Lifestyle

Reporter"s dog gives bark of approval

By Cody Ellerd

Our family dog Bella woke up one morning four years ago ready as always to bound headlong into a day of fierce playing, scarfing up treats for perfectly-performed tricks and charming the socks off of the UPS guy, the mail guy, and every other unsuspecting passerby. It was a routine she would never tire of for as long as she lived. But on this fall morning, everything changed.

When the three-year-old chocolate lab tried to get up, her legs buckled at once beneath her, as she failed again and again to hoist herself from the floor. Bella was completely immobilized and utterly confused. My mother, panicked as she would have been were it me who had collapsed on my way to lick her face, rushed Bella to the vet, where she received a very strange diagnosis indeed.

During the night, the vet told us, Bella had suffered something called a fibrocartilagenous embolism -- a condition that occurs when cartilagenous material from between the spinal vertebrae breaks off and becomes lodged in an artery. It is something that happens most often to extreme athletes (which Bella most definitely was), and its effect is something quite similar to a stroke.

Our little brown girl was lucky to have woken up at all that morning. Her chances of ever walking again, the vet said, were terribly slim. His advice was to put her to sleep.

My mother wouldn't think of it, of course, even if it meant sleeping downstairs on the couch with the dog instead of in her bed and carrying her 75-pound Labrador in and out of the house to urinate. The rest of the time Bella could do little but lie in the grass paralyzed as the family did its best to entertain and love her.

Curiously, whenever we left her alone in the yard for a time, we would come out to find that she had repeatedly managed to scoot herself from the grass over onto the nearby dirt, where she would be sniffing around in the soil. For what, we didn't know.

With the vet offering no solutions, my parents eventually decided to take Bella to a veterinary acupuncturist. Naomi Beerman, a licensed acupuncturist who divides her time between Seattle and Cuba, tested Bella's strength in various points on her body, known as meridian points. It is through these points that acupuncturists say the body's energy flow, or ``chi,'' delivers health and balance. Based on the meridian pulses, Beerman determined where she needed to put the needles in order to unblock Bella's blocked energy flow.

She prescribed two treatments per week in combination with a mixture of Chinese herbs to treat motor impairment and obstructions in the blood. The main ingredient in the herbs, it turned out, was earthworm -- the same normally found in garden soil. Bella had good instincts.

Perhaps, knowing it would help her, that's why she didn't protest when the acupuncturist repeatedly stuck her with needles. She also willingly consumed the herb mixture that could be described as nothing less than putrid, even to a dog.

By the second acupuncture treatment, Bella was able to hold her weight on her legs. Gradually over the course of a month, she was able to walk again. It was then that she began rejecting the smelly herbs. Having had its intended effect, the earthworm concoction was no longer needed.

Bella no longer careens across the park in pursuit of anything that moves like the Olympian she once was. But the approach of the UPS truck or a friendly neighbor still ignites her furious pursuit of a scratch behind the ear. And those who were immune to the charm of her hyperactive enthusiasm of the old days can hardly refuse a pat to a graying dog with a cheerful pant and a lopsided hobble.

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