Despite the fact that I am President of spcaLA and have access and rational insights into all sorts of materials, practices, and policies relevant to the well-being of our animals, I write this piece as Achilles’ mom.

Achilles is a 15 year old, 55 pound yellow dog that appears to be part Labrador, Retriever, and Chow who, a few years ago, developed arthritis in his hips. Keeping him comfortable and allowing him to maintain his dignity became and is my mission. He has been with me since puppyhood, and is my soul mate. One night, he began to tremble, drool, and pant excessively, (indicators of pain), but when he went to a corner of the room and placed his forehead against the wall – I lost it. Everything I knew professionally deserted me, and I grabbed him screaming and crying (me) and ran to my vet. And so it began.

Arthritis is typically treated with anti-inflammatory drugs such as tramadol, rimadyl, and galliprant. Unfortunately, all of them, even in minimal doses upset his stomach so much that he stopped eating and lost his will to live. Natural liver flavored turmeric for dogs yielded the same bad result. Acupuncture and laser treatments were tried, but require either multiple weekly visits to the veterinarian or from the veterinarian. However, putting Achilles in a car, driving and trembling to the doctors’ office resulted in super painful flare ups. Home visits by veterinarians caused barking, trembling, stiffening, jumping up and down and flare ups. I lost my mind watching him suffer.

A veterinarian at spcaLA recommended a drug called gabapentin which attacks pain through the nerves and is not an anti-inflammatory. It is used with a lot of success in treating back pain and arthritis in people. My veterinarian concurred that it was worth a try. The disagreement centered around whether or not the medicine should be taken all the time or “as needed” for pain. As all drugs can have side effects or cumulative negative effects over time, I only wanted to give Achilles what he actually needed. Rather than experiment on Achilles, and, as I hurt my back at the time, I requested gabapentin and tested it on myself. I found it worked on me “as needed” which turned out to be true for Achilles. I also give it to him to preempt an attack such as days when the gardener comes or some stressful event like that. But, I became obsessed with trying to stop flare ups as permanently as possible.

A friend recommended marijuana balm. Here, as President of spcaLA, I must say that all the information, long-term data, safe dosing recommendations, side effects, and interactions with other drugs are all still experimental and inconclusive. Additionally, drugs behave differently in dogs than they do in people and interact differently with each other differently in dogs as well. (Think Tylenol and chocolate as examples. Okay for people, but dangerous for dogs.) Therefore, do not use marijuana or CBD products without talking to your veterinarian. I am also not recommending any self-proclaimed experts and their links. Talk to your veterinarian so that your dog’s actual medical history is considered in making the decision. Now, back to mom! I bought the balm and tested it on myself a few times for an after the gym, or freeway neck ache, and found that it felt like a standard muscle rub or tiger balm and did bring relief. I started rubbing Achilles’ hips with it and placed a heating pad under his bed. Remarkably, this worked and there were no flare ups – for a while. When the effects of that began to wane I decided to try CBD oil, (again, after testing it on myself to make sure I didn’t get high) before his bedtime. This is currently working as there are no painful flare ups.

I thought we were good! Wrong.

As the disease progressed, the falling started. Achilles would fall and not be able to get up. This was bad as he did not understand what was happening, and looked bewildered as to why he was stuck. This was also a dignity issue and seriously affected his mojo. He is a majestic proud dog who, when he falls, would despair, and stop trying to stand. I tried sticky paw products and shoes which he would have no part of. Trying to force him to use these things would cause a flare up. Again, screaming and crying I reached out for a solution as a decline in his mental state could do more damage than the physical pain. The veterinarian told me to place yoga mats around the house where he likes to hang out. Still blubbering, I sobbed – your medical advice is yoga mats???

Suffice it to say the yoga mats work as they provide a sticky grip for his hind legs. They are strategically placed where he typically lies down and at the bottom of a step. He only falls occasionally now and seems to have his confidence back.

Combining science, CBD, and yoga, Achilles is trotting about happily. So far, so good. He’s a bit more stiff in the mornings-but aren’t we all!

Madeline Bernstein is the President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA). A frequent speaker and commentator on issues relating to animal welfare, ethics and law enforcement, she advocates the humane treatment of and respect for animals. Bernstein currently serves as the president of the California Animal Welfare Association, as an advisory committee member of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys Animal Cruelty Division, as an advisor to the California Science Museum exhibit A Dogs’ Tail and related IMAX film, and as a member of the California State Fish and Game Advisory Committee among others. Bernstein has written numerous pieces including Preventing Shelter Liability with Adoption Contracts and co- authored a Law Review Article: Time to Feed the Evidence. Her blog, This Bitch Craves Attention: Animal Welfare in Los Angeles won the CBS People’s Choice Award 2011, and is often reprinted in various media. In 2012, Bernstein was the first Distinguished Visiting Animal Advocate for The Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark where she has returned as a visiting professor, and is the recipient of the Boeing Crystal Vision Award among others. Bernstein is the author of the book “Designer Dogs, an expose’” which was released in the fall of 2018 by Apollo Publishers.

Prior to joining spcaLA, Bernstein has worked for the New York City Department of Ports and Terminals as Deputy Inspector General/Advocate and as a former Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx County District Attorney’s office.