Thoughts of a Dog Therapist – Bella

Bella came to me in December 2018 after she had been abandoned in a local Pets at Home store.

Having previously worked for the company I still had (and have) friends there who had watched me take in various dogs over the years so they got in touch and asked me to take her.

She was an 8 month old Dogue de Bordeaux (think Turner and Hooch), but she really didn’t look like one. The only characteristics of the breed that she had were the face, the dribble and the gorgeous golden eyes. She wasn’t thick set like they’re meant to be, she was skin and bone and had no muscle build up at all.

It was clear from the moment that I picked her up that there was something wrong with her. She was showing obvious signs of pain as she walked, placing each foot carefully and hesitantly and limping on all four legs 😢

After a trip to the vet and a few x-rays it was confirmed that she had hip dysplasia in both hips, elbow dysplasia in both elbows and bone chips in both elbows as well. It was at this point that I questioned whether we should think about putting her to sleep. I just couldn’t imagine what sort of life she would have with all four legs affected 💔

Luckily my vet is amazing and he told me that she would need to see a specialist and if I could get the money together to send her for the full scans and get the bone chips removed then it was likely that we could manage the rest conservatively using hydrotherapy and physiotherapy to build her muscles up so that they actually supported the joints. He estimated that the scan and operation costs would be about £6000.

Obviously the insurance wouldn’t cover this because it was a classed as a pre existing condition so we had to find a way to raise the funds. Thankfully I’d been involved with different rescues for around 5 years at this point so I knew a thing or two about fundraising. But the next 9 months were a complete whirlwind 🌪🌪🌪

I immediately started Bella on her hydro and physio, both of whom joined in the fundraising themselves, and I set about arranging some fundraising events in the form of a dog show, a doggy tea party and a fundraising Indian meal (because there had to be something for the humans to do).

I rang the local paper to enquire about advertising the events and got talking to the lady who was going to design my advert. She immediately sent Bella’s story to one of their journalists and within the week we had a double page spread telling the story and advertising her events and her fundraising page.

I thought this was brilliant but what came next just blew me away!!!

I opened my emails and found one from a national PR company. They wanted to do a piece about Bella and put it to the national papers but they didn’t want to run it as Bella’s actual story because I would have to sign over the rights to the story to them as part of their contract and then couldn’t tell it elsewhere. So instead they wanted to run a story about the fact that at that point I had 22 dogs and then touch on Bella’s cause and promote her fundraising page that way. I knew nothing about publicity at this point and in my eyes this could only do some good so I jumped at the chance.

The story was written and sent over for my approval. It was great, didn’t make me seem like a crazy dog woman at all 🤪 so I signed the paperwork agreeing for them to promote it.

The next thing I knew it had been picked up by one national paper for the online part of their paper, but they had twisted part of the story about where the dogs slept to make a good headline. I was horrified but the donations started coming in for Bella so it was worth it. Next came an offer from another big national paper but this time they wanted to come and meet the dogs and interview me rather than just run with the piece the PR company sent. They were offering a fee that would go towards Bella’s treatment and would again put her donation page link in the piece, so I agreed. They came and did a massive piece on us but twisted the truth at every opportunity.

Between the two papers I suddenly lived in a 1 bedroom property in a town with a regular size garden (rather than the 3 bed house on a farm with around an acre of land), and I banished my other half to the spare room (that I don’t have because remember I’m in a 1 bed house now) so that I can have the dogs in bed with me 🤦‍♀️

But again the donations came flooding in and Bella was getting closer to being able to have her treatment.

Next came the call that really excited me. I was asked to appear on This Morning with the dogs. They would again pay towards Bella’s cause for appearing and would send a camera man to my home and we would appear live from my bedroom, because they wanted me to be sitting on the bed surrounded by dogs. This was an amazing experience I was actually able to correct all of the facts that the papers had lied about and still got to promote Bella and her cause. The best bit was that my dogs were perfectly behaved throughout the whole live interview 🙏

After that interview aired the donations started pouring in and we reached our £6000 target within a couple of weeks with 2 very large generous donations being added. Bella was going to get her treatment!! 🎉🎉

She was booked in with the specialist within a couple of weeks. She was doing and looking so much better by the time we got there because of the hydro and physio, but also because I wrapped her in cotton wool.

I have been a massive Supervet fan ever since the programme first aired but for me it’s not just a great TV programme, it’s educational. I take note of what they say and the advice they give because I always thought that one day I might need it.

So I followed all of that advice, I even went back over past episodes and watched ones with Bella’s conditions again (it was such a hardship 😂😂). I let her be a dog, I let her play, but I restricted everything!! If she even gave the slightest sign of pain I stopped her doing anything, she was crate rested and lead walked only.

She was given CBD oil as a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory (with the agreement of our vet) so that I wasn’t risking her organs by constantly giving her prescription pain relief and she was already on golden paste and the best joint supplements that I could find.

When we saw the specialist I think he was a bit shocked, he said that the vets notes didn’t really depict the dog standing in front of him because she was doing so well. Luckily I had taken a video the day I got her and could show him what we were faced with.

He took her in, scanned every joint and did some more advanced x-rays on her hips and then he gave her back to me. He agreed that she did have these conditions,  but he said that she was doing so well with what we were already doing and he wasn’t going to operate just for the sake of it. He said that the whole point of operating is to give dogs who can’t live a full, happy, active life the chance to have that. We couldn’t say that Bella couldn’t already have that because although she looked and walked better my restrictions were still as tight as they were before her body condition had improved. I wasn’t giving her the chance to show us if she could have that life.

His advice was to take her home, continue with what we were doing medication and therapy wise but lift all the restrictions I had placed on her. Let her live her life and if she struggled then I was to take her back. So I did just that, I let her run and play, I took her for off lead walks and play dates and I let her be a normal year old puppy but four weeks later she was so lame on her front legs that I had to take her back to him.

He took her in and scanned her elbows again and he said the bone chips did need to be removed so I left my girl with him and came home. They would do the operation the next day and then she would have to stay in overnight and I could collect her the day after.

I hated leaving her there and being away from her. Although I knew that she would be loved and adored I didn’t want her to think that I’d abandoned her like her last family did. I wanted to be able to tell her that I was coming back for her, I had done a couple of animal communication workshops at this point, I wasn’t convinced that I could actually do it but I still went through the motions and gave it a shot. I pictured her in my mind and told her I wasn’t leaving her and that it would only be a couple of days and I’d go back and get her. I then contacted a friend who I knew 100% could communicate with her and asked her to do the same just in case my attempts were rubbish. It makes me laugh thinking back now because there’s no doubt that I can communicate with animals and I know for sure that I was connected to her then, I’m always connected to her.

I got her home and then the 6 weeks of crate rest started, that wasn’t so much fun. She hated being stuck in there all of the time and I hated leaving her in there, again I ‘attempted’ to communicate with her to tell her why and again I backed my communication up with a friends communication just in case 🙈

When those 6 weeks were up and she’d had the all clear from the specialist she started her hydro and physio sessions again, we may have removed the chips of bone from her elbows but she still had dysplasia in four joints. The only way to completely fix that would be to perform full hip and elbow replacements and she wasn’t bad enough to be a candidate for that, so we needed to manage these conditions by keeping the muscle built up around the joints to give them the support they needed.

Two years on she still has regular physio and hydro lessons, and still regularly does her exercises at home. She’s likely to develop arthritis because of the dysplasia and is still on CBD oil, Golden Paste and joint supplements to help with that.

She also wears a magnetic collar to help with pain and inflammation and we are currently trialing a new range of heat therapy products to warm the joints for periods of time if she strains herself or starts to have problems during the colder months. They’re basically a safer option to using a hot water bottle or microwaveable heat pad.

But even with all of these things the important thing is…… she is living a normal, unrestricted life ❤️

I have had to learn so much to help her get to the stage she’s at now and I feel that I’m going to be learning a lot more as she gets older and encounters more struggles. But rest assured that everything I learn will be passed on to all of you in the event that you’ll ever need to know these things.

I already supply the CBD oil and magnet products that I use for Bella and I’m in the process of signing up to supply the heat therapy products (I like to do my research because I won’t pass substandard products onto my customers so it’s taking a little while).

I’m happy to chat to anyone who’s having issues like Bella had whether you want to buy products or not. I’m here to have my brains picked and give support, there’s no point in Bella teaching me all of this if I’m going to keep the knowledge to myself is there.