Back in 2010, grey and white American Pit Bull Terrier pup Elsa was one of 27 dogs rescued from an abusive situation and taken to the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA). From there, Elsa was transferred to the Hugabull Advocacy and Rescue Society in Vancouver.
Elsa and her fellow rescue dogs were incredibly sick; she and many of the others were malnourished, suffering from mange and a number of upper respiratory illnesses. After 5 long months of TLC at Hugabull, 5-month-old Elsa found her forever home with Vancouver couple Nik and Kelly Dann.
“Elsa was a very adventurous pup,” Kelly tells the Furever Network. “She loved to go hiking in the woods and go fishing with her dad. Elsa always had a happy go lucky attitude!”
But then, when Elsa was just more than 1-year-old, catastrophe struck. Elsa was away at doggie daycare one morning when suddenly, the otherwise healthy and happy pup collapsed. Her terrified owners rushed her to the vet, where the doctor broke the bad news — Elsa had suffered from a fibro cartilaginous embolism, a kind of blockage in her spinal cord that caused Elsa to have a stroke. The once energetic, fun-loving dog was now completely paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Nik and Kelly Dann refused to throw in the towel on Elsa, believing in their hearts that she would pull through. The Danns enrolled Elsa in a physiotherapy rehabilitation program, where after some very hard work, she learned how to use her legs again.
Though Elsa has been in rehabilitation therapy for 16 months, she still is unable to walk well and must be pushed around on a special cart to travel longer distances. But she can wobble, and she can stand, and knowing how far Elsa has come is inspiration enough for her devoted owner.
“I just felt like she needed us to be there for her and that would give her strength to get better and it has,” Kelly tells Global News. “I’m not giving up on her, she’s not giving up so if she’s not ready I’m not giving up on her either.”
Fast-forward to today, and Elsa is now making a difference in the lives of the human rehabilitation patients at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, where she serves as one of the hospital’s beloved visitation dogs. Kelly and Elsa spend their days visiting patients who are recuperating after brain and spinal cord injuries.
“Initially I just wanted to keep Elsa active and stimulated after her stroke so this was a way for us to do something together,” Kelly explains. “And my hope was to maybe inspire some people that have gone through a similar situation as Elsa to never give up and hang in there.”
All the patients at the hospital are absolutely smitten with Elsa and spend all week looking forward to her Tuesday visits.
“She’s endured pain, and gone through rehab, too,” says one patient. “She’s the cutest dog I know. I love seeing her.”
Last June, Elsa was recognized for her good deeds as a visitation dog when the BCSPCA awarded her with the 2013 Animal Hero Award.