ERIE, Pa. (AP) — Toby can blame degenerative myelopathy for the wheelchair cart he uses and the failing coordination of his limbs.
But the symptoms seemed to melt away Monday during a therapy session on an underwater treadmill.
Lifting his head occasionally for a piece of chicken jerky, the 9-year-old German shepherd, wearing a red vest and flanked by foam swimming noodles, kept up a steady pace inside a tank full of warm water.
Toby is a patient of veterinarian Christine Nestor at Balance Veterinary Rehabilitation Services in Girard Township.
Until recently, treatment options for a dog like Toby were limited, said his owner, Ellen Anon, of Fairview Township. The closest rehab center of this sort was located in Cleveland.
Anon, who said she's been lobbying local veterinarians to offer rehabilitation services, said she's seen a difference in her dog since Nestor opened her practice this summer at the corner of Route 20 and Old Ridge Road.
Rita Johnson, of Lake City, said Franklin, her 10-year-old beagle mix that suffers from facial paralysis, has been helped by acupuncture treatments at Balance.
Nestor, who was a partner for 10 years at the Animal Ark Pet Hospital, said her new rehabilitation hospital is not a rejection of traditional veterinary medicine. It is a recognition that many of the same things that work for people also work for animals.
Nestor, who continues to work at the Animal Ark two days a week, said her new practice grew from a trend she noticed while performing knee surgeries on dogs.
The standard advice she and other vets gave dog owners was to prevent their pets from moving around too much. But Nestor eventually noticed the animals that made the strongest recoveries were those whose owners had bent the rules, moving their animals more quickly into low-impact exercise routines.
Other area veterinary practices were offering some rehabilitation services, but Nestor's plan was to focus solely on that end of the business, leaving the vaccinations, surgeries, sick visits and allergy treatments to other veterinary practices.
Her plan wasn't to compete with them, but to offer something they didn't offer -- a practice that used acupuncture, ultrasound, lasers, underwater treadmills, exercise balls, electroshock stimulation, ramps and other equipment.
Nestor, who trained as a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist in Colorado, said she wanted animal rehabilitation to be something more than a sideline.
"I think if you are going to do something well, you have to really dedicate to doing it," she said.
Nestor said that Balance, which is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, has enabled her to spend more time with her clients and their pets.
So far, most of those pets have been dogs, but Nestor said she's open to serving the feline population as well.
"I would love to see a cat on that treadmill," she said, gesturing toward the treadmill where Toby, the 100-pound German shepherd, was patiently going through his paces.
A few treatments made a believer of Anon. But not everyone accepts the notion that treatments long used for humans can work just as well for man's best friend.
"There are a lot of people, veterinarians included, who are unsure about the value of rehabilitative therapy," Nestor said. "When I first started, I said, 'Does this really work?'"
Others must decide if rehabilitation for their pet is something they can afford.
Nestor, who handles many of her appointments with the assistance of Edie Steider, a certified veterinary technician, said she feels good about the value she offers customers, who pay $65 per half-hour of therapy.
Nestor, who is often joined by a dog's owner during therapy, said many of them seem to share her enthusiasm.
"I'm super-excited," she said. "I really enjoy it. It's very rewarding."
She concedes, though, that there is a mental barrier that must be crossed, people who wonder if providing physical therapy for animals is going a step too far.
Most people know their answer to that question.
"People don't want to see their animals in pain," she said. "They want to see them get better."
Information from: Erie Times-News, http://www.goerie.com