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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.

Nellie B. Dawg is brought to you by Tripawds.