It was a total surprise to get home from work and find Leonard dragging himself over to greet me at the back door. I’d had a long day and I couldn’t believe that something else could go wrong.

Although I knew about IVDD, I didn’t know enough to recognise it straight away, especially as our dogs had always passed their vet checks, including a feel of their spines. But I knew that something was seriously wrong so I called the After Hours Vets and took him in.

After examining Leonard, the vet came out and said ‘’Have you got pet insurance?” She explained that she thought Leonard had a damaged spine and that he needs to be seen by a specialist – SASH in Sydney – as soon as possible.

So off we went, with our other dog Penny tagging along, to arrive at SASH around midnight. They checked Leonard and found that he had only the barest deep pain sensation. Such tough little dogs that don’t let on that they feel pain, his response was a little flicker of the eyes.

Leonard had surgery first thing the next morning. I couldn’t stay as I had to come home to take my husband home from hospital. My husband was so happy to see me there to collect him, so I agonised over how I was going to tell him that one of his best friends was having surgery.

The long wait during his surgery finally ended and Leonard was awake and winning over the hearts of all the nurses.

Over the next week or so, we checked in for updates and visited Leonard every few days. He seemed so fragile, but he was getting well looked after and lots of monitoring, treatments and massages. We watched eagerly for any tiny movement – the twitch of a muscle, a slight movement of the tail. The surgeon thought that he would probably walk again, but it was going to be a slow recovery.

Eventually, Leonard could come home and continue to recover. The biggest challenge was getting his bladder empty. I tried everything I had been shown but it still took about a week to find the right spot to squeeze! Luckily, the local vet 2 minutes away would help out each day.

Those first few weeks he was confined to a small area and was NOT impressed but it was important to let his back heal. The pen had to be padlocked as he worked out how to open it. But the one thing he did love was the cuddle time he got when he did his stretches and massages.

Since those early days, Leonard slowly improved. Most of the time it has been a burst of improvement and then a plateau or a small step backwards. He does exercises most days, hydrotherapy on a water treadmill each week, and gets a massage every night.

After about 8 months, we realised that it was going to be a long time before Leonard could walk on his own, if ever. The weaknesses in his muscles from paralysis made it hard to balance, and to take steps in the right direction.

Up until then, when we took him out, we had him in a pram loaned to us from some local dachshund owners. His normal doggy instincts were still just as strong, so he would be trying to get out so he could sniff and check out places, the best part of walks. He also had to drag himself to move around the house, which rubbed his skin and was hard on the rest of his body.

We started looking into the idea of getting a set of wheels for him. Before we knew it, some guardian angels from DISA offered to purchase Leonard’s wheels. Before we knew it, Leonard has his wheels. Freedom on the horizon!

He wasn’t too sure at first, but eventually he got used to the idea. Being back up fully horizontal also seemed to remind his brain again to make walking movements with his back legs. Once he got moving in his wheels, he has never looked back. It’s amazing to see him take off chasing something in the yard, turning corners up on one wheel, or going for a walk with a ‘smile’ on his face and tail wagging, out in front waiting for his fur sister to catch up.

It’s not all plain sailing. We have to constantly watch out for raw spots on his feet from dragging them on things (he can’t use the wheels all day or unsupervised). Although he has some toileting control, it can be a bit hit and miss. And the therapy adds up in dollars and time. However, we have good support – family and friends to look in on him while I’m at work, a great hydrotherapy service (shout out to Jade and the girls at Erina Heights Vets), the wider dachshund and dog community, and DISA.

But over two years since that day, Leonard’s life is pretty good. He doesn’t see himself as a ‘disabled’ dog. He still tells off other dogs that he doesn’t like the look of. He still hunts skinks in the yard. He’s not in any pain. He still looks out for the rest of the family. And he gets around whichever way works. We can learn a lot about how to live our lives from Leonard!