by Elizabeth F. Baird, DVM, CVPP, CCRT, CVMA
Steele Pain Management & Rehabilitation Center for Animals is all about helping our pets enjoy long and pain-free lives with mobility and dignity. Using modern therapies such as therapeutic laser and pharmaceuticals and ancient techniques like acupuncture, we seek to manage pain so that our pets may enjoy longer & happier lives and we humans may share that precious extra time with our furry friends.
Our pain and rehabilitation center is named after Steele, a wonderful Doberman who impacted the lives of all our staff and so many of our clients. He was the most gentle and loving dog, a 105 pound goofball who loved people, dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets and kittens, the smaller the better. There's nothing quite as touching as seeing a worried 100 plus pound dog gently nudging a 2lb kitten who is slowly rousing from anesthesia and surgery. There was no better nurse than Steele.
Steele became our clinic mascot after a long convalesence from multiple orthopedic surgeries that required restricted exercise and confinement, which we couldn't manage at home. He became such a joy to the staff and clients, we could never really take him away from the hospital for long. Everyone came to love him and he became our official greeter and hospital mascot. He also became spoiled rotten with all his clinic family doting on him twelve hours a day!
Steele did not have the easiest start in life. We rescued him at 9 months of age and were already his third owners. He quickly bonded with our toddler and settled into our hectic household. He showed no signs of poor socialization despite his rocky start and adjusted rapidly to every situation that came his way.
All those many years ago when I attended veterinary college, pain management wasn't even a subject or even really acknowledged as a concern. Even in humans, physical therapy and rehabilitation were in their infancy. Professionally, I became interested in pain management as I sought better solutions to the pain problems I saw on a daily basis. My interest grew steadily in the last 10-12 years as more and more research became available to help us better understand pain management in various animal species.
And then, at the age of ten, Steele developed a very mild limp one day. My heart sank when I looked down and realized there was a small area of swelling over his wrist, one of the more common spots for osteosarcoma, a nasty bone tumor that is fairly common in larger dogs. As I waited for the x-rays to develop, I realized what we were likely facing. The x-rays indeed confirmed a small area of bone destruction typical of this aggressive cancer. The average survival time following diagnosis is a mere four months. And most of those dogs are euthanized due to uncontrollable pain. I vowed to do everything in my power to keep Steele mobile and pain-free as long as science and modern medicine would permit. My deep interest in pain management quickly became a passion. In the process of learning how to best help Steele, I spent hundreds of hours in post-graduate classes and seminars studying pain management. This ultimately culminated in my becoming certified as a specialist in veterinary pain management. It was a bittersweet victory as Steele was already gone by the time I passed the board examination and finished the certification process. But we were grateful that he lived eight months with full mobility and comfort, among his friends and family. Ultimately, the diseased bone fractured and became infected as a result of the cancer and we finally had to let him go.
Steele taught me so much about spirit and kindness and bravery. He was so strong throughout his cancer and remained his gentle and loving self. At some level, I truly felt he understood all that we were doing to try to make him feel good and remain comfortable longer... from radiation therapy and chemo to pain meds and massages. He taught me so much about pain and taught us all about loss. Thanks to Steele we understand better than ever how powerful it is to be able to relieve pain in our pets and help them remain mobile and happy longer. There is no greater gift we can give these animals or their owners. Thank you Steele, for teaching us so much and for sharing your wonderful, unique self with us. We will hold you in our hearts forever.