Tag Archives: Canterbury earthquake

Kess’ story – Part 2

When dealing with dogs with special needs, one of the key principles is ‘management.’  Management can take a range of forms, but it always involves adapting and changing lifestyle to suit the dog.

In Kess’ case, Ian and Jan accepted that her on-lead behaviour was going to be almost impossible to eradicate.  They adapted their walking routines to suit.

Kess would have a short daytime walk in a quiet area and then a longer evening walk either in a park or very often through the central city of Christchurch. This worked well as there were plenty of people about her but very few other animals.  Ian and Jan felt that they were making some progress with the reactivity and could happily take her into quite busy areas.

Unfortunately, the Canterbury earthquakes which started in September 2010 with another large jolt in February 2011 halted that progress.  Since the earthquakes, Kess’ anxiety levels have remained at very high levels.  She has become much more anxious of strangers which has meant adapting the walking routine.   For the first 18 months, the family continued to walk through the central city at night, following the Avon River around the outside of the Red Zone cordons (for those that don’t know, the central city area was heavily damaged and evacuated).  Jan and Ian quickly learned that hi-vis wear and army cordons were a cause of stress for Kess so avoided them.  Despite these concerns, Jan and Ian found these walks peaceful and reflective.

Post-quakes, Kess’ health issues have also been more of a problem for her.  In my opinion, Kess was already a very sensitive dog and the earthquakes simply added to her load – further weakening her stressed immune system.

She contracted toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease, probably from drinking from a puddle or other contaminated water source in 2012 (cats are regular carriers of toxoplasmosis). She suffered seizures and general ill health for several months.  “We almost lost her.” Treatment was a mixture of veterinary care and natural animal health care and remedies.

Then, in 2013 when the couple were staying in temporary accommodation while their earthquake-damaged house was repaired, Kess had a major episode with pain in her spine which left her immobilised and howling in pain. An emergency trip to the vet and medication followed. In a bid to reduce the medication she had several acupuncture sessions but became resistant to this.  “She has an amazing ability to turn into a solid, resistant brick when she doesn’t want to do something,” says Jan.

This led the couple to look to yet more alternatives. This is when Jan contacted me and we entered a whole new realm of support for Kess’ health.   I used massage, manual acupressure and laser therapies with Kess and she started swimming at the Dog Swim Spa.   Kess was unable to benefit from swimming because she developed a stress reaction to the shower which was a necessity after each swim  in a chlorinated pool.  So , we agreed that swimming be dropped from Kess’ therapy.  But an osteopath was added in 2014 to help release Kess’ back tension.

Osteopathy and massage therapy work very well in conjunction with one another and so the current plan is to keep up with both.

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More recently, Ian and Jan have noticed that Kess’ anxiety levels have been on the rise and she has been out of sorts which included frequently shaking her head and looking distressed.   She also developed an aversion to the laser and its ‘beeping’ noise and so we’ve dropped that from her regime. After ruling out any ear or tooth problems a specialist vet has recommended Kess undergo an MRI examination to rule out any possible deeper issues with her brain, inner ears or throat area.

Because Kess has been anxious, Jan has also been anxious about their daytime walks.  We discussed cutting back on walks in favor of playing in the family’s yard.  And what we talked about was the fact that Kess was never truly ‘free’ because her anxiety condition prevented Jan and Ian from taking her to a dog park or similar off-leash area.  We needed to re-group about Kess’ mental health.

Luckily, the owner at Top Notch Kennels agreed to allow Kess a weekly visit to their large exercise yard.  At last, Kess is able to blow off some steam and be a ‘real’ dog.  At first tentative and keeping close to Jan, within a few visits Kess found her feet and is now running free without harness or lead. Her smile says it all. Jan has noticed an improvement in her personality. “This has been fantastic for Kess – what a joy to see her joy at being free to just be herself and she still runs in mad, crazy circles but so far no more forward-rolls. I do though have to keep an eye on the sheep over the back hedge – I’m not convinced she couldn’t jump the fence with enough speed on!”

Kess looking free and regal, clearly enjoying her off-lead time

Kess looking free and regal, clearly enjoying her off-lead time

Ian and Jan love Kess and are devoted to her, acknowledging that she has been hard work and a significant investment of their time.

“Although our experiences with Kess have been very challenging on many levels she has also taught us many things and caused us to go places and experience things we most definitely would not have without her. We have discovered interesting places and explored corners of the city we had never known. The most special times were our walks through the dark and silent city following the February 2011 quake. We would never have had that unique experience without our very special girl.”

“Most of the time, 99 per cent, she is the most obedient, quiet and well behaved dog we have ever shared our home with. She is just as happy to spend the whole day snoozing on her couch in the sun as she is excited to be going out somewhere in the car. She is very smart, loves to play find and seek with her toys and has a very effective way of communicating to us just what she needs. Someone commented recently that we should have had her put to sleep as there are plenty of ‘good’ dogs out there who need homes but in our opinion every dog deserves a chance to live a good, happy life. When we see love and trust returned in her eyes it makes everything worth it.”

I think what Kess’ story proves is that ‘difficult’ dogs can still be loveable pets (one trainer suggested she be euthanized when their attempts at training Kess ‘by the book’ failed).  These dogs just need more time and effort invested in them; we need more people willing to stick with the tough times – a loving companion and lifelong relationship awaits.

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A sleepy Kess after a recent massage session

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Animals in Emergencies – book review

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I have just finished reading Animals in Emergencies:  Learning from the Christchurch earthquakes by Annie Potts and Donelle Gadenne.  This was a must-read book for me.  Why?  I’m in it!

Published in late 2014, this book is largely a compilation of stories about people and animals caught up in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.  However, since it is also a text produced by university academics, it aims to serve a purpose as “an introduction to the specialised area of animal welfare management during emergencies.”

I found the first 90% of the book the most enjoyable.  Filled with stories of rescue, sheltering and individual owner’s tales of the earthquakes, the book serves to document – largely in the first person – the historical accounts of the days, weeks and months following the quakes.  And I like the fact that the book doesn’t just focus on companion animal dogs and cats, but also includes stories about horses, fish, hedgehogs and other species.

But the last 10% of the book is rather disappointing (and it hurts me to have to say this).  Since New Zealand is a production-based economy, this book had to focus on the fate of production animals.  But this is also where the book loses its tone and momentum.  Either the authors asked for interviews with farmers and researchers and were rejected, or they simply didn’t ask – we’ll never know.

Perhaps because of the lack of firsthand accounts, the book becomes too formal in its approach to describing the impact on farm animals and animals used in research.  The text uses citations from newspaper articles at this point and becomes ‘preachy’ in terms of animal welfare.  As someone with a personal interest in animal welfare management, the issues raised in the book are not new but the distinct ‘lessons learned from Christchurch’ is very much lost on the reader.

I’m pleased this book has been produced and I’m very honored to have my story told although I know that I’m a very small contributor to the overall efforts to assist animals following the quakes.

Animals in Emergencies has been distributed to booksellers worldwide and a paperback version is available on Amazon.com.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Pets quake victims, too

It is estimated that in the September 2010 Canterbury earthquake, 3000 animals died. This included one dog, who suffered a heart attack.

In today’s news, comes this story reporting that New Zealanders would put their animals before their own safety (no surprise to me – if Daisy couldn’t be evacuated with me, I’d be staying put).

Pets quake victims, too – national | Stuff.co.nz

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand