By Leslie Gallagher McMahon, certified canine rehabilitation technician, owner of Two Hands Four Paws, a canine therapy/wellness center in Los Angeles.

I came to the world of canine “rehabilitation” (we cannot use the term physical therapy for animals it is a protected term for humans only and then of course when I tell people that I do canine rehab they always comment that they never knew dogs had addiction problems, LOL!) by an unusual route. I grew up on a farm in Northern California and spent my entire childhood riding horses, showing sheep, grooming rabbits, pulling the neighbors chickens out of my Labrador’s mouth, staring for what seemed like hours into the cows eyes (if you’ve ever looked closely at a cow’s eye the iris looks like a piece of All Bran), cleaning the barn and collecting every animal I could get my hands on.

The day I got my learners permit, I drove to the humane society and picked out a beautiful young German Shepherd and brought her home with me. It never occurred to me that my parents might take issue with this. They had a desperately unhappy marriage and to avoid the ugliness I spent every waking minute out in the barn with all my animals. In hindsight I realize that those animals saved my life. I could not have survived my childhood without them.  I spent many a night sleeping in the barn, oblivious to the rats and mice who lived there as well.

I always thought that I would be a veterinarian as UC Davis was so nearby. What I didn’t count on was my complete inability to pass any and all math classes. So I majored in International Relations and worked for a decade as the Assistant to Big Deal Mogul. I loved this job. It was glamorous, paid a fortune and involved flying all over the world in private jets with him.  When he died I was devastated. He left behind in one of his homes a middle aged German Shepherd, whom his wife promptly asked me to euthanize. ‘Who would want her?”,  she rationalized.  Well of course I refused to kill this sweet older dog so she fired me and I added Sophie (the wife didn’t know what her name was so I named her Sophie) to the mix of dogs already in my home. She went from being an obese, extremely depressed and quiet dog to a slim, silly, happy member of the pack who had barking contests with my husband. I adored her especially as she was a connection to my beloved boss and was the last pup of his two favorite dogs.

One day I took her to the groomer for a bath and when I picked her up she was paralyzed. I was shocked beyond belief. The groomer denied having dropped her in the tub and breaking her back but that was exactly what had happened. It was devastating. Every vet that I took her to told me to euthanize her, that there was nothing they could do. I tried homeopaths, holistic meds, acupuncture, chiropractic, raw diets, you name it. I would have stood on my head, stuffed garlic up my nose and chanted in Hebrew if I thought it would have helped her. I spent six months taking her from place to place trying to find ANYONE to help her. Her front legs were fine, it was just her back legs that didn’t work. Finally someone suggested swimming as a therapy. I asked several neighbors and finally one of them agreed to let me use their pool. Two months later she was walking again, all by herself. I could not believe that there was no one in LA that knew about this kind of therapy or was doing anything like this to help animals. It was going to have to be me.

So as I’d lost my job anyway working for the billionaire’s wife, I started volunteering as a veterinary technician in the hospital of a veterinary surgeon. I also went back to college (which I never liked the first time around) and found myself at age 35 in a room full of teenagers studying Veterinary Technology. It was brutal. I then went to human massage school, then canine massage school and finally Canine Rehabilitation School, all while still working at the vet hospital. The process was long and arduous but I had saved my money from all those years working for the billionaire and figured that if my idea didn’t work out that at least I would have tried. I honestly had no idea if there would be any need for my services. But I could always go back to working for another billionaire as I had standing offers from several if I decided to go back to that world.

Then one day the vet called me at home and told me he had my first client for me. Of course it wasn’t some sweet old lady from Pasadena with a poodle who needed massages. It was one of the most famous celebrities in the world whose German Shepherd had suffered a stroke and was paralyzed. If I could not get the dog walking again he was going to euthanize. I wanted to vomit. No pressure there!

Thus begins my career in animal rehabilitation. Each week my staff and I treat about 100 dogs at our facility, many of them paralyzed, most of them suffering from severe injuries, arthritis, torn ligaments, fractured bones and all the problems associated with aging. Our work is incredibly rewarding, always exhausting, sometimes very sad and fulfilling beyond belief. Most days I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven doing the work that I do. And as my therapist sister says,”Animals saved your life when you were young, now you’ve dedicated your life to saving theirs”.

P.S. I got that celebrity’s German Shepherd walking again. Thank God.

- Leslie