Tucker’s Road to Recovery


It’s easy to feel the love Tracey Irving and her husband Randy share with their two-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, Tucker, and why he holds such a special place in their hearts. Tracey attributes their closeness to all they’ve been through together over the past two years.

Tucker and Tracey were out on one of their usual six-mile hikes with friends when Tucker suddenly collapsed. Tucker’s veterinarian referred him to the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC). Diagnostic tests, including radiographs and a computed tomography scan (CT scan), confirmed a diagnosis of elbow dysplasia affecting both front legs.

“Elbow dysplasia is a developmental orthopedic (bone) disease caused by growth disturbances in the elbow joint of dogs,” explains Dr. Tom Gibson, OVC board-certified surgeon who performed Tucker’s surgery.

Tucker ended up undergoing a minimally invasive surgical procedure, called arthroscopy for bilateral elbow dysplasia, in July 2015. By inserting
 a small scope into his elbow joints, through several small incisions, Dr. Gibson was able to observe the condition of Tucker’s joint and remove the loose bone and cartilage fragments. The successful surgery was just the beginning of Tucker’s road to recovery. Under Dr. Gibson’s instruction, Tracey spent the following weeks encouraging Tucker to rest and applying ice to his front legs to manage his post-surgical discomfort. It was difficult to limit playtime and walks following his surgery; Tucker had always been a very active dog, and was used to going on daily hikes prior to his diagnosis and treatment.

“It takes time for a pet to get back to their regular routine,” says Dr. Gibson. “A rehabilitation program can be an excellent way for pets, like Tucker, to ease into their regular level of activity after a surgical procedure.”

Through the advice of Dr. Gibson and Tracey’s family veterinarian she explored rehabilitation options for Tucker.

About a month later, Tucker began
 pool therapy at the OVC Fitness and Rehabilitation Service, which is located within Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre (Hill’s PHC) at OVC. Since Tucker had not spent much time in the water he was a bit unsure at first. “He eventually got to the point where he would wag his tail and jump right into the pool fearlessly at his sessions. Now he loves swimming,” Tracey says.

Dr. Tiffany Durzi, a certified canine rehabilitation specialist, and veterinary lead for the OVC Fitness and Rehabilitation Service says, “the buoyancy of the water can help to decrease discomfort
that may be
noted with
walking on
land. Pool therapy is an excellent way for dogs that are recovering after a surgical procedure to improve flexibility and cardiovascular health.”

The most common goals for pets, like Tucker, that may need rehab after a surgical procedure include improving mobility, strength building, flexibility training and managing or preventing post-surgical pain, Durzi adds.

Tucker’s recovery plan involved hydrotherapy in the pool twice a week for four weeks, which Tracey says was “absolutely worthwhile,” and she would “never hesitate to go through it again” if it was what Tucker needed.

Since Tucker’s recovery he has become a certified St. John Ambulance (SJA) therapy dog and regularly gives back through various volunteer engagements. His friendly demeanor and lovable personality make him a big hit with everyone he encounters. Tracey and Tucker pay regular, weekly visits to the psychiatric unit of their local hospital. They also volunteer at a local high school, participate in the “Take A Paws” student stress-busting program at the University of Guelph, and attend a camp with adults who have brain injuries.

“When Tucker volunteers, it’s usually tough to get from point A to point B without everyone wanting to take selfies with him,” Tracey smiles. “Tucker is always by my side. We’re a team; he’s my best friend. I say he’s the one who is the real volunteer – I just chaperone him because he can’t go anywhere without me.”

Tucker is now happily back to his regular daily hiking schedule, and Tracey attributes the strength of their bond to everything they have been through together.

“The road has been long and certainly unexpected. I am so blessed to have my best friend back.” 

PHOTO (right): Tucker and Tracey at the University of Guelph's "Take a Paws", a bi-annual stress-busting event for students at the UofG Library, December 2016.