Animal Physical Therapy: Blazing New Trails

The Animal Medical Learning Center (AMLC) at OHS
The Animal Medical & Learning Center (AMLC) at OHS

You have probably heard that the Oregon Humane Society has its own veterinary medical center, which in itself is pretty big-time, considering that very few animal shelters have hospitals. Need knee surgery? No problem, Spot! Tumor cramping your style? We’ll just snip that out, Mrs. Fluffbottom! Mouth full of rotten teeth? We can solve that, Heidi, Conqueror of the Hobgoblins! (remind me to change that cat’s name when I am done with this) But what happens after the surgery? Or what if it’s something that is not a quick fix, such as chronic arthritis? That is where I come in!

When Shelter Pets Need More…

I run the OHS Animal Physical Therapy Program. The program is designed to give OHS all potential avenues for improving the health of our animals. Physical therapy allows us to use non-invasive therapies that complement our proven traditional veterinary methods to produce a higher level of overall medical treatment and quality of life for shelter animals suffering from acute or chronic physical debilitations. Fancy-sounding, right? Another way to think of it is that I step in when the veterinarians have finished their part, and I pull out all the stops to help the patient heal faster, become mobile, prevent long-term complications, reduce chronic pain and wake up every day they are at OHS with a higher quality of life.

I did not in fact create this program. Rather, I inherited it in 2013 when it was a small hydrotherapy program called “OHS Swim Team.” Dogs in need received hydrotherapy treatment from a few gracious providers. We had big hopes to grow the program and take it to the next level…which were shot down one month later when OHS busted the infamous Akita puppy mill, necessitating the opening of the Emergency Animal Shelter that has become legendary at this point. Akitas take a lot of effort. Feral Akitas take all of your effort it turned out, so we had to hit pause on our plans.

Go Big or Go Home

Lou at Laser Therapy
Lou at laser therapy

By the time our adventures with the Akitas wrapped up, I had had a lot of time to grind my mental gears on how to improve the program. My vision was to grow the program into a comprehensive physical therapy program, bigger than anyone expected. Go big or go home, baby!

I began communicating with veterinarians and therapists all over the greater Portland area, trying to gain new partners. I want to tell you that my charm and good looks made it happen, but I am often low on both of those currencies, so it was usually lots of free coffee and donuts that got our foot in the door.

At the start of this year we began pulling new treatment partners into the fold until we had all major forms of veterinary physical therapy at our disposal, provided by the best therapists and veterinarians that Portland has to offer. Our full roster of therapeutic options allows for maximum healing. We have hydrotherapy, cold laser therapy (pew! pew! pew!), veterinary chiropractic treatment, acupuncture and veterinary therapeutic massage.

A shelter kitty benefitting from acupuncture
A shelter kitty benefiting from acupuncture

Now our program is a juggernaut for helping animals in need, providing treatment Monday through Friday. Our dedicated volunteers drive animals to the providers for pro-bono treatments. Two providers are even mobile and come to us for in-house treatments. How cool is that?

I do not do it alone, though. I have two incredible assistants, Tara DeVita (OHS staff) and Quimby Lombardozzi (OHS volunteer), to help with coordinating volunteers and selecting new patients from among the shelter animals. This is how we do what we do, week after week, and considering that we have already treated over 200 animals this year, I would say that we’re firing on all cylinders!

Follow along with Quimby and see some of the pets enjoying their appointments here »

OHS: Blazing New Trails

Lastly, let me put all of this into perspective. The OHS Animal Physical Therapy Program is precedent-setting on a national level. No other humane society in the country has a physical therapy program on this scale. Other programs, which are few and far between, typically only treat dogs, whereas we help dogs, cats, rabbits and anything else that needs it. A few weeks ago we had a dwarf rabbit with hip ataxia receive chiropractic therapy. I mean, who does that? The Oregon Humane Society, that’s who! OHS blazes new trails, and the Animal Physical Therapy Program is but one of the newest of these trails that we decided to walk down when we saw that there was a need.

Contributed by: Tyler Norby, Oregon Humane Society Animal Physical Therapy Specialist

Tyler Gets a Thank You Smooch
Tyler Gets a Thank You Smooch


The Oregon Humane Society would like to thank the following partners for their unconditional support: