About >> More about Deborah Gross Saunders
Photo by Vic Neumann
Wizard of Paws Physical Rehabilitation Center has been established on a goal and a dream. My education started in the human physical therapy realm but while I was going through physical therapy school, I quickly realized that my family dog as well as other dogs could benefit from the science of physical therapy as much as people could.
As I continued with my human physical therapy career, I kept the dream of treating dogs in the back of my mind, and focused on the entity of sports medicine and orthopedics. While I was doing this, I continued my quest for knowledge on canine anatomy, movement, and treatment. This was back in 1990 and besides movement work by Rachel Paige Elliot and Curtis Brown, there was not a lot of information on the application of movement and treatment.
I became fascinated with the movement of dogs – both normal and abnormal. As this fascination grew, so did my desire to work with animals. I started off slow, seeing a few dogs per week with postoperative conditions, such as cranial cruciate surgery or ACL surgery. My case load grew quickly and expanded to include dogs with hip and elbow dysplasia, neurological conditions, and other orthopedic conditions.
Over the course of a few years, I was working at a veterinarian practice and had reduced my hours in the ‘human’ clinic. At some point, more and more dogs were referred to me by both veterinarians and other contacts with problems that were either not responding to treatment or had subtle problems, but problems nonetheless.
Ticket Making a Dash
Photo by Shauna Miner
For example, I started to see dogs that were uncharacteristically knocking bars in the agility ring or not holding a sit in obedience. The dogs were cleared by their clinician for obvious problems, but yet, were still having problems. These dogs needed help, and many of them had muscular injuries or structural issues that were causing the problems.
As I was going through my path treating dogs, I met my husband and best friend along the way. We actually met over dogs and quickly realized we were soul mates. With our daughters, we currently own six dogs: our geriatric yellow Labrador Retriever, our middle aged Standard Poodle, our two young Portuguese Water Dogs, a Clumber Spaniel and a Bullmastiff puppy. My husband has been my biggest supporter throughout this wonderful ride through the treatment of animals. We both share the belief that when we care for a dog – whether it is a one time visit or an extended stay – we want that dog to be treated as if we owned it. That belief has been the backbone and base of Wizard of Paws.
At Wizard of Paws Physical Rehabilitation for Animals, LLC, we see all types and breeds of dogs. Whether the dog is competing at Westminster, the AKC or USDAA Agility Nationals, a flyball tournament, a herding trial, or preparing to jump off the couch and go get a treat, we see them! Our patients range from dogs that have orthopedic or neurological surgeries, hip and elbow dysplasia, muscular injuries, athletic injuries, degenerative Myelopathy, spinal injuries and disc problems, trouble holding their sit or stand in a dog show, wounds, and cancer.
Photo by Marissa Calvo
We lost our Clumber Spaniel, Edsel, very quickly to immune mediated hemolytic anemia in July, 2010. It was just devastating. The Clumber Spaniel Health Foundation is promoting research of this disease - it has a very poor survival rate in Clumbers. To learn more about it and to help out with the research please go to Clumber Spaniel Health Foundation
We also see many dogs that are ‘off’ and no one is able to exactly pinpoint the cause. We have had dogs come in requiring specialized splints and carts to help them return to a normal way of life, and we have had dogs come in needing to increase their endurance from a one hour run to a two hour run for a field trial competition.
Every dog deserves a thorough evaluation, assessment and treatment program. Each dog is thoroughly evaluated with a comprehensive history, gait and movement analysis, physical examination, and structural assessment. During this time, the goals are thoroughly discussed. For example, the owner’s goal may be to retire the dog from competition but continue to train the dog in order to help their other dogs. Or the owner’s goal may be to encourage the dog to lose weight and become more active. Each dog deserves to lead the best and longest quality of life
We offer long term boarding for dogs with a variety of needs. And our long term boarding dogs range from dogs that are unable to walk to those needing extra strength and endurance for an upcoming competition. For example, many field trial dogs spend weeks to months with us and their stays are specifically planned out. One day may be spent running in the underwater treadmill for thirty minutes, performing exercises on a theraball to strengthen their core, returning to the treadmill hours later, and then ending their day with a walk in the woods. Specific exercises, stretches and a dietary program are designed for each dog. Programs are designed based on the dogs’ goals. Prior to conformation shows, many dogs require an increase in muscle mass so their program is designed for the program.
Our special needs boarding assists dogs with a variety of condition, including postoperative spinal conditions and orthopedic problems. We see many dogs that are unable to be cared for initially at home by the owners due to the owners’ work schedule, dog’s surgery, or inability to move the dog. For example, dogs that have spinal surgery require twenty four hour care with frequent turning, moving, range of motion exercises, and appropriate activities and modalities. Many owners are initially unable to provide this but once their dog is up and moving, they can take the dog home and care for the dog on their own.
Our evaluation services include Dartfish movement analysis, and Unicam force plate analysis as well as my sixteen years of experience in the field. Treatments include laser therapy, joint mobilization, many varieties of exercises, underwater treadmill, aquatic therapy, massage, acupressure, electrical stimulation, ultrasound and much more. Ball work or ball stabilization work is a program that most dogs take part in. This benefits the high end performance dogs to the Daschunds with weak backs. Individual programs are designed for each dog. Subtle gait changes or alterations are significant in performance and conformation dogs.
I enjoy working with performance and conformation dogs and understand that a ‘minor’ problem to some can be a ‘major’ problem. Missing the weave poll entries to many people in the dog world is not a big issue, but for the dog that is trying out for the world team, it is a major issue. That dog deserves just as much attention as the dog that cannot walk after a spinal surgery.
We also ‘take the show on the road’ so to speak! We attend many local agility trials and dog shows in the New England area as well as national events, such as the AKC Agility nationals, the CPE agility nationals, Westminster Kennel Club show and others. Our schedule is updated on a regular basis. My teaching schedule is also available. I offer classes to both professionals, such as veterinarians, technicians and physical therapists, and to members of dog clubs and dog enthusiasts. I feel this is a wonderful way to give back to the community for all the joy it has given me.
We are fortunate to offer transportation services and airport pickups and have been able to see dogs from all over the country. Our facility is located on our 23 acre farm in southeastern Connecticut and since we live on the farm, we are able to give the dogs that stay with us the individual attention they require. We treat each dog as if it were our own and therefore provide the best care. Whether it is on an outpatient basis or a long term stay with us, the dogs receive the best care we can offer. We would want the same for our dogs if they were in someone else’s care.
My husband and I run and oversee the business and each dog has attention from one or both of us. Our staff feels the same about animals as we do – and that is why they are part of our staff! I have experienced many tears of joy over the years – watching a dog walk for the first time in two months, winning the group at Westminster, obtaining their first double Q, reaching their MACH or ADCH, and returning them home to their families. I love every day of my job working with animals.