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Dog Osteopathy


In my endless search for a diagnosis, or just relief of my physical symptoms, I’ve been to cardiologists, pulmonologists, endocrinologists, rheumatologists and neurologists; there have been all sorts of medications, and physical therapy, and vision therapy, and massage, and acupuncture, and yoga. After this summer’s adventure with the lumbar puncture and anti-seizure drugs, Mom decided I should try osteopathic manipulation – just because.

The first appointment with the osteopath was a history taking marathon. She took endless notes on her pieces of paper, with all of the words going in different directions, with arrows and circles and overlaps.    She took height and weight and blood pressure, and then examined my eyes, and mouth, and reflexes. I kept hoping that all of these examinations would lead to some new understanding of why I have trouble walking, or why I have terrible headaches, or why I’m so exhausted, but she just kept asking more questions.

I had to come back the next day for the rest of the first visit, so that she could check my alignment. She poked at my shoulders, and shoulder blades, and hips, and ankles, to see if they matched up or were out of whack. My shoulder blades seemed especially fascinating.

Then I had to lie down so she could check everything again: hips, pelvis, ankles, and knees, and who knows what else had to be marked on a body map. And then the lights were turned off and the magic table lifted up and the power in the whole building went out. I wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or a bad one: either I brought my bad luck with me into the building, or I was so powerful that I could disrupt electrical currents. The doctor didn’t mind the extra darkness; she just went on searching out different points on my body, and pressing them, and swaying.

There was one spot on my upper back that made my stomach grumble, which was interesting, at least to me.

The doctor spent a lot of time on my neck and head, pulling and pressing and doing different hand formations, stretching skin on my nose and across my jaw and on my forehead. It was a bit woo woo for me, actually, but I seem to be willing to try just about anything.

I didn’t actually feel better when the treatment was over. My head still hurt, my body ached, and I didn’t walk very well. If anything, I was more exhausted afterwards, and I felt like my Serotonin stores had been depleted by all of the pressing and poking. But I kept going back.

After a few treatments, I started trying to reenact the work on Cricket. I would press on either side of her spine, locate tension, and mark where her shoulder blades and ribs and tail bone were. I worked on her jaw and cheeks and ears and neck. I don’t know if it helped, but she liked the attention and she yawned when an especially tense point relaxed. I kept hoping I’d find a hidden spot between her ribs, or below her ear, that would make all of her anxiety slip away.

Cricket is ready for her treatment. Ducky too.

Cricket is ready for her treatment. Ducky too.

I asked the doctor if I could bring Cricket in for a professional treatment, but she said her bosses would frown on it. As if dogs are germier than people. Cricket keeps herself very clean, and she’s got hypoallergenic hair, and she really does need help balancing her chi.

Cricket is always tied up in knots.

Cricket is always tied up in knots.

It’s possible that Cricket, the runt of her litter, never finished building up her nervous system. Maybe there are too many nerve bundles close to her skin, or glitches in her back legs, from the two knee surgeries she had as a little one. Maybe some of her nerves knotted up during the surgeries and clogged her messaging system.

She seems to need a lot of work on her throat, where all of the barking comes from, and her neck, where she tries to pull out of her collar, and her face is especially tense, from all of those frowning and growling muscles.

Spinal balancing?

Spinal balancing?

I tried the homemade treatments on Butterfly too, and it made me even more aware of how different their skeletons are; the shape of their shoulder blades and rib cages, the placement of muscles, and where they store tension. Butterfly needs special attention to her heart center, which on her is a wide expanse under her collar. She has a prolapsed heart valve, but she’s not on medication yet. She goes in for echocardiograms every six months to make sure things don’t get worse. But she also uses her heart so much every day, offering sympathy, expressing love, and wishing everyone well; that’s the muscle in her body that gets the biggest workout.

Butterfly showing her heart center, and her tongue.

Butterfly showing her heart center, and her tongue.

Butterfly, after treatment.

Butterfly, after treatment.

Butterfly has been very patient with her treatments. Meanwhile, Cricket has been standing on my chest, demanding more and more osteopathy while I’m trying to read, or sleep, or hide under the covers. I started out wanting to help rewire her nervous system, but I think I may have created a monster.



Petting Dogs


My dogs are scratchy gluttons. If I keep going with the scratchies for as long as they ask, first they yawn, then they close their eyes, then they start to relax into mush, and then they don’t need any more scratchies because they are asleep.

"Excuse me. I'm getting my scratchies now."

“Excuse me. I’m getting my scratchies now.”

If Cricket’s feeling grumpy and I start to scratch her head and ears and under her chin, I can almost see the neurons making better connections in her brain and sending calming signals throughout her body.

"I'm not sleepy at all. More scratchies."

“I’m not sleepy at all. More scratchies.”

Given the amount of petting my dogs seem to need every say, I wonder how humans survive on so little. Just to get through a harried day of walks and meals and naps, Cricket tells me, she needs at least an hour of petting. She knows instinctively that petting is good for her, that it makes her feel better – whether it’s freeing up her chi, releasing neurotransmitters, or relaxing her muscles, she feels better because of it.

Butterfly loves her scratchies.

Butterfly loves her scratchies.

And, finally, Cricket has been scratched enough.

And, finally, Cricket has been scratched enough.

Dogs are safe to touch, because we aren’t afraid that they will misconstrue our attentions, and because if they don’t want to be touched they are not so polite that they will continue to allow contact, the way humans will. Humans are often too polite for their own good, trying not to hurt someone else’s feelings and sacrificing their own safety instead.

Touch between humans can go so quickly from comforting to threatening. If someone you like and trust squeezes your shoulder or gives you a hug, that can make you feel better. But if someone you don’t like, or don’t know, does the same thing, the violation of boundaries can be overwhelming. We have so many (necessary) rules in place to protect us from unwanted and threatening human contact, but not much has been clearly stated about what kinds of healthy touch we need.

Medicine is often practiced from a distance, through scans and blood tests and a few vague questions, but there’s a lot to be said for the idea that touch can be used to diagnose, and especially to treat, certain problems. Touch in general can be a way to transmit kindness, which is one of the most healing things we can give each other.

My mother has been having nerve pain and numbness in her feet for the past few years and numerous doctors and tests and medications have failed to relieve, or even to diagnose the cause of the problem. Feeling desperate, Mom finally took the recommendation of a friend and tried a cranial sacral therapist. He’s a doctor of osteopathy and covered by Medicare, so she figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot.

He talks about moving plates in her skull and other hoo haa things that don’t make much sense to me when Mom reports back about her visits, but as a result of these treatments, her pain is going away. And with each visit, the pain stays away longer and longer. I don’t understand any of it, but it seems to be working.

I’ve had a few EEG’s over the past few years and, though I’m not a fan of the 24 or 48 hours of traipsing around with machinery attached to my head, I love how it feels as the little sensors are individually attached. I don’t know why this is such a magical feeling. I feel the same thing when my hair gets shampooed before a haircut. It’s not the same as a massage, where only skin is being touched. I wonder if this is what petting feels like to my hair-covered dogs, as if the touch reaches down to the root of the hair, deeper than the skin.

In summer camp, girls braided each others hair or drew letters on each other’s backs with a finger, as an excuse to touch and be touched. And it relieved some of the homesickness we all felt.

My dogs try to pet me, each in her own way. Cricket paws at me, or lifts my hand with her nose, when she wants me to scratch her, and then cuddles into my side or onto my lap. Butterfly noses my head if I’m exercising on the floor. She likes to sniff my hair or my armpit and then sit there and stare at me while I do my crunches. But her real offering is the way she licks my hands with such love and care. It’s not quite the same as petting, but it might actually be better.

Butterfly lickies on the way.

Butterfly’s licks are on the way.

The Scratchy Glutton

Cricket requires pretty significant scratching sessions every day. She jumps onto my chest while I’m sleeping or reading, and stands tall on all four legs, and if I don’t get the message quickly enough, she paws or noses my face or my hand to get things started.

Usually, just because I think I’ve been thorough does not mean the session is over. And she lets me know I’ve been precipitate by scratching at my hand or face again, climbing off my chest to find the errant hand if necessary. She seems to know that extra scratchies make her brain feel better and make her whole self more relaxed.

She makes a point of moving around to make different points available. First, her face itches. She has allergies, so under her eyes and around her nose and near her ears all need extensive scratching. Then the top of her head and around her neck. Then she’ll lie back and lift one arm so her chest is available to be scratched. She does not like her feet touched. This is an important rule.  Her back and sides need scratching next. Then I stretch her ears and rotate them a bit. I stretch her arms up and do some hamstring and quad stretches. She can go forty five minutes, at last count, though it’s been a while since I’ve had the patience to do such a thorough job. If she’s standing on her own four feet, she tends to walk forward, about an inch at a time, like she’s walking though a car wash to make sure every inch gets thoroughly scratched.

Cricket would be a perfect candidate for a full on massage session, with candles and oils and soft music, as long as no one goes near her toes or her ears or tries to remove poop or eye goop.

I worry that Cricket is especially itchy. She gets a runny nose during allergy season and scratches her head on my sheets while making a kind of desperate foghorn sort of noise. It’s almost as if she’s sneezing and barking and crying all at once, and I can hear her paws scratching fiendishly. I’m surprised my sheets have lasted so well, really, with all the time she spends trying to dig through to the mattress.

I never had a dog who sat on my lap and asked for scratchies this much. Sometimes I think she’s very attached to her people, and in need of a lot of love and affection from us, but then other times, I think she’s just damned itchy and looking for some relief.