In Chicago's northwest suburbs there lives a Pit Bull/Mastiff All-American dog by the name of Roosevelt who with the help of his foster mom, Kelly Michael and rescue advocate, Sarah Lauch, plus volunteers from the animal welfare community, he is not letting the weeds smother out the flowers. On the day Roosevelt was rescued from Chicago Animal Care & Control (CACC) everyone following his story rejoiced in the knowledge he would be getting the medical care required and begin the process to his forever home.
After being in isolation for 15 days, due to the Canine Flu epidemic that swept through CACC, he began the vetting process. On the day Roo, short for Roosevelt, was undergoing surgery at the veterinarian to remove his damaged teeth, the veterinarian discovered bone cancer. For as jubilant as everyone was with his freedom from CACC, suddenly a cloud had washed away the joy.
Roosevelt apparently didn't get the memo that life would soon be over. He continues to gain weight, unwillingly takes baths every two days to combat his skin condition and found his best friend forever in Fifty the Two-legged Pitbull. Roo is quite possibly the happiest dog alive and as we are constantly learning from our canine companions, he is living in the moment. He may not know when his time will come to an end, but in the meantime his garden of memories thrives with new friends & adventures everyday. Roo has a community Facebook page and the hash tag #LiveLikeRoo that can be followed on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for the latest updates.
On Sunday, June 20th, Chicago School of Canine Massage (CSCM) had their turn to "#LiveLikeRoo" when he paid their class of training therapists a visit. Roo, Fifty and sassy sister Izzy pulled up to the front doors of For Your K9 training facility in Melrose Park, IL, where he was greeted with a welcome sign encouraging all who entered the building to, "Live Like Roo".
The trio entered the building to signs posted along the hallway walls, proclaiming "Be Inspired", "#LiveLikeRoo" calling attention to the day's celebrity canine guests. Entering CSCM rooms the occupants sighed at the sight of this unique group, as Roosevelt began making the rounds doling out kisses and cuddles to the awaiting admirers. During this past month, he must have been paying attention to his buddy Fifty, an ambassador therapy Pitbull, as Roo worked the room like a pro.
Following the completion of intake information, each settled in for a massage, not once, but three times. CSCM founder and lead instructor, Denise Theobald encouraged her students to get "hands on" the dogs. Each dog presented a different issue and as CSCM instructors explained to the students the benefits and necessity of massage for each dog, I sat in on Denise's session with Roo.
Denise carefully worked her hands throughout Roo's body, explaining at this point in Roo's case the cancer has metastasized, there is no treatment plan and the what the main goal of the massage therapist would be at this stage.
I asked Denise, "Is massage therapy still a useful option for Roo?"
She explained, "Basically what we are providing is palliative, end of life care. The relaxation and comfort that massage brings along with the physical pain relief are the major reasons to provide. Since Roo isn't going through treatment he isn't experiencing some of the stress associated for some because of treatment."
Continuing, she shared, "To be specific I have asked Kelly for records and exact diagnosis and time line. This gives us a bit more info on the type of cancer, any contraindications and ways to make him feel better. This comfort care that is given for dogs at end of life is also very comforting and empowering for the dog's owner. Gently passive range of motion can be used to get joints and tissue moving when many times the dog cannot move on their own."
Personally have benefited from massage therapy as a chronic illness survivor, I asked if she seen any correlation between chronically ill humans and chronically ill canines.
"It has been documented that most people with chronic disease and who are at the end of life, will experience more pain and discomfort from immobility and depression than from the actual disease itself. This is where massage can really help. Massage can passively remove excess medication and toxic waste from the body and stimulate the nervous system to shut down nociceptors that cause pain", she said as Roo glanced up at her with a grin upon his face.
In short, yes, massage therapy is still a prevalent manner in which to give care to Roo. The therapist can play a role in easing bodily tensions, aiding the canine to cross over in a calm and accepting state of mind.
In a blog post to the CSCM site, Denise wrote, "what we do requires knowledge, time, intuitive cultivation and experience, and that it is just as much an art form as it is a scientifically-proven modality. Instead of working from our heads, we work from our hearts, then our hands and finally from all of the knowledge learned through the years" when discussing massage therapy becoming more widely accepted in the animal medical community.
If you need proof, just ask Roo or Chicagoland's favorite breed ambassador, Fifty The Two-Legged Pitbull who has been visiting Denise for years undergoing treatment to maintain his quality of life.
Their visit wasn't over yet, as the trio was escorted to the For Your K9's Nose Work Instructors "train the trainer" class at the other end of the facility. Without hesitation, the crew bounded in the door and as Fifty headed for the sofa, Roosevelt began making the rounds, introducing himself. This of course brought out the trainers treat bags and soon everyone was fast friends. Following a photo opportunity and gifting of Floppy Ears Pup Pops, it was time to bid farewell.
In discussing the visit with the FYC trainers, the point was made to me that all dogs should be living life as if they were dying. In fact, the same could be said for people as pointed out in the Tim McGraw hit song, "Live like you were dying". I asked For Your K9's, President & Lead Instructor, Nancy Reyes to give me her philosophy on sharing one's life with a dog.
"Sharing our lives with dogs is a journey like none other. Their innocence and unconditional love allows us to feel a contentment and partnership deep within.
Sadly, our dogs don't live long enough, some are with us for a short time and others a bit longer, but it's still never long enough. Each animal we love teaches us something about ourselves good or bad, enjoy each moment with your pets, you never know how long your have together".
She continued,"Socialization and new experiences doesn't have an age limit for dogs. Sharing in life's little adventures and everyday routines is important to the health and emotionally well-being of your dog. Those experiences nurture the bond between canine and human.
What Kelly and Sarah are giving Roo should be taking place in our dogs lives from the very beginning. Don't wait until the dog is tragically ill or at the end of their days. I encourage all of our clients and friends to make that bucket list now and enjoy every moment with your best friend".
Wherever Roo travels on his bucket list adventures he brings a light and touches the hearts of each person he encounters. In meeting Roo and learning his backstory, one can't help but feel sadness; Roo quickly erases that sadness with a big grin and lean-in for a pet.
Roo's truth is he doesn't have time for sadness; he is more concerned with the moment, because right now his life is pretty damn good.
Thank you to Kelly Michael, Sarah Lauch, Chicago School of Canine Massage, For Your K9, Inc, Josh Feeney Photography and Nivan Wynn of Floppy Ears, Inc.