Paralyzed dog regains ability to walk in Nevada County |

Paralyzed dog regains ability to walk in Nevada County

Fran Cole with her dog Leah, a four-year-old female border collie, at her house in Grass Valley on Sunday. Leah was temporarily paralyzed after being kicked in the face by a deer, but regained the ability to walk with help from area experts and neurologists at UC Davis.
Teresa Yinmeng Liu/ |

As a 4-year-old border collie, Leah typically trails owner Fran Cole around the family ranch while Cole feeds horses and goes about her daily chores, occasionally enjoying a ride or two in the back of Cole’s car when the temperature cools down.

But those simple joys vanished one evening last December. Leah disappeared for a night and the next day, Cole received a call from Brighton Greens Veterinarian Hospital after someone had dropped an injured Leah off the night before. Leah suffered a laceration across the face from what was presumed to be a kick by a deer.

What was not apparent at the time was that the injury had paralyzed Leah. Though it was not known at first whether Leah would recuperate, or even live, Leah regained mobility within months of her injury with help from the neurology team at UC Davis Veterinarian Medical Teaching Hospital and area experts.

“I want to give people with very sick animals hope, even when things look as dire as they did in her situation,” Cole said. “If you have the right talent involved, and if you go to a facility like (UC Davis), they can make it happen.”

Leah was paralyzed in all four limbs after the kick from a deer detached her skull from her spinal cord. Even a neurologist at UC Davis who treated her announced that it would be the biggest feat of his residency if Leah walked again.

But walk she did, through a journey that made her the case of the month at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, and the subject of news stories on four Sacramento television stations.

“It was the biggest miracle I have ever seen,” Cole said. “I’ve spent money on animals before, and had really sick ones, but they never recovered.”

When Leah showed no sign of recovery over Christmas, Cole decided to embark on a road trip to UC Davis Veterinary Hospital, a facility almost two hours away from her home in Grass Valley, as a last-ditch effort to save her dog.

After arriving at Davis, Leah was put under the care of neurologists Dr. Pete Dickinson and Dr. Karen Vernau, along with neurology resident Dr. Devin Ancona.

Doctors diagnosed Leah with atlanto-occipital luxation — the dislocation of the skull from the spine. She also sustained fractures of the first vertebra and the back of the skull.

During a nearly eight-hour surgery, doctors drilled away the top of Leah’s first vertebrae and a small area in the back of her skull, a step necessary to decompress the spinal cord and release pressure from the back of her brain and spinal cord.

Leah was transported to the Intensive Care Unit and subsequently to the Intermediate Care Ward. After several nights of close monitoring, she got the green light to go home.

“They said usually the animal doesn’t survive,” Cole said. “It must have been so close.”

Cole admitted to feeling disheartened at times, and wondered whether she was doing the right thing.

“It was always there, that fear that you are keeping an animal alive for the wrong reasons, because you don’t know until the end if what you are doing is going to work,” she said.

But throughout her entire journey, Leah has gone about her normal routine, and even developed an appetite three times bigger than before she sustained the injury, Cole said.

“At no point in time did she seem like she was ready to give up, you know,” said Cole. “She has a very strong will to survive.”

It was gradual at first, but Leah slowly regained her mobility. First she started barking to go outside, and then she began to make small stepping motions.

To help Leah strengthen her muscles, Cole enrolled her in rehabilitation at West Coast Equine Sports Therapy in Penn Valley, where Leah runs on a water treadmill a few times a week.

But other than that, Leah is pretty much back to her normal routine, running behind Cole while she feeds her horses and digging in the bushes for critters.

“She uses so much energy to be mobile, and she gets tired, but she is pretty much back to everything she did,” Cole said, “from being quadriplegic to normal activity in a short amount of time. It’s amazing.”

To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, please email, or call 530-477-4236.

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