Tuesday, Oct 16, 2018
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Old Orchard class teaching puppy to walk

Students learn much about science, health

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    Liam rests between his attempts to walk for the students. He ap­pears to be what is called a ‘swim­mer puppy,’ char­ac­ter­ized by weak leg mus­cles that pre­vent stand­ing and walk­ing.


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    Liam approaches Johnna Ruiz, left, and Adrian McPherson, both fourth graders. Old Orchard Elementary School teacher Jean Keating uses Liam, a 9-week-old foster puppy, to supplement her students in learning in many subjects.

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The plan was to get him from Point A to Point B, but, as puppies often do, Liam had other ideas.

He made a beeline off the hard floor in Old Orchard Elementary School classroom last week, hustling back to a section of carpet and his blanket as students laughed and scrambled to catch him.

“He wants to stay on the carpet more than on the slippery floor,” said 7-year-old Jennisa Bonds, a second grader. “It’s like ice to him, so he doesn’t want to go on there.”

Teacher Jean Keating, who also heads up the Lucas County Pit Crew, brings her now 9-week-old foster puppy to school each day.

“He’s been great with the kids,” Ms. Keating said. “He is getting so much better.”

Liam was surrendered April 19 to the Lucas County Canine Care and Control because he could not walk.

“His brothers and sisters were fine,” former owner Steven Taylor of North Toledo said. “When they got to walking, [Liam’s] legs started to spread out.”

Julie Lyle, director of the county shelter, said Liam appeared to be what is called a “swimmer puppy,” characterized by weak leg muscles that prevent standing and walking. Instead, the pups try to pull themselves around by making swimming motions with their front legs.

“I’ve only seen a couple in my career,” Ms. Lyle said. Liam “was better off than some.”

With help getting into position, Liam could stand but couldn’t walk more than a few awkward steps before face-planting.

“He played and moved around the best he could,” Mr. Taylor said. “I would have kept him, but couldn’t handle what he needed.”

Liam was transferred into the care of the Pit Crew on April 20. Dr. Brooke West of West Toledo Animal Hospital said the pup’s condition may have been caused by a neurological issue, improper formation of muscle, a nutritional problem, or some other factor.

“It’s hard to say exactly what he may or may not have,” she said. “His bone structure is normal. He has no defects or deficits other than being a bit weak in his legs.”

Ms. Keating and a few groups of students have been working with Liam each day, helping him build muscle and stamina through physical therapy while they learn lessons in biology, math, general science, and other subjects.

“We had talked about how we would, in a more scientific way, measure improvement instead of just visually seeing it,” Ms. Keating said. “They came up with measuring how far he can travel.”

The children are understandably enthralled by their four-legged classmate, and are taking full advantage of the opportunity while it lasts.

“I get to play with him, and it helps build up his strength,” Jennisa said.

At first, Liam simply pancaked on the classroom’s hard floor because he couldn’t get enough traction. While he still prefers the carpeted area, he’s now able to stand up and walk on the more slippery surface.

“One of his back legs will kind of go out on him when he gets tired, but every day is noticeably better,” Ms. Keating said. “It’s encouraging that he’s improved so dramatically. Maybe another week or two and no one would ever know.”

Liam also gets at-home therapy each evening with Ms. Keating. She holds him in a plastic tub of water and he instinctively paddles, working his leg muscles with the correct gait.

Dr. West noted Liam could develop other symptoms as he grows, but his overall prognosis is very good.

“It looks very promising,” she said. “He looks as though he will probably have a normal life.”

The Pit Crew placed Liam up for adoption Monday. Any prospective adopters are to vow to continue the pup’s physical therapy, and should email pitcrewapplication@gmail.com if interested in him.

Contact Alexandra Mester: amester@theblade.com, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.

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