Before his accident Tucker could “jump four feet straight up, spin, and fly through the air to catch a ball,” says his mom Rhonda Reed. “He could also climb trees. He could run right up the trunk, and sit in the crotch of the tree ten feet up.”

Two years ago, on a rare snowy day in Eugene, Reed let Tucker out to enjoy the experience. He slipped on the ice and fell, but typical for him, he just bounced back up and joined his canine siblings in play.

The next day Tucker was limping, so Reed took him to her veterinarian who gave him pain medication and a steroid injection for inflammation. Unfortunately, over the weekend, Tucker got worse, but a trip to the emergency clinic for x-rays was inconclusive. By Monday, Tucker was completely paralyzed in both hind legs and in a lot of pain.

Reed frantically called several veterinary hospitals looking for help. Finally, she was referred to the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) at Oregon State University. With two board-certified orthopedic surgeons and a large orthopedic team, the VTH treats hundreds of dogs with disc injuries every year, so the staff answering phones know how important it is to act quickly in cases of paralysis. In Tucker’s case, they described his symptoms to Dr. Isaac Cortez, an orthopedic surgery resident, and he arranged to bring Tucker into the hospital immediately. There, an MRI confirmed Dr. Cortez’s suspicion of herniated discs that were extruding into the spinal canal and compressing Tucker’s spine.

The success of any disc surgery is dependent, in part, on relieving spinal compression quickly. Dr. Cortez and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jennifer Warnock took Tucker into surgery that afternoon. They performed an extensive procedure, removing the protective roof of the spinal canal to access and remove bulging disc material between four vertebrae.

Soon after waking up, Tucker showed one small sign of improvement: he was able to wag his tail, but he still had a long road ahead to regain movement in his legs. Sara Short, a Certified Rehabilitation Technician began laser therapy on Tucker while he was still in ICU. “It is unusual for us to have a case with this many disc injuries,” she said, “so we wanted to promote healing and decrease inflammation right away.”

The surgery was a success, but because a significant portion of his spine had been removed, Tucker needed extra help to build muscle and keep it stable. In addition to the usual post-surgery care instructions, Reed had a long list of daily exercises to do with Tucker, including range of motion exercises three times a day, and swaying and bouncing exercises to help him find his hind legs in space.

With Reed’s dedication and hard work, Tucker slowly began to move his back legs. By his two-month recheck, he was starting to walk pain free, and able to start underwater treadmill therapy, but that proved to be an unexpected challenge.

Before Reed adopted him, Tucker had a tough life. She first met him when he was taken to the Lane County Animal Shelter (LCAS) as  young stray. She was a volunteer helping the trainer work on his behavior issues, which including biting. He was a smart dog who learned fast and seemed to be ready for adoption, so he was soon transferred to another shelter, but that did not go well. He ended up back at LCAS, and was put on the euthanasia list. That’s when Reed stepped in and saved poor Tucker. She decided to take him home as a foster dog, and work some more on improving his behavior.

“That‘s when we discovered his love of playing ball,” says Reed, “We found that he would become your best friend in minutes if you brought out a ball.” Well, most of the time; he was still picky about which humans he liked. For example, when Tucker went into the rehab room for his first underwater treadmill session, he displayed aggression toward Sara Short, the technician, and the session was cancelled. “We had some hurdles to get over,” says Short. “We had to build a trusting relationship so I could handle him safely.” Patience and persistence on her part paid off, and eventually Tucker came to love his visits to the treadmill room. The two are now good buddies. “He loves the rehab sessions,” says Reed. “I’ve seen a huge improvement in his social skills with the people he has met at OSU.”

It’s been two years since his surgery and Tucker is still visiting OSU for regular rehab sessions. “By continuing underwater treadmill, he maintains his stamina, muscle strength, and motor function to support an active senior lifestyle,” says Short. “It also helps minimize arthritis in his back and prevents further injury.”

Tucker still chases the ball, but without the flying feats of acrobatics. “We throw the ball low to the ground and he runs to catch it,” says Reed. “No more climbing trees, but he and his best friend Zoe still chase each other in circles around the yard. Tucker is very happy.”

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