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Therapy dog needs therapy himself

"Kaiser," a German shepherd therapy dog who has visited patients in several area hospitals in recent years, is in need of a surgical procedure himself. Submitted photo

A dog who's made many therapeutic visits over the years to patients in numerous Twin Cities-area facilities could use some therapy of his own these days.

"Kaiser," a nine-year-old German Shepherd, has been a regular sight in public hospitals, hospices, assisted-living residences and long-term rehabilitation centers in this portion of eastern Minnesota.

His periodic visits with convalescing patients or facility residents have brightened the stays -- either temporary or lengthy -- of plenty of people.

Vince Deschene, the dog's owner and handler, is a retired correctional officer who resides in Mahtomedi. For roughly the last four years, he and Kaiser have volunteered their time to interact with patients, families and staff personnel through personal appearances at various types of care facilities in the St. Paul/Minneapolis vicinity.

One of the locations for Kaiser's frequent hospital visits has been Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury.

Barbara Peterson, Woodwinds patient advocate, worked to bring animal-assisted therapy to Woodwinds.

"It's just such a delightful sharing between staff, the pets and patients and families," Peterson said in a previous Woodbury Bulletin interview.

Kaiser has also met residents at Oak Meadows Senior Living in Oakdale, and patients at St. John's in Maplewood and Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul.

They also make informative presentations on the therapeutic benefits of Kaiser's interaction with people, at places such as Valley Crossing Community School in Woodbury.

About a year ago, Deschene observed that Kaiser exhibited increasing stiffness in his left rear quarter when he walked or otherwise exerted himself. This became more apparent during hospital visits, as the floors in those buildings have hard surfaces.

"In the last several months I've even begun to notice him limping and favoring his left rear leg when he gets up from either lying on the floor or sitting for a sustained period of time," Deschene said.

"It's been getting difficult to watch him limp out of a patient's room (since) he's not the patient."

During a veterinary examination in May 2008, Deschene ordered x-rays taken of Kaiser. He was concerned that the dog might be developing hip dysplasia.

An abnormal formation of the hip socket, hip dysplasia is a condition that can result in crippling arthritis or lameness in severe cases, especially in larger canines such as Kaiser.

The test results, however, indicated Kaiser's hips were in good alignment.

Kaiser, it was determined, is actually suffering from a partially torn cranial cruciate ligament in his left rear "knee" -- the canine version of a torn ACL in humans. Because of this, Deschene's dog is developing arthritis.

The animal is being treated with "rimadahl," an anti-inflammatory medication that also reduces pain. Deschene reports that, while helpful, it is only a stop-gap measure.

Kaiser's surgical solution

According to Deschene, a more permanent solution to his dog's dilemma is a canine orthopedic surgical procedure known as "TPLO" -- tibial plateau leveling osteotomy.

"This surgery stabilizes the torn ligament and also keeps the femur bone from sliding downward, thereby eliminating instability," Deschene said. "The majority of the dogs which have this surgery achieve normal or near-normal function of the leg, which includes full weight-bearing."

The orthopedic procedure's price tag does not come cheaply, though. Deschene estimates the operation will cost roughly $3,000 -- an amount too high for him to pay on his own.

Deschene is therefore seeking outside contributions to pay for the operation.

"If I didn't use my dog so extensively to help and serve others, I probably would not be looking for assistance," Deschene said. "But he is so much more than just our family pet."

Persons wishing to help Kaiser get his surgery performed can make monetary donations at any Twin Cities-area Associated Bank location. This includes the branch office in Woodbury at 1835 Radio Drive and ones in White Bear Lake and Hudson, Wis.

Checks should be made out to the "Kaiser Deschene Fund." All donations are tax deductible and donors should obtain a receipt from the bank.