Author Archives: Pat Atkinson

Physical Rehab: Up and Moving

posted April 15th, 2009 by

A much-loved Pit Bull named Chyna was painfully limping following an injury, not placing one paw on the ground except for balance.  Ligament surgery brought limited recovery.
Senior-aged Malamute Kiska has severe arthritis along her spine.  Along with hip dysplasia, she struggles to stand after a nap and often has to rely on her owners for help getting up.  Even just a touch to her back hurt her.

A painful ruptured disk caused Labrador Max to have trouble using his back legs.  Pain medications weren’t helping and his owners were close to euthanasia.

These dogs are among the growing numbers benefiting from physical rehabilitation.  It’s an exploding field and some Tulsa vet hospitals are establishing rehab centers, offering an array of services for furry patients.

Visit a doggie rehab facility and you’ll see underwater treadmills, electrical stimulation, range-of-motion exercises, massage, acupuncture,  laser therapy to help injured tissue heal, and exercise equipment similar to what’s in fitness centers for humans such as aerobic steps, balance balls, hills, and poles for over and under maneuvers.

And in conjunction with the in-center rehabilitation services, pet owners are counseled with homework programs that complement what happens at the hospital.

What’s behind the growth of doggie rehab?

“Pets would come in to be euthanized because they could not get up, generally due to arthritis.  Still mentally able and with an otherwise good quality of life, they were in pain, could not move around easily, maybe not urinating,” says veterinarian Lori Freije, South Memorial Animal Hospital, 7924 E. 55th Street.

“I knew this needed to stop, that more can be done and I’m particularly interested in pain management and physical rehabilitation,” she says.

In November, following additional education and training, she opened an extensive canine physical rehabilitation center at the hospital.

Freije notes that more people are willing to help their pets with pain management, follow home-based  treatment plans and commit to a rehab program, which can continue for several weeks.

“Just because a dog is down doesn’t mean that life is over,” Freije notes.  “There are things that can be done to get him up and moving again.”

Contributing to the expanding world of veterinary medicine is the fact that pets are living longer, developing some “senior citizen” diseases and disorders, and more pet owners are seeking alternative care for ailing pets to treat pain, restore health and quality of life instead of moving directly to euthanasia.  

Rehab helps regain strength and movement and reduces the need for long-term pain medications for pets who have various muscle injuries (most common in limbs), hip dysplasia, arthritis, bone fractures, and more.  Weight control is important in recovery and work-outs in rehab can take off pounds.

For example, an underwater treadmill is popular with the dogs at VCA Woodland South Animal Hospital, 9340 S. Memorial Drive.

“The most popular uses for the aquatic treadmill are following certain orthopedic surgeries, general conditioning for weight loss, and geriatric chronic conditions like arthritis – to minimize the need for pain medicine” says Elizabeth Rhodes, registered veterinary technician and certified canine rehabilitation assistant.

Brother and sister Labradors Buck and Peaches are regulars in the water.  Following knee surgery, Buck  exercises to build muscle and for weight-loss.  Peaches is diabetic and she has lost 10 pounds through treadmill conditioning.  

“It’s rewarding to see the dogs get back on their feet again, and they are happier, more energetic and get around better,” Rhodes says, adding that the dogs recover more quickly, and that rehab helps reduce pain and swelling and the need for long-term medication use. 

Veterinarian Freije says she integrates traditional Western medicine with therapies that approach “the whole patient, the environment, where they live and who they live with…there are many alternative therapies available and hopefully we will keep adding more and more.”

Rehab can help pets recover more quickly from surgery or injuries and reduce chronic pain so that the need for pain medication is minimized.  It is also used for increasing mobility, endurance and agility.  Often, helping pets lose weight improves their health and pain status.

And while Freije says her hands are her most important assessment and treatment asset, she notes that physical rehab centers for dogs and cats have several approaches to bring into play.

Lasers help reduce inflammation and encourage tissue growth.  Electrical stimulation strengthens weak limbs and encourages a return to full function.  Pulsing magnetic field therapy helps heal bones, burns, wounds and more. Massage and range-of-motion exercises improve the way the dogs feel.

Chyna, for example, now uses her injured leg almost normally.  Her weakened leg has regained muscle and function after weight loss, laser therapy, therapeutic exercises, electrical stimulation and stem cell injections.

Malamute Kiska’s hip dysplasia and severe arthritis were so painful that the “first time I touched her back, she dropped to the ground,” Freije recalls.

Following laser treatment, a weight loss program, range of motion exercises , pain medications which were gradually decreased as she improved, and at-home walking and strength training exercises, Kiska now runs, jumps and her balance is better.  Now she can “stand like a surfer” during car rides.

Do the dogs like rehab? 

“They love it! Some almost knock down the door to get here because it improves the way they feel,” Freije says.  “And with some, we see improvement within days or a few weeks.

“Our pets deserve the best care we can give so that they can return to everything they were able to do before (disease or injury).  I hope this becomes a standard of care and routine in the animal world, not just limited to a few.”

Story by Pat Atkinson

Tending to the Turtles

posted January 15th, 2009 by

Second Chance Turtle Ranch Offers Rescue, Recovery, Release
By Pat Atkinson
Photos by Steve Bull of Sirius Photography

There’s not a sign in the front yard, but the lucky ones find their way to the Second Chance Turtle Ranch for rescue, rehabilitation and gentle return to nature.

One resident is Petey, a one-eyed guy who encountered unknown trauma causing a bit of brain damage and one-sided vision.  With his head extended in obvious curiosity, he likes to watch the world from the palm of a friendly hand. 

And there’s Sweetie, an ornate gregarious lady who can be a bit demanding of attention.  Unlike most slow and steady box turtles, she moves fast and fills the job description of sharing educational turtle trivia with children.

Petey and Sweetie are the only fulltime turtle residents of the ranch – box turtles representing two different subspecies of turtles.  They are friendly turtles, cheerfully interacting with visitors.  Petey is an eastern box turtle with beautiful orange spots and Sweetie’s a three-toed ornate (also called western) box turtle.  

These two public relations types have met and helped the ranch’s human proprietor, Tracy Hendrickson,  tend scores of hurt and recovering turtles during recent years at her home in southeast Tulsa.

During “high season” for turtles – the warm months when they’re not hibernating – the ranch is literally crawling with rescued box turtles in various stages of recovery from trauma, injury, or sickness.

The ranch is a hospital and extended care center for turtles and Tracy is the home-owner, nurse, and rehabber who has an affinity for helping these long-lived creatures find life’s second chance.

Most of the patients have been injured by close encounters with cars, lawn mowers or dog teeth.  Their shells are cracked or punctured and infections are common.  Some have lost a leg, but get along fine once they have healed.

Ducky, for example, is a young turtle who will be in-hospital for a few months while her cracked (and taped) shell is treated with medicine and mended.  The latest arrival, just before winter’s cold, was a days-old baby, about the size of a silver dollar, found struggling to survive in a swimming pool filtering basket.  After several hours of hospital rest, she began eating on her own.

Tracy’s kitchen abounds with large counter-top turtle rehab homes with shallow pools of water for them to soak their shells and nature-friendly materials for burrowing and digging.  

“Room service” for turtles is a daily event with a menu of protein-rich warmed dog food, live worms, some high-calcium foods like egg shells, lots of vegetables, fruits and greens.  Sometimes they soak in nourishing vegetable juice, absorbed through their skin.

Last summer, Tracy treated and released dozens of box turtles.  They come from veterinarians and people who find injured turtles and learn about the ranch while searching for help. 

“I want to help these creatures in need, to give them a second chance.  These are all God’s creatures and this is the right thing to do,” Tracy says.  

It’s not the first time she has opened her animal-friendly home and heart to those in need.  About 25 years ago, she founded Tulsa Boxer Rescue, which rescues and finds homes for dozens of dogs annually.

Her compassion for animals began in childhood and turtle rescue was a part of after-church car rides in the country.  

“While driving along, if we saw a turtle on the road, we would stop and move it to safety.  If we took one home to help, we always released it back to the wild.  Rehabilitation to me means releasing the animal to live in its natural surroundings,” she says.

“As I got older, turtle rescue grew into greater love for dogs. I grew up with boxers,” she recalls.

For more than 26 years, Tracy owned an animal diagnostic laboratory in Tulsa, recently selling the business but continuing to operate an animal blood bank service for emergency blood donations.

The lab was close to Forest Trails Animal Hospital where domestic small animal veterinarian Paul Welch also rehabilitates wildlife.  Tracy teams with Welch for special needs turtle rehab and he often sends injured box turtles to her for long-term care.

A visit to Second Chance Turtle Ranch is akin to touring an animal spa and resort.  There are turtles convalescing in the kitchen and in the outdoor fenced turtle garden.  The mulched garden features turtle-friendly plants, logs and limbs, and rocks and hiding places for shy new arrivals.  It’s also the permanent home for Petey and Sweetie.  Peacefully co-existing with the box turtles are seven boxers and a couple of dozen Koi in a sparkling pond.   

Tracy advises that turtles found in the wild should not be kept as pets.  Turtles need a large habitat, regular care, clean water for soaking, and a varied and specialized diet.  “I’ve gotten a few that people have tried to keep as pets and they’ve been in bad shape, dehydrated and sick,” Tracy notes.  

For the lucky ones who find their way to the Second Chance Turtle Ranch, it’s a caring stopping place for rest, recovery and return to nature for their second chances at sweet life.  

Contact info:  Second Chance Turtle Ranch, 918.250.9004

Found Lost Pet

posted January 15th, 2009 by

You have found an animal running loose in your neighborhood.  What can you do to help this critter find its way back home?  

1. I.D. TAGS:  Check to see if the animal is wearing a collar and identification tag.  If so, contact the animal’s home number as soon as possible.  If the animal is wearing a coded license tag, call the issuing phone number imprinted on the tag.  If no phone number is available, call 1-800-828-8667 which is a national registry for tags and tattoos and see if they can identify the animal.

2. POST AN ONLINE “FOUND” NOTICE:  Many amazing websites are available where you can post a notice when an animal is found.  Locally, www.losttulsapets is a good resource, and (hosted by the Humane Society of Tulsa) has a “lost and found” section where you can list the animal’s description, the location where the animal was found and even upload a photograph of the animal.   Another website, which is a national registry, posts “found animal” listings which are broadcast nationally but can be sorted to a local area.

3. CREATE POSTERS:  A wonderful website,, allows you to upload a photo and create a “FOUND” poster.  You will also be posting a “found” notice on this database as you create the poster.   Once your poster is created, be sure and place them in visible sites around the area where the animal was found.  Telephone poles, local businesses and even trash containers are good locations.  Be sure and leave a copy of the poster in your mail box for the postal carrier to see.  Oftentimes, the mail carrier is familiar with all the area pets and he/she can be very helpful in getting animals returned to their home quickly.

4. PLACE AN AD IN THE NEWSPAPER:  Run a classified ad in the local paper providing a description of the animal and a contact number.

5. BOARDING A “FOUND” ANIMAL:  If you are unable to house the animal until the owner is located, try to find a friend or family  member who can foster, or contact local veterinaryoffices and see if they have lodging space for a “found” animal.  If they are unable to help you, contact local shelters and rescue groups.   A good resource is the Directory portion of TulsaPets Magazine, and the local Humane Society of Tulsa (    With persistence, luck, and quick action hopefully the found lost pet can be successfully reunited with its owner!

Story by Pat Atkinson

She’s a Winner

posted April 15th, 2008 by

Story by Pat Atkinson

Roxanne Scratches Up Lotto Fame, Fortune

Roxanne is a Lucky Dog and that makes her lucky for lottery players.

Hand over a buck for a “scratcher” Lucky Dog card and odds are that one time in 10 you’ll draw a ticket picturing this fluffy gray and white Alaskan Malamute.  Scratch off the paw prints for a chance at winning up to $1,000.

Vickie and Michael Chamberlain, Owasso residents and life-long Oklahomans, are Roxanne’s people, proud parents of their famous 5-year old big girl.

Vickie, art teacher at Collinsville Middle School, and Michael, owner of Printed Products, are regulars at the lottery game, one way they support education in the state.  

A few months ago, they read about the Lucky Dog contest on the Oklahoma lottery web site.

“When I saw they were advertising a Lucky Dog contest, I sent in pictures of both our dogs, Roxanne and Raider,” Vickie recalls.  Both dogs pictured in a snow scene, “I really thought Raider would win since his photograph was better.”  Raider’s the younger, more laid-back guy Malamute in the family.

As word spread, thousands of Oklahomans entered their dogs.  “There were pages and pages of the contestants on the web site,” Vickie says.

Then came the phone call – Roxanne’s now one of 10 selected for rotation on the cards.  Each dog’s face is portrait-style above nine paw print scratch-offs, which uncover winning amounts ranging from a free ticket to cash of $1 to $1,000.  Three like amounts and that’s what holders win.

“Of course, Rox is the best looking of every 10 cards produced,” Michael proudly notes.  “These two dogs are like our kids and both are from champion bloodlines.”  

Malamutes are large, powerful sled dogs – each about 130 pounds — often called teddy bears because they are soft, fluffy, friendly and love attention.  

Roxanne is daddy’s girl, according to Vickie, and Michael says her favorite activities are going for walks, tummy rubs and watching TV’s “Animal Planet.”

Raider is Vickie’s boy, nicknamed “Refrigerator Raider.”  She says he’s never met a food he didn’t like!

Roxanne is the socialite of the two, fitting for her top dog role.  Raider’s the home guy who lets Roxanne fill the paws of alpha dog in charge of their world.  Both are talkers, typical of their breed, preferring a large vocabulary of “woo, woo, woo” sounds to barking.

“Roxanne will tell you when she wants you to pet her, pay attention, come to her.  She summons you,” Michael says.

The state lottery web site says the Lucky Dog scratchers have sold $3.3 million and paid out $255,557, with about $54,300 remaining in prizes.

That’s a lot of fame and fortune for both dog and card-holders.   

“Our lives have been enriched with these dogs,” Vickie says.  “Our (human) families were grown and gone by the time Michael and I met, so we’re empty-nesters.  These dogs are our babies.”

Lucky dogs, lucky people, winners all around.

Lending a Paw – Meals on Wheels for Pets Too

posted April 15th, 2008 by

Tulsa’s Meals on Wheels organization tested its newest program with one paw and soon was in it with all fours. About two years ago, high school 4-H Club member Kimberly Baab and friends helped Meals on Wheels staff develop the Meals 4 Paw Starz program, delivering meals to pets of homebound people.
“We started the pilot, then we were in on all four feet,” says Dan Rabovsky, MOW’s executive director. “It has had a wonderful response from homebound people and volunteers have stepped forward to do it.” MOW, one of Tulsa’s largest volunteer undertakings, prepares and delivers 1,000 meals to homebound people daily.

“We began noticing that some homebound people were sharing the meal that we delivered with their pet because they had no other resource to feed them, really,” he explains.  “We were concerned because people were giving up their own important nutrition to the pet, which was not necessarily the most nutritious food for the pet, either.” Once monthly a pet food brigade of volunteers gathers at one distribution location to handle inventory, purchasing, repackaging and delivery of pet food to 35 homebound people with pets.

Receiving these special deliveries are 29 dogs, 30 cats, one turtle, and several birds. All food is re-packaged from large sacks into small bags of daily servings.  “Many people are unable to lift or maneuver a big bag of food and this makes it much easier for them,” Rabovsky says. The food for pets and all of Meals on Wheels programs are supported by donations from individuals and businesses.  Care-taking for the pets has expanded to include special treats in delivery bags and during the holidays pets have received gift bags of toys, treats, beds and more.  For information and to support the pet food program, visit

Story by Pat Atkinson

A Cinderella Story of Trash to Treasure

posted January 15th, 2008 by

Story by Pat Atkinson

While Show Dogs Strut, Shaggy Little Lost Mutt Wins Hearts and a Home

While the finest of their breeds pranced and posed at the 2007 two-state dog show in downtown Tulsa, the real winner was a little lost mutt who stole the hearts of everyone and found a forever home.

Surrounded by hundreds of primped, pampered, clipped, brushed, coiffed kings and queens of the dog world, this little dog’s happiness outshined all as she trotted through the Convention Center beside her adopting person, Robert Rudy, who was providing security at the show.

This shaggy tale of a Cinderella story unfolded among the approximately 2,100 pure breds where CC (named for Convention Center) was dumped, but left with a new life and a forever family.

On the first day of the four-day combined specialty show licensed by the American Kennel Club and hosted by the Tulsa Mid-Continent Kennel Club, the little gray and white dog was spotted in the parking lot, lonely and frightened, searching for safety under the scores of rolling homes –- RVs fit for the finest of the breeds and their people.

Ragged, dusty, thin, in need of a bath, a haircut and a decent meal, she was certainly “outstanding” among the spotless beauties vying for ribbons and points. No doubt tossed out on the acres of asphalt like a bit of disposable trash, the waif was taken in and put in a crate as word spread about her through the dog world people and the four-footed stars.

No show star this little shaggy girl, but it’s hard to resist a sweet dog with a grateful smile and happily wagging tail, thought to be a mix of Petits Bassets Griffons Vendeens (pbgv) and Lhasa Apsos mixed together with who-knows-what-else.

Robert Rudy, wearing a uniform yellow “Event Staff” shirt and a self-described animal-lover, saw the dog while making his rounds and offered to help with her care-taking and walking.  Once they met, it was mutual love at first sight.

By Day 2, little Miss Mutt was named for the Convention Center, where her new life began.  CC was pronounced healthy by a veterinarian who estimated her about one year old. Others donated food and toys, vendors provided a yellow bone-shaped tag, collar and leash.

And that first night at home with her new family, shaggy CC dined like a princess, sharing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with Rudy’s 17-month-old granddaughter.   By meal’s end, both toddler and pup had most of the insides of the sandwich painting the outsides of their faces!  The meal and meeting was a big hit.

By Day 3, CC was outfitted proudly in a vendor-donated bright yellow coat, custom-embroidered with “Special Event,” matching her person’s official shirt.  She was dressed for the Ball and having the ball of her life.

By Day 4, her shaggy rags were clipped and groomed, courtesy of her new show friends.  All day she happily wagged her way alongside Rudy, smiling up at perfumed Rottweilers and Mastiffs, offering kisses to the tiny, fluffed Pekingese, Poms, Yorkies.

On the last day of the big show, the dog world elite gathered outside Ring 1 for the final showdown.  The best of their breeds, showing off, posing on table-tops, striking the winning stance, performing with a twitch of the leash, perfection in the dog world.

By late afternoon, hundreds of winners had rounded the inside of the white picket fence at Ring 1 with their professional handlers — top dogs, selected by serious-faced judges handing out colorful rosette ribbons in front of signs announcing First, Second, Third, Fourth place.

Show dogs strutting their stuff. And then there was one.

In a class of her very own, CC and her person – unmistakable in their bright yellow Special Event outfits – were introduced over the speaker system as they entered Ring 1 both wearing the biggest smiles of all.  

Once around the winner’s ring they went, little Miss Mutt prancing alongside Rudy’s long strides, heads held high, CC’S furry feet barely touching the carpeted path, her whole back half swinging side-to-side keeping up with her tail.

Applause and cheers accompanied this rags to riches real life story.  It doesn’t get much better than a little lost dog taking home the gold.

And as the day faded and this fancy dog show closed, a grateful little unwanted Cinderella dog and her kind Prince headed home to share a PB&J dinner.

CC has settled in with her new family, sharing space with a bossy tabby named Psycho, a couple of “big” senior citizen dogs (all furry residents had been dumped and adopted), a few horses, and a visiting granddaughter who’s about her age and loves to play.  Those two will grow up together.

A sweet, true-life fairy tale that ends just like all the best ones ever after.

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