Welcome to the Burlington, Ontario annual Festival of Lights Show in Spencer Smith Park along Burlington Bay.
It’s been one year since my cocker-cross dog, Victor, was fitted for a back-leg brace. The first place we tested it was along the shores of cold reflective water illuminated by coloured bulbs assembled into various shapes: trains, hockey players (of course), houses and Santa’s sleigh.
It’s a long walk if your dog is learning to move on a new leg. Actually, it’s a long walk for anyone, so dress warmly, especially if you venture down the city’s contemporary concrete pier reaching into Lake Ontario.
Two things I learned along the way: 1. winter near Lake Ontario is chilly on the calmest days (blustering when the wind picks up). 2. people have a lot of questions when they see a dog with a leg brace. Based on what’s asked, I can usually identify the dog parents versus the pet void.
“Is he recovering from ACL surgery?” – dedicated pet parent who likely once paid for canine CCL surgery. (ACL is a human term, CCL is canine).
“Did you buy that online?” “Amazing what they can do today…” – not a dog owner, nor likely even pet enthusiast.
The answers to those questions:
- No, my pup did not get CCL surgery, though he did wreck his CCL (cranial cruciate ligament). He had surgery in his other leg three years prior and it was hard on him. At about 14 years old, I felt surgery might be too risky.
- No, I did not buy the brace online. These kind of braces (stifle orthosis) designed to support an unstable knee because a ligament is gone must be custom fit otherwise you could end up doing more damage. The idea is to stabilize the knee, allowing him to still walk, and hopefully put equal weight on both back legs, while scar tissues forms to help stabilize the knee.
- Yes, you can get anything modern science has invented if you’re willing to pay for it. And yes, many dog lovers are willing to pay for it. Including me.
Where can you find custom canine leg braces?
Willing to pay for it along with me is every client at PawsAbility (209 Wicksteed Ave, Toronto), a small company in Toronto, Ontario focusing on animal prosthetics established in 2007 by Janice Olynich. Olynich is a certified prosthetist and previously worked at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre with people but, according to PawsAbility.ca, “a chance opportunity to fit a dog with a prosthetic leg led to the idea of creating a Toronto-based custom prosthetic and orthotic services for animals.”
Yes, animals. PawsAbility has built devices for several cats, a goat, a pony, a rabbit and even a duck.
But mostly dogs – legs, paws, hips, spine, neck, hip, and replacement limbs.
Because Olynich is not a veterinarian, you need a referral from a vet to get a consultation. Once we determined that my dog once again wrecked an ACL (not uncommon if they damage one leg), and I decided against putting him through surgery again, my vet clinic was willing to refer me to PawsAbility, though a bit reluctantly. They didn’t think a brace would stay in place.
Welcome velco. An important part of the final product is a velco clip that circles my dog’s ankle holding up the brace as he moves. But first, the customizing…
How are custom dog braces fit?
After securing a vet referral, step one is a consultation appointment at PawsAbility allowing Olynich to see how the dog moves, take measurements and create a cast-like mould of the leg.
Step two, come back and have the plastic pieces of the brace fitted for accuracy, adjusted where necessary, then have three velco straps with foam backings are attached to the back of the brace. These foam wedges I must tuck under the edges of the brace every time I attach it to the dog.
All components of the brace are created in a workshop resembling a high school shop class. Tools are organized on benches, presses and grinders line walls and ventilation tubes spiraling into the air. Custom brace creation is as much a trade as a science – with a sprinkling of art. All braces are made from clear plastic, so the ‘colour’ is up to you.
In the consultation room consisting of one island table, Olynich presents a large basket of fabric scraps all neatly folded and organized by pattern colour. This fabric is fused between two layers of plastic, so it’s for aesthetics only. I’ve got minutes to select the ‘look’ Victor will sport daily. I go with red with small white flowers because red looks against his black fur and that colour palletmatches most of his jackets and sweaters. Yes, that’s a consideration.
Did the dog leg brace work?
Victor wore the brace everyday for several months. It was recommended he didn’t keep the brace on for longer than three of four hours at a time to avoid rubbing the skin.
For the first month, I used a ‘sock’ under the brace – something PawsAbility sewed out of thick nylon (imagine putting panty hose on your dog) – and for about two weeks, used an extra strip of velco from his toe to the front of the brace to help him lift his foot as he walked. It takes a bit of time for dogs to get used to the extra weight on their leg (picture dogs wearing booties for the first time). After Victor stopped ‘rolling’ his foot as he walked, I removed the toe velco.
I eventually gave up on the pantyhose too. The brace does take some effort to attach each day, even with practice.
After a several months, Victor was walking – and yes, running – easily with the brace. Most important, he was more confident putting weight on the injured leg so he wouldn’t walk unevenly on the back legs, misaligning his back over time.
I added several sessions of acupuncture with cold laser therapy to help restore his leg. (More on that experience this year).
Today, Victor is walking on both back legs (though not always evenly) and he wears his brace several hours most days for extra support, especially indoors. Why? He paces. A lot. One year after damaging his ACL, he’s been diagnosed with dementia. That’s our challenge for the New Year.
Travel Guide: The Burlington Festival of Lights runs annually from the beginning of December to the first week in January at Spencer Smith Park, 1400 Lakeshore Road, Burlington, Ontario, Canada. This year’s festival runs December 9, 2019 to January 8, 2020. Lights are on from 4:00 pm to midnight each day. Yes, it’s dog-friendly.
Check out other Dog-friendly Holiday Light Shows here.