Clinic provides rehab for ailing pets

August 15, 2018 Cranberry Local News

Meredith Wille, a licensed technician certified in canine rehabilitation and manager of the rehab department at Pets in Harmony, administers an ultrasound treatment Tuesday to Buddy, an 11-year-old labradoodle from Kilbuck Township, for his arthritic hips.

HARMONY — The mayor of Kilbuck Township in Allegheny County loves long walks, checking on his neighbors and hanging out with stray cats.

This affectionate nickname is one of many earned by Buddy, the 11-year-old labradoodle who goes to rehab at the Pets in Harmony clinic.

“Buddy is one of the most cooperative patients,” said Meredith Wille, a licensed technician certified in canine rehabilitation and manager of the clinic's rehab department.

Wille said Buddy receives treatment from their clinic for a variety of problems, including arthritis in both hips and a torn cruciate.

Buddy, who also suffers from congestive heart failure, is considered to be a “bad candidate for surgery,” because he had poor results in healing from surgery in the past.

Because he is unable to undergo surgery, Buddy's owners, Joan and Lou Schwoegl of Kilbuck Township, decided to take him to the rehabilitation clinic to work through some of the complications of his ailments.

“Our goal was to get him running, playing and going on walks again,” Wille said.

Lou said Buddy used to walk about five miles daily before his meniscal tear. His neighborhood-famous walks earned him the nickname of “Mayor.”

“He even walks with stray cats,” Wille said. “It's a hoot. They follow him down the street.”

In addition to his feline posse, Buddy also has a tendency to wander into other houses if their doors are left open.

“One day,” Lou said, “he just walked right into a house full of attorneys.”

Buddy's treatments at the clinic include therapeutic ultrasound, cold lasers and an underwater treadmill. These treatments take roughly 60 or 90 minutes to complete.

“Initial consults usually take an hour,” Wille said. “Patients range from 15 minutes of treatment for just one treatment to an hour or hour and a half for multiple treatments.”

First, Wille said, Buddy receives an ultrasound which emits low-frequency waves to promote a warming sensation on the dog's arthritic segments. Each hip receives about eight minutes of this stimulation. Afterward, Buddy is given the cool laser treatment, which can encourage the body to heal itself in some cases but is used as a means of pain reduction for Buddy's bad knee.

Both of these treatments are relaxing to the dogs, and Wille said some dogs even fall asleep during treatment.

“Buddy is too nebby for that,” Joan said. “He needs to know what's going on.”

Wille said that they will even play the “Pandora dog channel” for more anxious pets. The office, she said, is designed to keep the dogs calm by letting them go right into a free-range room rather than sitting in a waiting room like at a traditional veterinary clinic.

At the end of his pain-relieving treatments, Buddy strengthens his joints and ligaments on the underwater treadmill.

“It's an awesome tool to have available,” Wille said. “Hydrotherapy is excellent for dogs, and only a handful (of clinics) have it in the Pittsburgh area.”

Underwater treadmill tanks, which cost an average of $40,000 to $50,000, are used for conditioning and strengthening because the tank removes weight restrictions while adding resistance to the pets' weaker areas.

Wille said the clinic recently helped Wild Bird Recovery rehabilitate a Canada goose that was suffering from a severe foot injury by using the underwater treadmill.

In addition to these treatment methods, the clinic offers electro-stimulation, various exercises, land treadmills and other at-home prescriptive exercise methods.

“Most of the things you do with people, we can do with animals,” Wille said.

The Pets in Harmony clinic has been open since March 2017 and offers rehabilitation six days per week.

“This location was a great opportunity for rehabilitation,” Wille said.

By the time the mayor of Kilbuck finishes his exercises and goes home, Joan said, “he konks out for the rest of the day.”