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Her New Fourth Leg

Nellie the honorary Tripawd gets a custom fourth leg brace for better mobility and less pain getting around.

We think that for most of her life, Nellie has been unable to do many things that three and four legged dogs can do. When we adopted her, vets couldn’t tell how long she had a “carpal flexion contracture,” but they knew it had been at least a couple of years since her leg could completely extend and work properly. But now, her life may be changing for the better, thanks to a special orthotic that is already helping her enjoy better mobility.

Nellie's carpal flexion contracture orthotic for dogs
Her new nickname is “Bootsy”!

For two years, we have sought out vet opinions about what to do with her bad leg. Our favorite ortho vets at Colorado State suggested a little studied corrective surgery that would cut her carpal tendons so her paw could extend. Meanwhile, rehabbers recommended ongoing therapy to try to restore her mobility. But none could say with any certainty if their treatment would give Nellie normal movement again.

Amputation has always been a last resort, because Nellie still uses the wonky leg for some weight bearing, balance and moving objects. Amputation surgery would also put an even greater stress on her over-burdened spine and shoulder.

But recently, interviewing a guest for Tripawd Talk, we stumbled into a solution. The founder of TheraPaw, a canine orthotics and braces company, suggested trying a carpal brace attached to a “toe up” boot, like the kind made for dogs with degenerative myelopathy. Therapaw’s founder Ilaria believed a brace could support and straighten her wonky leg. The toe up device would gradually stretch her wrist as she put weight on the limb.

The device would be modeled after a rough draft that our Tripawds musher friends made a few weeks earlier while dog sitting Nellie for us. They took a “SAM Splint” device used to temporarily support a fractured dog leg. And they made it into a brace.

Once the Therapaw founder saw Nellie walking on the DIY device, she went to work on the real deal. The boot device would be an experiment. But Therapaw’s got a long track record of creating successful medical supports for dogs. We figured it was worth a shot. “Now why didn’t anyone else think of that?” we wondered.

A few weeks and one revision later, Nellie has gone from that painful, awkward gait to an almost “normal” quadruped movement that looks like this:

What a joy to see Nellie move like a four-legged dog!

The day we saw her walk like a quadruped brought tears to our eyes. She seems happier when she’s outside using that leg! We are taking it slow, extending her walks a little at a time. Her body hasn’t used many walking muscles for a long time.

She doesn’t use the boot inside, because we don’t want to keep her paw in a boot all day. So Therapaw is currently making an indoor version for her. It’s a bit lighter, without an boot.

We don’t know for sure if this is the answer. It requires constant monitoring for abrasions and it’s tricky to put on correctly. But we’re all getting the hang of this new normal, and not complaining!

Eventually we hope Nellie will have regained enough wrist extension to not need the brace at all. That seems like a dream, so for now, we’re taking it slow and easy. And we can’t be more thrilled to watch Nellie find new joys in a less painful and more mobile way of getting around.

Alaska Dog Days

Nellie is a real Alaska dog now. With temperatures in the minus 30 range, she toughed it out with us to make the most of arctic snow days.

Just when you think you know what cold is, Alaska is ready to show you otherwise. It’s been a real learning curve as we try to figure out how to give Nellie what she needs for enrichment, activity, and safety.

Alaska Dog Days Showed us What “Cold” is All About

During the last two weeks, temperatures here reached close to minus 40 Fahrenheit at the coldest, and minus 10 at the warmest part of the day.

Some days Nellie has more energy than others.
On some sub-zero days Nellie has more energy than others.

It was a good lesson to explore our tolerance for cold as a pack. We learned what Nellie’s limits are, and how much she is or is not willing to go outside to explore or just sniff around.

Nellie decides she wants to romp!
Nellie decides she wants to romp!

Over the last few weeks we’ve discovered just how much Ruffwear gear is helpful for weather like this.

See when winter began, we made up a rule that when the temperature drops below zero, Nellie doesn’t go outside without her Ruffwear Powder Hound jacket. We thought that was plenty of warmth, and it probably was. But when it got even colder than minus 20, we made up a new rule for our own peace of mind. We put her Climate Changer sweater on underneath it.

Then on the really cold days (lower than minus 20), we discovered something else about how Nellie handles extreme cold. She holds her paws up one at a time when she tries to walk on snow. Ouch! Thank dog for Ruffwear Polar Trex boots! No, they don’t keep her from sliding on super icy terrain. But they really protect her feet, and prevent snow from piling up inside the boots.

With all of her gear, she was comfortable enough, but none of us had so much fun we wanted to stay outside very long. Not even the toughest Alaska dogs are thrilled about cold like this.

What do you do when it’s too cold outside?

So when it was too miserable to do anything like walk more than 10 minutes, we spent some time with Nellie’s paint brushes.

Nellie dog painting on a canvas
Nellie’s doing a lot of painting in Alaska!

She made two paintings that we donated to a local auction. One sold for $50! The other one did too. Our neighbor bought it, and we still don’t know how much she paid for it!

paintings by Nellie the 3.5 legged dog
This is what you do when it’s too cold outside!

This week temperatures got “warm” again, back up into the low 20s.

I never thought I would believe that this is “warmer” weather. It’s preactically summer in these parts! But what a relief to get outside again, and spend more than a few minutes soaking up our vitamin D. Nellie appreciates the additional sunshine as much as we do.

Nellie in her Burley dog stroller and ski kit
Nellie and Jim on the lake

And now that we are back to eight-plus hours of daylight, we have even more reason to get outside and see the sights. That’s Jim and Nellie behind our cabin, checking out Denali way out in the distance.

Things could be worse, for sure. We are so grateful that our Alaska dog is having as much fun as we are on warmer days like this one. Let’s hope there’s lots more ahead before the “breakup” happens and all the snow turns to mud.

Hoppy New Year from Nellie of the North & Crew

Nellie of the North, Jerry (Rene) and Admin Guy (Jim) wish you and your Tripawds furmily a very hoppy new year!

On behalf of our Tripawds Spokesdog Nellie, a very hoppy new year to you and your furmily!

Nellie of the North Bad Art by https://codierae.tripawds.com
Pawesome art by @CodieRae’s mom, Martha!

We hope your season has been beautiful and peaceful. And cheers to fresh start in 2024 for everypawdy!

Nellie has had quite the white Christmas here. Even a couple of Krampus monsters came for a visit but she managed to convince them she’s been a good girl all year.

“Oh Krampus! I’ve been a good dawg!”

The Krampus (Krampi?) left, and Santa Paws visited instead. Then Santa brought Nellie the most incredible gift ever.

Nellie’s been a good girl in Alaska.

It’s so hard to believe another year is mere hours away, and even harder to believe that we are doing it from our little cabin in Alaska. We are getting into serious snow removal time, and Nellie is being a terrific supervisor when we break out the shovels.

Nellie watches Jim shovel snow
“Come on, a little faster please.”

As dark and cold as it looks here, life is beautiful in frozen North. There is so much to do and see when you put on the right gear and get outside.

Nellie's Christmas gift.
Nellie’s all about the indoor sports.

This California girl isn’t always a fan of gear or cold, but she’s learning how to adapt like we are. Some days she does really well outside and wants to keep going on the snowy trails.

Other days she just wants to play indoors. Sometimes her aches and pains are obvious, but they appear less now that she’s on the Librela medication for OA. We can already see a difference.

As the temperatures go into the sub-zero range (it’s -20 outside as I type this), we play it by ear to see what she wants to do once we gear up and head outside. She is a great sport and we are following her lead.

Willow Alaska trail
A trail just outside our door.

It’s time to get outside and see some daylight before it goes into hiding again. So from our pack to yours, may 2024 bring you all that you want and then some. Thank you for being part of our Tripawds family. We’ll see you in the new year!

Into Winter We Go!

Our Alaska winter is on and Nellie B. is getting more used to playing in extreme cold (and so are we!).

It was zero degrees today, and I guess that means winter is here in Alaska. As it gets colder, I feel more guilt knowing that we hauled Nellie up here to a place that might as well be on another planet. Remember, this is a doggie from California who has never known anything but mild weather.

Nellie's first "real" snow day.
Nellie’s first “real” snow day.

Nellie had no clue what lay ahead when we arrived in August. And if I have to admit, we were pretty clueless too (and still are!).

But we also know how much she loves the freedom up here. There’s lots more off-leash wandering, and crazy smells she’s never enjoyed before.

Like anything, there’s a price to pay for all this adventure. And right now, it’s the temperatures. Nellie has made it clear that she isn’t a fan of extreme cold or the dark days of winter.

Behind our cabin on Willow Lake, location of the Ididarod re-start in March.
Behind our cabin on Willow Lake, location of the Ididarod re-start in March.

Every morning it takes at least 15 minutes to get us, and her, dressed to go outside. Layer after layer we cover up, and then put on a headlamp because now it’s dark until about 9:30 am, and (then returns about 3:30 pm).

Finally, we make it outside to take her out to potty, and almost every time our walk lasts about 10 minutes at most. Without fail, she wants to come back inside as soon as she’s done.

Visiting the Odaroloc Sled Dogs
Visiting the Odaroloc Sled Dogs

Still, on other days, she has a blast. Especially when she visits the local teams of sled dogs. At the advice of our expert mushing friends, we are trying to let her coat acclimate. The colder it gets, they tell us, the more her coat will thicken and keep her warm. As a double-coated dog, we are supposed to be doing her a favor by letting her go outside naked!

But I can’t do it, at least all the time. So as a compromise, she only wears her Ruffwear Climate Changer fleece sweater when temps dip to about 10-degrees. And when it drops down to sub-zero, she wears her Ruffwear Powder Hound puffer jacket. Our musher friends say that’s totally fine.

"Let me lick that sweat so you don't go hypothermic, mom!"
“Let me lick that sweat so you don’t go hypothermic, mom!”

We suspect that osteoarthritis could be why she isn’t a fan of cold. So we found a great vet nearby and started her on Librela, the prescription monoclonal antibody therapy for OA that just made it to the US. She is also taking a new, interesting joint supplement called Jope. We’ll fill you in on both very soon.

Another crazy thing we’ve learned is how to walk her on ice. WOW that has been an eye opener. I’ll save that for another post, because we have learned a LOT about ice and dog booties. Anyone with a Tripawd, or other special needs or senior dog who lives in icy conditions during winter has my deepest respect and admiration!

Snow Day!

Nellie plays in her first snowfall in Willow, Alaska, October 2023

We are pretty sure this Northern California girldog has never seen anything like it.

Nellies First Snow October 2023 Willow Alaska
“Um, what is this stuff?”

The white stuff rained down from the sky last week, surprising all of us. “What? Already?” we thought. All of us woke up to see a wintery wonderland in our yard.

Nellie was curious, and with her best brave German Shepherd attitude, went out on our deck to investigate.

Nellie investigates her First Snow October 2023 Willow Alaska
You mean I can PLAY in it?”

She LOVES the stuff! Only thing is, she tried eating it up too. Mouthfuls of it!

Nellie eats snow October 2023 Willow Alaska
“I got it!”

We remembered how Wyatt Ray did that when he saw snow. Well, he pretty much thought anything was edible. Once we took him to the Pacific Coast and he wouldn’t stop eating sand. He started shoveling tons of it into his mouth and pooped sand for weeks!

We hope Nellie is more discerning. And we also hope the snow doesn’t pose too much of a problem for her wonky leg and arthritis. That’s something we will keep a close eye on this winter.

Nellie eats a snowball
“Can you add some bubblegum flavor to it?”

She had a blast though, and so did we. There’s nothing like seeing a dog’s reaction to snow, especially when they’ve probably never seen it before.

The snow stuck long enough to toss a few snowballs around. But it disappeared by the end of the afternoon. I can’t say we were sad about that.

Nellie was bummed though, she wanted more playtime in the white stuff.

Don’t worry Nellie, there is plenty more where that came from. Just you wait little Snow Princess!

Nellie B. Dawg is brought to you by Tripawds.
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