The Adventures of Skylar Grey

Chapter 25: There’s a mer-pit in the pool

Skylar’s hydrotherapy went swimmingly.

When I adopted Jazzy, I intended to buy pet insurance, but I kept putting it off. Then she needed TPLO surgery on her back left leg. It was $3,000. I decided there was no point in getting insurance at that point because her right leg surgery wouldn’t be covered due to the preexisting condition. That leg was an additional $3,000. And then she got cancer.

The day I brought Skylar Grey home from the shelter, I called Trupanion, which had been recommended to me by veterinarians at UC Davis, my own vet, Dr. Sherman Wong at Blue Cross Pet Hospital, and Michael Levy, the owner of Pet Food Express, who provides Trupanion for the pets of his employees. “What coverage do you want?” the customer service agent asked. “Everything,” I said. “And what deductible?” he asked. “None,” I said. “I want to be covered for everything with no deductible.”

The Trupanion policy was $68 a month. A year later, Skylar needed elbow dysplasia surgery. The cost: $8,000. Trupanion paid 90 percent. When Skylar’s surgeon, Dr. Sams, said that swim therapy was one of the best remedies for dogs postsurgery, I called Trupanion. “Do you cover swim therapy?” I asked. “Yes,” said the rep. “You have a rider for alternative therapies.” Like the surgery, Trupanion covered 90 percent.

Because Skylar and I were staying with Kickie during her recovery, I did some research and was thrilled to find that one of the pioneers in canine hydrotherapy was just a few miles from the house. Connie Frank, a registered veterinary technologist with 15-plus years in the field, was also one of the first canine swim therapists in the country and had 20 years of experience in water rehab with her company AquaDog. I called to make an appointment. “Does she like swimming?” Connie asked. “She loves swimming,” I said.

We headed to our first appointment on a sunny Friday afternoon, bag full of towels and toys in hand. When we got to the gate, Skylar heard splashing, voices, and other dogs barking. I had to drag her in like I do when she goes to the vet. Sky followed me cautiously through the side yard and when we turned the corner, she saw Connie in the pool with Buddy, a distinguished older golden retriever. To the side of the pool, under a shady canopy, Buddy’s dad and another dog parent were sitting and chatting. Everyone said, “Hello Skylar!” which sent her bolting for the gate. This was not going the way I had planned.

When Connie finished up with Buddy, she came over to meet Sky, who warmed up to her quicker than usual. “Here’s a floatation vest,” Connie said. “It will help keep her elevated and keep her ears dry.” I slipped the vest over Sky’s head and fastened it around her belly, as she stood frozen with fear. I took her favorite toy — a red squeaky chicken — from the bag and gently led her toward the pool where Connie was waiting at the steps. Skylar spent plenty of time swimming in the ocean, but she’d never even seen a pool. Expecting her to flee, I held the handle of the vest and gave Connie the chicken. “Ready Skylar?” Connie asked, squeaking the chicken several times. Suddenly Skylar plunged into the water and began circling Connie like a shark. Connie tossed the chicken and Skylar eagerly swam after it and brought it back to Connie, ready for another go. Once Sky was warmed up, Connie did some work on her elbows, feeling the joints for stiffness, creaking or cracking and testing the reach of her paws as she paddled in place.

“We’ll start with three shorter swims and work up to longer ones,” Connie explained. A final toss nearly to the end of the pool had Skylar scrambling like a mermaid on a mission. “I didn’t know pit bulls liked to swim,” said one of the other dog moms. “Mine always have,” I said. In fact, Jazzy would only fetch in the water. If I threw a toy on land, she would lie down in classic diva form and stare at me with those bright blue eyes as if to say, “You go get it.” Sky, on the other hand, loved to play fetch anytime, anywhere.

When we arrived at AquaDog for our second session, Skylar began whining the minute we turned the corner onto Connie’s street. She dragged me to the fence and through the side yard. “Hello Skylar!” Connie and the other dog parents under the canopy said. I put the swim vest on Skylar and she started dragging me toward the pool before I could get it buckled. Connie tossed the chicken and Skylar took off, paddling as fast her low-rider legs would carry her. “I think she’s going to do well,” Connie said. I smiled as Skylar glided past me, chicken in mouth, and looked up with those big green bug eyes to make sure I was watching her amazing mer-pit skills.

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