Guest writer Nomi Berger is interviewing and writing about some of the “pit bull heroes” in our community. In this post, she writes about Elsa, a dog who is truly a survivor. “Whatever she has experienced, she has more than endured,” Nomi reflected after learning Elsa’s story. “Whatever she has suffered, she has more than survived. She has triumphed!”
At just under four years old, Elsa has already lived several lifetimes in her single one. At the age of three months, she was one of a large group of puppies seized by the SPCA in a high-profile cruelty case. HugABull promptly placed the tiny blue and white pit bull pup in foster care, and two months later, she was adopted by Kelly, husband Nik ,and stepdaughter Kalyx.
For the next nine months, Elsa battled and overcame severe mange, parasites, and an acute respiratory infection. Despite a long recovery with many setbacks, she emerged from the lengthy ordeal a remarkably energetic, athletic, and sociable dog.
Then, two months later, while playing at her favorite doggie daycare, the 14-month-old suffered a fibro cartilaginous embolism — a blockage of the blood vessels between her T1 and T2 vertebrae — leaving her paralyzed from the T2 vertebra down. Her stunned and anguished pet parents decided, without hesitation, that Elsa, their feisty and spunky Elsa, would begin a program of rehabilitation as soon as it was feasible.
For the next 19 months, Elsa and her loving, supportive family worked steadily, with dedication and determination, day after day, week after week, on her physiotherapy. They were heartened by the fact that her progress was steady and that, as the months passed, Elsa continued to make great strides in her mobility. Although the schedule was rigorous, Elsa’s perseverance paid off, as gradually, she learned the mechanics of walking again.
One day, during one of her routine sessions at the rehab centre, a couple passed her on their way to see some of the staff. They were there to thank them for having helped their beloved family companion, a Rottweiler, who had recently passed away. Upon meeting Elsa, they were so moved by her happy, loving spirit that they not only made a donation towards her rehabilitation, they admitted that she had changed their notions and preconceptions about pit bulls in general. This ultimately inspired them to adopt a pit bull of their own through HugABull.
When Elsa was two, Kelly registered them for the pet visitation program at BC Pets and Friends. This non-profit organization has, for thirty years, been providing free pet visitations to long-term care facilities on the Lower Mainland. They screen and train volunteer pet-owner teams to interact with the disabled, elderly, chronically ill and mentally ill in an institutional setting, then help them select the facility they will visit on a regular basis.
Team Elsa-Kelly passed the screening process and the irrepressible Elsa was certified to be a pet visitation dog at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver. And so began their weekly visits to the Centre, where Elsa, most appropriately, provided friendship, support and encouragement to people with brain and spinal cord injuries.
One of Kelly’s proudest moments was in November, 2012, when Elsa was chosen to appear live at a seminar in Victoria, hosted by TV’s “Dog Whisperer”, Cesar Millan. Touched by Elsa’s ability to inspire people to never give up, Millan noted that she was a “rescue dog that has gone on to do something extraordinary.”
But the best was still to come. One year later, three-year-old Elsa was honoured at a ceremony held by the BC SPCA, where she was awarded the “Animal Hero Award 2013” for her triumph over adversity and her community service.
Today, Elsa, the indomitable Elsa, continues her weekly visits at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, doing what she does best: making people happy. Brightening their days, boosting their morale and showing them, by example, that uphill battles can indeed be won.
She spends the rest of her time living the life of the luckiest dog alive. Rarely apart from her adoring family, she accompanies them on fishing trips, road trips and camping trips. She chases after sticks at the beach and even goes on hikes – albeit with a slight, hind wobble – but always with that special bully wag to her tail.
Written by Nomi Berger. Nomi Berger can be found at www.furever.ca