. He presented with severe back pain (especially at the thoracolumbar junction) and muscle spasm. If someone walked past him and was too close, he screamed. Palpation and treatment were challenging. Add to this a hind limb weakness and ataxia (wobbliness) and I was dealing with a very miserable dog, and an extremely concerned guardian.

Kyle’s mom, Anthea, had been to the local veterinarians. They had correctly diagnosed the problem and advised surgical intervention. Kyle had a ‘slipped’ disc (prolapsed) which was putting pressure on the spine, creating the severe pain and hindquarter compromise. Anthea wanted to explore other avenues before putting Kyle through surgery. The veterinary practice referred them to me.

After examining Kyle I agreed with the diagnosis and so our conversations began. Anthea was looking for an option that allowed Kyle’s body to heal itself, and we would offer support. Anthea absolutely believed in the power of intention. Kyle’s medication consisted of analgesics and muscle relaxants. Fortunately the drugs chosen had not interfered with the healing process.

I offered acupuncture, homeopathic remedies and energy healing. I explained the risks involved with surgery, as well as the risks present if we choose to treat ‘conservatively’. Anthea chose the latter.

Acupuncture was painful for Kyle. I used homeopathic remedies which reduce pain and inflammation, and others which aid in the healing of damaged nervous tissue. I applied traction. We spoke a lot about intention and meditation. By the third visit (10 days after the first) Kyle was still sore and was struggling to stand. He was worse! Anthea was in tears and justifiably distraught. My veterinary training was screaming at me to send him to surgery. It was a Friday. We decided to hold out for the weekend and our healing efforts intensified.

On Monday he was better!!! We were smiling through our tears.

What does this story have to do with space? Firstly, I created a safe place in which healing could occur. I focus much energy on creating this space. If a person or patient does not feel safe, healing cannot occur.

Secondly, Anthea and I held that space. Through intention and meditation the safe space was maintained for Kyle.

Thirdly, we allowed Kyle to heal. Yes, we intervened with medicines and practices but all of them were chosen specifically because they enhanced and supported the body’s natural repair mechanisms. In this safe space we allowed healing.

We all have the ability to focus to create and hold a space. I do it for my patients. Guardians enhance that. My team add their value and intention, as well as their abilities. We all help each other to maintain the space to facilitate healing. When we do that we allow the body to access the knowledge inherent in its cells and DNA. What is the result? A Miracle!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Sahara, The Abyssinian

The bonds that develop between animal companions and their human families are not easy to define. Each relationship has its own unique dynamic, and yet, a common thread has become apparent to me. Just as I believe each person in our life is drawn to us for a reason, I firmly believe we share our homes with our animal companions in a similar way. They come to teach, to guide, to illuminate and inspire us in ways we cannot begin to imagine until we have experienced them.

Sahara was an Abyssinian cat that lived with me for a while. She was 12 weeks old when I collected her, by car, from a breeder in Durban North. I had taken 6 months to make the decision to get another cat after the very traumatic death of my beloved Pumpkin (that is another story!).

The breeder, like so many do, kept her cats indoors and Sahara had never been exposed to the world outside. So, when we finally arrived home, after the lengthy car trip, and my husband opened all the car doors, and then the door to the carry cage, I expected the worst. Her whole experience to that point of time must have been extremely stressful. As far as I was aware, Sahara had never been outside, let alone in a long car trip. I did not know what to expect when she was faced with my dogs or the limitless freedom of the ‘great outdoors’.

To my astonishment, Sahara did not bolt, or hide, cowering under the vehicle. In fact she acted as if she had been to our property before. She walked around the plot to very specific spots, inspecting and checking things out. And then she marched right into the house. There are a number of buildings on our Benoni smallholding, any one of which could have been chosen, but she just ‘knew’ where she would be living with us.

And so, our relationship began... Only someone who has been gifted with the lavish, demonstrative affection of a cat will understand what it is to be claimed as a cat’s special person. I was Sahara’s special person. The way she quickly settled in (and took over) was more than enough to convince me that Pumpkin had returned to me, in Sahara’s form.

When Sahara (also known as ‘Cat’) was three years old, my husband and I went to Europe for two weeks. In our absence, Sahara strayed from home. One morning, our neighbour saw her lying on our pavement. When he noticed that she was still there that afternoon, he called our son who rushed her to the vet.

Sahara had been struck by a car in the road outside our house, and, in spite of being paralysed in her hind legs with a broken back and having one dislocated elbow, she managed to drag herself to the side of the road and onto our pavement. The tenacity, hope and trust that she showed in that single act almost broke my heart. She was gravely injured, and yet still, somehow, made her way home where she knew she had always been safe.

Nine long days after the accident, I came home to hear the devastating news. I immediately took Sahara to my colleagues at Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital where she underwent a CT scan. Her third lumbar vertebra was fractured and there was a chip of bone in her spinal cord. It was inoperable. The advice from the specialist surgeon was to take Sahara home and see what would happen. Cats are known for their amazing recuperative powers, and he suggested we give her four weeks, and then try anything and everything we could to help her heal. I did exactly as the surgeon suggested, and so another stage in my personal and professional journey began.

I had recently started my animal rehabilitation and pain management practice, and I passionately applied everything I had learned in my new practice to treating my beloved Sahara. I used acupuncture, massage, photodynamic (light) therapy and performed many range-of-motion exercises. I added Crystal therapy and Reiki and even asked my Wiccan friends to cast healing spells.
After three days of being treated at home, my precious Cat stumbled, unaided, through the cat flap to do her business.

Sahara improved daily. After six short weeks she caught (and promptly consumed) her first pigeon. She walked with a strange gait but was mobile, happily interactive, and appeared completely pain free.

When I took Sahara back to Onderstepoort to show her to the surgeon and radiologist they were amazed. In fact, the radiologist often includes Sahara’s CT scan in his presentations to this day.

Three months later, Sahara disappeared again. I searched for her and called for her for eight heartsore days. It was so unlike her to wander when I was home. I printed flyers, visited all the local vets and the SPCA – but to no avail.

Then, on day eight, I found her decomposing body under a tree, outside my Reiki/Healing room. Sahara lay peacefully, without any sign of external trauma. It is my belief she may have suffered an embolism which is a fairly common complication after the type of trauma she had suffered. It is also my belief, that it was her time to go.

What did Sahara teach me? She gave me the confidence to use my newfound skills, and reinforced my belief in the therapies I had adopted in preference over mainstream veterinary services. Her gift to me? You can do it, these therapies can make a significant difference, and never discount anything – use whatever is available, provided you do no harm.

Sunday, 16 August 2015


Life is a cycle. We are born, we live, we die. The earth revolves around a cycle: spring, summer, autumn and winter. The cycle continues despite our best efforts to remain in one part of the cycle.

Our lives can be broken down into smaller cycles. We go through phases of conception, where new ideas are born and explored. Then we are energized into action and these plans become real. This is often a frenetic, exciting time as we watch our creation grow. If we are fortunate, this plan becomes a creature in its own right and may branch off with its own creations, or it may move along at a comfortable pace. Once this phase is reached we should reap the fruits of our labour. Sit back and enjoy the creation. With time, this creation will no longer serve us - the world changes, and so do we. We should embrace this end and peacefully allow this phase to move along and transition into death or winter. New thoughts and ideas will be bubbling just beneath the surface, waiting for expression. Allow it.

Too often we want to hold onto a 'good' thing when it has served its purpose. We should, rather, gracefully let it go.

So it is with physical death. As humans, we need to find some belief regarding what happens after death. This will bring us comfort when the time comes for death. I attended a funeral of a good friend. The pastor was specifically speaking to the children (my friend had three young children) when he said that when a person dies, it is as though they are in the room next door. We cannot see them, nor hear them but our loved ones are present. I hold on to this thought. My loved ones (human and animal companions) are not dead. They have merely transitioned into another plane and have begun a new cycle. When my mind removes the restriction of a physical form, I realise that they are, indeed, right next to me. If I focus on what I remember of their essence, I can feel them. I surrender into this space and once again share with my beloveds. This affords me great comfort, and I know peace.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Doggie Kelly – A Love Story

Not all love stories are obvious. Nor do they all follow the same script. Some, even, have endings that we can’t fully appreciate or understand, but they touch us. Some even give us a glimpse of a picture bigger than we dared imagine.

Doggie came into Siobhan’s already full life, starving and feral.  After many months of feeding him every day, in the veldt, she was able to coax him into her car with food. Once he was living with her at home, in a space of unconditional love and unstinting devotion, Doggie and Siobhan became the soul mates they were destined to be, and he never disappointed her.

Doggie’s physical condition was such that he needed a number of operations to his knees.  And from these surgeries Doggie developed osteoarthritis. Every week, for three years Siobhan brought Doggie to my Hydro for light therapy, stretches and a swim. During that time the extent of their mutual love and devotion became more than apparent to me.

Sadly, in spite of their hard work, nutritional supplementation and therapeutic vigilance, Doggie’s condition worsened and the osteoarthritis spread to his hips and elbows. Undaunted by the cost, both financially and emotionally, Siobhan took Doggie for stem cell therapy. The results of the treatment were disappointing. Soon, Doggie was reduced to taking only 3 steps before having to lie down.

It seems like yesterday when we said good bye to Doggie. Again, he did not disappoint Siobhan. In spite of the high emotion, he understood, and he left us calmly and peacefully with love and dignity.

Sometimes, the greatest love we can show our dearest companions is the gift of freedom from pain and suffering. Our deepest instinct is to hang on to life, no matter what the cost. We are afraid of losing our loved ones, and of being left behind without them. It takes great courage and personal sacrifice to let go. Veterinarians are the only professionals who have the right and duty to kill their patients. Having said that, I hold it as a precious privilege and honour to be chosen to help a sick, old or pain ridden patient across the threshold into what lies beyond.

As much as Siobhan saved Doggie, Doggie saved Siobhan with his unquestioning loyalty and total commitment to her.  This is my tribute to a devoted lady and her very brave companion. I am blessed to have been part of their journey.

Sometimes... we catch a glimpse of a departed loved one in the eyes, or hands or smile of a stranger. Siobhan recognised a dear friend in a starved, fearful, feral dog she noticed on the side of the road one day as she was driving to work. I wholeheartedly believe that death is not an ending, but rather a beginning, and I wonder if Siobhan and Doggie will find each other again, if not in this life, but in the next.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Visions and Missions

What are vision and mission statements? Have you ever really thought about them, or is this just another lot of marketing? I used to think so and didn’t pay them much heed. More recently I have been in discussions with a friend of mine who deals with many corporate businesses. He asked me about my vision and it was difficult to reply. I know what I am about but how do I tell somebody else? If it is difficult for me to articulate this, am I really getting my point across to my clients and my team? So, I began to think about it in earnest and here is the result.

Mission: Connecting companions

Vision: As a team of dedicated veterinary health care professionals we openly explore all opportunities in our worlds.

Using integrative healing methods we aspire to find unsurpassed, individual solutions best suited to all.

We are committed to quality of life for all our companions. We achieve this through physical rehabilitation, pain management, education and community support.

What does this have to do with me, and you? Let me explain.

First of all, if you are a patient it means that I will give you my absolute best in terms of finding a solution to your ailment. I do this by drawing on my knowledge which I have accumulated through years of study. I still continue to read and learn – in this field and others. Then, I use my experience which I have gained through trial and error. Each patient I have treated, both in conventional practice and rehabilitation, has contributed to this store. You, as a patient, will also give to this vat of experience. I also rely on my intuition, my gut feel. Is this scientific? Not according to current articles and papers, but it has saved countless animals and people. Finally, I gather my intention. Foremost is the absolute desire to make my patient feel better. This intention is held in love. By holding this space we allow healing. Put all of those together and I believe we have “the art of healing”. I think the ‘art’ has been lost in modern medicine but that is a topic for another day.

Secondly, if you are my client – the guardian of my patient – I offer you this: A space in which you may safely voice your concerns, fears and emotions. I have ears that listen, not to formulate a reply but to ascertain your needs. I give you honesty and integrity. If I can offer you a solution or a plan then I will set it out. If I do not have an answer, or the problem is beyond my knowledge and skill, I will do my utmost to find the information or refer you to the person/facility/profession that I believe will help.

Thirdly, if you are a team member I welcome you to join in my mission. For you I offer the space in which you can explore your talents and abilities, and use them ‘for the greater good’. I ask of you to hold the same space for me and the other team members to allow us to be the best that we can be. The foundation of this space is intention. Each team member brings a unique energy to the patient, the client, and the other team members.

So, patients, clients and team members are intrinsically linked. Our intention is to facilitate healing in patients, guardians and ourselves. All interconnected, all rippling out and touching others, all with the greatest of intention.

How cool is that?!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Miller's Story - A Testimonial


So there I am in 2007, 27 years old, married for 6 months and our first “purchase” as a couple is running around the garden….with pieces of my hosepipe!
Miller is now seven months old and as any Labrador pup full of live. I look at him and cannot help but smile! In the 4 months that we’ve had Miller he has drastically change our lives. He has provided a bond between myself and my wife and makes our home feel like what it is….a family!

Whilst smiling at my wife and laughing at his antics we notice however that Miller seems to be limping, slightly favouring his right side. 

I still remember the day so clearly…

I take him to our local vet and as I hand Miller over for his first series of X-rays I feel this feeling of trepidation. Miller is diagnosed with elbow dysplasia. But the vet explains that he is still young and there is a very good chance that it can be rectified. So Miller’s left front leg is put into a cast. I take him home and true to form he seems just as happy except for this nuisance on his leg. He hops on three legs everywhere I go and does not leave my side. In the day I lock him in the garage to try and keep him still but I have to go home at lunch every day because he refuses to use the newspapers supplied for him. What a sight when you open a garage door and see a 3 legged happy pup running for you…then past you to the grass for a wee…

Anyway after three weeks the cast is removed and he is X-rayed again. No improvement. I leave him for a few months and at just over 1 year old I take him back to the vet as the story repeats itself. This time after removing the cast the Doctor says she is out of options and refers me to a specialist in Randburg. So off we go, full of hope still that they will help our boy!

Now the words that stick in your memory….

“I’m sorry sir but without surgery on both front legs your dog will probably not make it to two years of age”

I’m stunned and the whole way home I’m choking back my tears…How can I save my Best Friend? That evening after discussing the issue with my wife we both agree that we are not keen on surgery as we cannot justify putting this bundle of joy through so much misery. There HAS TO BE another way! We search for the next few months and just by chance my wife listens to a radio interview with Dr Tanya Grantham from Animal Health and Hydro. Little did we know of the significance of that moment…?

My wife phones Tanya and schedules an appointment for Miller. On the day we show up Miller is all fun and games as usual but my stomach is turning. What if this does not work…? Dr Grantham assesses Miller and agrees with all her colleagues findings, except the fact that she says we have a chance to help Miller!

So we start swimming him diligently every Thursday at 4pm. Soon I no longer refer to Dr Grantham as such, but simply as Tanya. A friendship starts to develop between her and Miller, and between her and us as a family. After six months the difference between the diameters of his front legs has drastically decreased. He is limping less and less now and he is full of life as usual.

So we’ve made it to 2 years with no operations, pins or cages…what now?

Well if you want to meet Miller he will be at Animal Health and Hydro on Thursday at 4pm, as he has been for the past six years! He is still my best friend and at the age of nearly 9 years old he has been with me and my wife on vacation a couple of times, through all our hardship and most importantly through all the joy and my prayer is that it stays this way! I can honestly say that Tanya saved Miller’s life and in so doing gave me and my wife some of the best years of our life together with Miller and his little “sister” Minki (but that’s another story). 

So Thank You Tanya for giving us hope, for your friendship, always giving us good advice and above all for giving us time!
We love you!
Bennie, Lindi, Miller and Minki

Sunday, 5 July 2015

‘Miller’ Richardson and ‘Obelix’ Venter

My move from conventional veterinary practice to animal physical rehabilitation was based on many factors. A decade ago I was faced with some serious health issues which precipitated my decision to sell my share of the veterinary practice in which I was involved. It became apparent to me that not only did I need to reduce the number of hours physically worked, but that I also needed to better manage my emotional involvement in my clients and patients.

The emerging field of animal physical rehabilitation caught my attention and I began to investigate further. As vets, we perform complicated orthopaedic procedures on our patients every day, but when it came to the recovery process, there is a surprising lack of alternatives. Following injury, humans visit a physiotherapist as a matter of course but with animals this option is not available, and as a result, the outcome of surgery is compromised.

Sometimes, we are drawn to options for reasons that end up having only some of the reality we expected. My original journey into rehab was based on a belief that there would be less intimacy and emotional engagement than with my conventional veterinary experience.  Needless to say, I was mistaken in my anticipation of the two-way connection that would arise between me and my animal patients and their human families. Which brings me to my chosen patients for this story.

Miller is a large, lovable, yellow Labrador. He was 18 months old when I met him. Miller has elbow dysplasia and the veterinarian who made the diagnosis predicted that Miller would be a cripple at 2 years of age, and euthanasia would follow soon after that. Fortunately, Miller’s ‘Mom’ was listening to a conversation on the radio about hydrotherapy for dogs. One of my existing clients had phoned into the station with her experiences and thus, Lindi was able to trace me. As for many of us with animal companions, Miller is like a child to Bennie and Lindi, and they quickly decided that they were not prepared to accept the prognosis of his condition. We began weekly swimming sessions with Miller. He has such a huge personality. His regular slot is on a Thursday afternoon by which time the members of my staff are arguing about who swims Miller! He has become our therapy dog. I digress...
When Miller’s fifth birthday was imminent, he was still incredibly healthy and limp free! Bennie and Lindi decided to take the family to the beach. Upon their return I was presented with a photo of Miller running full tilt along the beach. What a fabulous celebration! Miller is now going on for 9 and still as strong as an ox.

 Obelix is a Beagle who was diagnosed with angular limb deformity in both of his front legs. This required numerous surgeries (which involved cutting and plating the bones) in order to straighten the legs. He came to me for post-op rehab and strengthening. Obelix is such a giving and gracious patient. We progressed well but a few months into his program he started to limp on one of his back legs. X-ray photos revealed bilateral hip dysplasia! This was bad news for an already physically compromised dog and all the more reason to continue with a physical therapy program. Obelix’s ‘parents’ are brilliant in their unstinting care for him! They have researched and undertaken as many options as they possibly can: he has undergone stem cell therapy; he visits every 7 – 10 days for an exercise session; and he is walked with his siblings on a regular basis. More recently he developed back pain because of compensatory movement patterns which we have been able to control with acupuncture.

I was delighted to receive a Christmas card this year from Obelix and his human family.  On the front was a photograph of Obelix exuberantly racing across a field. The photo was taken a just week before. 

So often we choose a path (for reasons that seem compelling at the time) and often, reality turns out to be different from what we anticipate. Instead of protecting myself with emotional distance, I realise that I am an integral part of the lives of my patients and their human companions. I have also realised that it is a two-way street. As much as I am vulnerable to feeling their pain and loss, I am also blessed with their joys and successes. I am humbled by their devotion to one another. I am in awe of the beautiful beings that I treat. I am truly grateful to have them in my life and I wouldn’t change any of it for anything in the world!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

In Memory of Britney

At the start of this, I have to say that I find myself at a loss for the appropriate words. Nonetheless, I feel this is a special story that needs to be shared.

My journey with Britney, Gavin and Debbie began five years ago, when they came to see me about treating Britney’s arthritic hips. After consultation, examination and discussion we started on an exercise program both at my facility and at their home. This included running and swimming. Britney was shy but soon figured out what to do. Running with Gavin was the ultimate treat for Britney!

As time went by, her front legs started to show signs of pain and discomfort. Further examination revealed that Britney had now developed osteoarthritis of the elbows as well! We changed from running to walking, added medications and continued swimming.

Since I have met them, Gavin and Debbie have always been totally dedicated to Britney’s well-being, and were prepared to explore every option to ease Britney’s discomfort. Upon hearing about stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis in dogs, and discovering it was available in South Africa (and at great expense), Gavin and Debbie took Britney for this procedure.

Sadly, not long after, Britney suffered a spinal stroke which left her a quadriplegic. I have not yet mentioned that Britney is a 40kg Labrador-Rottweiler cross. Moving and managing a dog of this size is no easy task but Debbie and Gavin never stinted in their attention to maintaining Britney’s quality of life.

 We stepped up the pool sessions to 3 times a week in the hope that we could stimulate some movement in Britney’s legs. After a month of intensive therapy I was at my wit’s end as to a solution. I felt that Britney had a very guarded prognosis and would most probably never walk again.

Their journey progressed into the esoteric and Debbie made the decision to contact an animal communicator. As many people do, Debbie and Gavin had their doubts as to the feasibility of this exercise. How would they know the connection had really occurred? Was it even possible to link telepathically with a dog? Despite their misgivings, they went ahead, hoping and believing that they could determine what Britney actually wanted, needed and what she was feeling. The messages that came through the process held elements of truth that the communicator would not have had access to, unless directly connected to Britney. Britney was not ready to give up and so Gavin and Debbie devoted themselves to looking after their beloved, disabled companion. Therapy at the hydro stopped.

Months later Debbie contacted me requesting an appointment for Britney. Imagine my surprise when she was taken out of the car, her hindquarters placed in a sling, and she walked to my door with small, uncertain steps of her front limbs! It was amazing to see and so very encouraging!

Our facility had recently acquired an underwater treadmill and so we embarked on the next phase of our therapy. There were times when Britney got up at home and walked a few steps in the garden before stumbling over her front feet. What an amazing dog, and what amazing people. I am humbled every time I think of Britney and her guardians. As a vet, I am in a unique position to fully appreciate the sacrifices Debbie and Gavin made, the strength required for all of them to carry on and the sheer willpower needed to beat the odds!

A few months ago Britney became very painful in her right hind leg. Tests revealed a bone tumour. Time was limited and pain management essential. Debbie and Gavin continued with their love and support, using herbs, acupuncture and medications to alleviate the pain.

On 31st May 2015, Britney breathed her last – 3 weeks after her tenth birthday. I believe, that as a family, they defied the odds! I have learnt a tremendous amount about people and dogs during this precious journey. There can never be any judgement in any situation involving animal companions and their human guardians. What works for one family may not necessarily work for another. Not everyone is able to care for a disabled pet, especially a large one.

This is a tribute to an incredible family that loved and respected their canine companion to the end and beyond. As I started this piece so shall I end. Words are inadequate to express the emotions assailing me. This bit of writing is in memory of Britney – a beautiful, brave being. And to celebrate Debbie and Gavin who walked every step of her path with her. I am honoured to have been part of your journey. R.I.P.