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Okotoks dog owner's love, commitment has Pixie back

Border collie on the mend one year after serious spinal injury
Pixie the Dog BWC 3948 web
Robbi Motta-Fortin has helped her dog Pixie recover from a back injury through diligence and the assistance of Okotoks Canine Aquafitness & Veterinary Rehab Centre.

A member of man’s best friends is walking again with a little help from her friends. 

One year after sustaining a near paralyzing back injury, Pixie, a five-year-old border collie, is walking and running again, although at times with the use of a wheelchair.  

“She has come so far,” said Robbi Motta-Fortin, Pixie’s owner. “It’s been so worth it, just to watch the small changes.” 

The Fortins got Pixie when she was six weeks old and she was an active dog up until April of 2020 when she collapsed while playing at the family’s acreage south of Okotoks.  

“She was running for a ball and suddenly she just dropped,” Fortin said. “My husband (William) saw it first and he thought she was shot. When I looked, she was just flailing. I thought maybe she had come across a wasps’ nest.

“But when I got to her, she had no (movement in) her back end.” 

The Fortins gently picked Pixie up and took her to SAVE vet clinic in Okotoks, and from there she was forwarded to CARE in Calgary.  

“It was a Sunday night and at 12:30 a.m. we got a call from Dr. (Jose) Diaz saying they had done an MRI and wanted to do the surgery right away,” Fortin said. “We went to pick her up on the Thursday and Dr. Diaz said she (Pixie) had taken a turn for the worse and we needed to go back in.” 

Pixie had another surgery but when she was sent home in May of 2020 there was no feeling or sensation in her hind area.  

“They couldn’t give us any kind of prognosis, they just said it will be time,” she said. “They gave me physio exercises to give her about three or four times a day. She slept with me, so that in the middle of the night I could rotate her around, just like you were stopping somebody from getting bed sores.”  

Pixie began to respond to the physiotherapy.

However, the Fortins didn’t know whether it was reflexive or her showing real feeling.  

“She had a new reflex, every day, she would curl her toes, she would resist when I was trying to push her legs up, she would run in her sleep,” Fortin said. “One day when my husband came home, I had Pixie outside and she got so excited, when I grabbed her harness to take her towards my husband, her tail was wagging.  

“I looked at my husband and said is that voluntary or involuntary. He said: ‘That’s voluntary.'” 

In June of 2020 Pixie began receiving extensive treatment at the Okotoks Canine Aquafitness & Veterinary Rehab Centre on Elizabeth Street.

“Every week they gave me new exercises to work on,” Fortin said. “She had no feeling in her feet. I had to move her legs around, playing with her paws, pinching her toes, circular moments.” 

Pixie began using a “wheelchair” – wheels to help assist her walk and build her back legs. 

However, she initially over-compensated using her front legs too much. So, Fortin got creative.  

“I would hold on to the back of the chair and Pixie would have all her weight on the front, and I would be pulling,” she said. “I would let go and she would stumble. She figured out eventually, that: ‘Oh, if I don’t want to stumble in the front I have to balance out in the back.”'

Pixie also was like an Okotoks runner training for a race – taking advantage of the hills in town to build up strength.  

“I would make her go uphill – because she needed the back legs to go uphill,” Fortin said. “I was doing it at home, where the Frisbee golf is, along the BMX track on the Sheep River as long as there weren’t any kids there.” 

Pixie also ran on the water treadmill at Aquafitness. Eventually, Fortin began using small resistance bands on Pixie’s legs to help with the dog’s strength and balance. 

Since January, Fortin has been able to alternate between using the wheelchair and free-walking.  

“We have a hayfield at home, I will let her go without the wheelchair and let her sort it out and let her wander,” Fortin said. “Just let her be a dog.” 

The wheelchair is used when Pixie is fatigued and for physiotherapy exercise.  

“It’s still there in case she loses her balance,” Fortin said.  

Initially frightened by the wheelchair, now Pixie gets excited when Fortin pulls it out – it’s walk time.  

“She gets extremely excited,” Fortin said. “We’re going at a high-speed walk now. As time goes on, she gets stronger and more agile. 

“She is just using her body in a different way.” 

The thought of putting Pixie down never crossed Fortin’s mind.  

“No, because she’s my dog – I love her,” Fortin said. “She’s my world.”

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