TLN member stories: A healing garden for canines

Corrie the Cairn Terrier in his "healing garden."

Corrie, enjoying some outdoor respite.

Who says healing gardens are just for people? Thanks to Marijean Stephenson, an RN and TLN member, for sharing this story:

One of my Cairn Terriers, Corrie, recently sustained a serious pelvic and spinal cord injury after being hit by a car. I returned home after working a night shift and found him at my doorstep, just waiting for me. While I was at work, Corrie had dug under the fence surrounding the yard and went out onto the road. He had apparently returned to that same place he had earlier escaped after sustaining his injury and scooted up to the doorstep of my house.

Corrie has been spending the past few days in a large veterinary ICU (Veterinary Referral Medical and Surgical Care) in Indianapolis. His prognosis is surprisingly good: he will not require surgery to repair his multiple fractures, and will eventually be able to romp around the yard like he normally had done. I had thought I would have to euthanize my dog. I still cannot believe this miracle.

After I got off work early yesterday evening, I drove to the hospital to visit him (this place has visitation 24/7). I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Corrie had been taken outside to their “healing garden” area by the veterinary staff. I wish I had been there to have taken a picture of my dog with his urinary catheter bag and IV pole, just lying on the grass and basking in the sun. It was explained to me that the hospital feels that taking a dog outside in a natural, outdoor setting helps the dog feel better, will assist with pain management, and breaks the boredom and depression for the dog after being stuck in a holding pen inside the veterinary hospital ward.

I visited Corrie again today and asked that we go outside.  The staff happily obliged.  There were two vet techs who put Corrie on a gurney, wheeled him out of his hospital wing and out the front door.  They lowered him to the ground while he was sitting on a sheepskin pad.  Corrie has some major spinal cord injuries and his pelvis has multiple fractures. His doctor is very strict about limiting any movement and/or exercise for a few weeks until his fractures have calcified and it’s safer to move around.

Nonetheless, once he was lowered to the ground, Corrie hobbled off the pad and onto the grass.  He did something which is rather miraculous for a dog (or human) with a severed spinal cord:  he peed!  Since most spinal cord fractures will adversely affect bowel and bladder function, Corrie’s ‘activity’ was truly a very exciting event.

Having spent several years working on various spinal cord units, I know how especially significant it is for spinal cord injured human males to be able to void.  (Hallelujah!  IT STILL WORKS!)

We always talk about gardens being important for patients, visitors, and staff. In this case, the patient is a dog. We don’t know of many “healing gardens” for pets; if you know of one or have a story you’d like to share, leave a comment here!

Marijean Stephenson has completed the Certificate of Merit Program for Healthcare Garden Design at Chicago Botanic Garden.  With a diverse background as a National Park Ranger and Registered Nurse, she is pursuing a career as a healthcare consultant for development of Healing Gardens.  Marijean and Corrie live with two other Cairn Terriers in the beautiful hills of southern Indiana.