Throughout my time in Thailand, I came across many paralyzed dogs of various degrees. Some completely immobilized and some just perfectly fine hopping around on their two front limbs. I was in awe of their strength and resilience. Coming from a shelter medicine background, it was usually a grave outcome when an animal suffered from a spinal fracture, leaving them incapable of being completely mobile on their own. It truly was an adjustment as I tried to see this new side of the rescue world, where these dogs spent their days on tiled floors, dragging themselves around, until they went for their daily wheelchair walk around the park. They were mostly all so happy and full of life, how could I have thought differently before that they were obviously suffering? It wasn’t until I met King Richard, that all my previous beliefs went out the window.
I first met King Richard when he and his caretaker, Ryan, came to the park for some post pneumonia chest radiographs. I saw them afterwards, as they sat in the back of the animal transport vehicle waiting to head back to the off site sanctuary where they came from. I confidently walked up to them both and started to give King Richard some pats as I did my involuntary physical exam I do with almost every new dog I come across. He growled once, but was probably more confused as to how this new stranger was handling him with no second thought; truth me told he wouldn’t let anyone else besides Ryan handle him. Little did I know that that wouldn’t be my last time seeing them both. Not too long after that day, I was sent to the off site sanctuary to hold down the fort as their sole veterinary staff member, and my brief encounter with this paralyzed pup would quickly become one of the more frustrating and versatile relationships I’ve ever had with an animal.
I suppose it’s necessary to back up a few months prior, to when Ryan first found King Richard, just to put into perspective how deep their bond grew in such a short amount of time.
It was a normal evening for Ryan, as he rode the motorbike to the market. He started down the highway as something caught his eye. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was abnormal for this guy to see dogs on the side of the rode. There were many a motorbike rides that I made sure to keep my eyes forward as it was natural habit for him to look down alleys and side roads for hurt animals. But something was different about this handsome boy he saw on the road. As he turned around, he watched from afar as he was attempting to pull himself through a crack in the fence to get to some leftover food.
“As I approached him, he growled and snarled in fear, then dragged himself back towards his home. It was at that moment I could see he had no use of his back legs, and they were worn to the flesh from being on the gravel and concrete for so long”
After speaking with his owners, it was unclear on what exactly had happened to this poor boy, but the one thing that was clear, the only shot that King Richard had at a normal life was Ryan.
No time was wasted as they headed into the city to visit the Veterinarian. Through blood tests, x-rays, and multiple exams, they came to the conclusion that at some point, this poor boy had suffered trauma resulting in a spinal fracture and serious nerve damage. With surgery being out of the question, the Veterinarian urged Ryan to not get his hopes up; King Richard would most likely never walk again. Well, try telling that to a stubborn Aussie and I can assure you he’ll prove you wrong.
Weeks went on and hydrotherapy, muscle manipulation, and dietary supplements were the core of both of their lives. The strides they made in four short weeks would have anyone in awe. King Richard was taking steps in the therapy pool on his own, his muscle memory and nerve impulses were kicking in, and all was looking bright in this sweet boys future.
One day, as they were playing in the grass, King Richard, all on his own, was able to hoist himself up off the ground and began walking. Let me say that again. This dog, who was told would never walk again, walked. All because of his best friend that didn’t want to give up on him. It was at that moment I knew anything was possible.
“This is a moment I will never forget”, Ryan told me.
It was about a week later that everything changed. King Richard was lethargic and unable to move, and was later diagnosed with Pneumonia. All Ryan knew from that moment on was that the set back he would experience was far greater than the actual pneumonia he would have to overcome.
This is where I joined the picture.
I watched from afar as the two of them spent their days together. I would be awoken each morning by the sound of a pack of dogs following Ryan as he carried the King out to the grassy area outside my bedroom window. I would join them for hydrotherapy before lunch, as I tried to hold back my giddy excitement when he would place his head in my lap while in the water while Ryan did his therapy. This was the only time he ever let me touch him, and I treasured each and every moment of it. But my favorite part of the day, was after all of our other duties were done, and we all would gather in the kitchen area for dinner. It was my favorite time of day, because it was his favorite time of day. He would sit under the stars and catch bugs flying through the air as we prepared our dinner. Other dogs would run and play around him, and he watched in awe as he loved to be apart of the action. A light would shine through his eyes that I wouldn’t see any other time throughout the day. That light gave me hope that there was something much more than the daily tasks we were doing. Watching him feel like a real dog, even just for a moment, was sometimes the only thing that kept us going each day.
Ryan would share his heartache and frustration with me of making it so far with King Richard, only to have it taken away in an instant. From my end, I saw a bond and improvement with each day, but that wouldn’t begin to touch the daily mental game Ryan would have to play with himself as he convinced himself that he could get back to where they once were.
I envied Ryan’s relationship with King Richard. What a beautiful curse to have something so dependent on you. No one else could come near him, so Ryan’s whole world revolved around his care.
About a week before my departure back to the states, I visited King Richard in his new home with Ryan, in Pai. Having previously not been able to handle this handsome boy, I was hesitant but hopeful. To my surprise, as I sat down beside him, he scooted over to me. With shaking hands I reached out and scratched his head. When I went to pull away, he moved closer and put his head under my hand. I broke down in tears, as I never in a million years thought this day would come. Our relationship changed in an instant. He trusted me. He finally trusted me. And it was at that moment I got a glimpse into the special bond Ryan and King Richard shared. Who knew that a single dog could change my outlook, and give me a brand new perspective into anything I’ve ever known of veterinary medicine.
The story of King Richard is just beginning, but I thought it crucial that everyone know about this brilliant dog even before he one day is running down the road. I have seen first hand the pain and exhaustion, tears and excitement, and every other emotion possible through just a part of their journey. I can only watch and wait as they make daily strides towards a new life for a dog that would have never had the chance without the fates aligning for him to be on the side of he road that one late afternoon. Stay tuned, it only gets better from here.