Rieka dog makes miraculous recovery after injury left her unable to walk

February 16, 2024

Story by Sandra Sarr

Photos by Chris Jones

Reika with Flemings and Anais Musso

Reika with the Flemings and Anais Musso, animal osteopath.


Reika at LSU Vet Med

Rieka (pronounced Reeka), a 2-year-old German shepherd dog, became a central focus in the lives of Ted and Lisa Fleming when the couple, in their 50s, decided to bring home their first-ever dog nearly three years ago. Lisa, a former national training manager for the Hertz Corporation, and Ted, a founding partner in a technology company, both traveled extensively. Their lifestyle didn't lend itself to children or pets. That changed when they took a leap and brought home Rieka, which means shadow of a wolf in German. Their shared love of her enriched their lives in ways they'd never imagined.

The dog was smart and loved to play. Most of all, she loved car rides. One day, last May, she jumped up into the car for an outing and her back legs overextended. She took a few steps and fell to the ground. She began vomiting.

Ted and Lisa rushed her to their primary care veterinarian, Dr. Harriett Latkovich at Kleinpeter Veterinary Hospital in Baton Rouge.

“She couldn’t walk at all. She continued to deteriorate, and we were referred to LSU Vet Med,” said Lisa Fleming.

"We had to carry her and put her onto a cart to bring her in to LSU's Small Animal Clinic," Ted said.

Seen by Neurology, imaging and physical examinations revealed an enlarged esophagus and nerve damage thought to be caused by the injury.

"There was not one simple diagnosis. Some who saw her said they weren't certain she'd make it. We decided to do anything we could to save her," Ted said.

"We were not going to let this girl go," Lisa said.

LSU Vet Med clinicians representing various specialty services consulted with each other and made a plan for treatment.

"Rieka was seen by eight doctors and two therapists at LSU. Their collaborative approach made all the difference," Ted said.

The Flemings brought Rieka to LSU Vet Med's Integrative Medicine service, where she was seen for the first time in May 2023. Dr. Lorrie Hale outlined treatment options, including osteopathy, acupuncture, electro-therapy, physical rehabilitation, and hydrotherapy.

"She had never been in water and was nervous at first in the underwater treadmill, but Jennifer Bridges, a physical rehab tech, helped her acclimate. I did everything she told me to do, including things like making her stretch for her water bowl," Lisa said.

Lisa and Ted shared how LSU Vet Med clinicians helped them set Rieka up for success. Every morning, Lisa stretched all four of Rieka's legs according to instructions by Anaïs Musso, osteopath. Then Lisa placed hot and cold compresses and massaged Rieka along the spine. She did this faithfully each day for months and continued treatments in LSU Vet Med's Integrative Medicine service even though there were few significant signs of improvement.

"The months of no progress were scary and sad. For two months, she couldn't empty her bladder or bowels on her own. It really took a toll on us. Lisa kept hope, even in the hard times. She kept working with her the way LSU told us to. They showed us not only how to do things, but why doing them was important over time," Ted said.

"When I first started working with her at home, I'd start to cry because it was so stressful. I was afraid I might overdo it and hurt her. I'd look at her little face, and she'd let me continue to help her. As we worked together, it became a routine for Rieka and me," Lisa said.

The Flemings rearranged their house and every part of their lives for Rieka, and their dedication to her eventually paid off.

"One day in September, Rieka went from barely walking to a trot and full-on running within the span of a month. It was truly miraculous. If we hadn't made our way to the vet school, Rieka would have been put down," Ted said.

Rieka, who comes to LSU's Integrative Medicine Service once a month now, has made a remarkable full recovery.

"They really care here at the vet school. They love her," Ted said.

Ted said Rieka's professional trainer at US K9 helped her with mental stimulation and "reminded her how to be a dog again."

"If not for LSU working on the nerves, muscle, skeleton, including physical therapy, she'd not be where she is today. She's totally healed. If I didn't know she was injured, I'd never know," Lisa said.

The Flemings made a presentation in February 2024 for LSU Vet Med residents and interns to share Rieka's success story in hopes that the lessons, techniques, and approaches can be replicated to help other animals--and also to show that their chosen profession can save lives and bring families joy. Rieka, the star of the show, looked on, and her prance across the room said it all.

About LSU Vet Med: Bettering lives through education, public service, and discovery

The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine is one of only 33 veterinary schools in the U.S. and the only one in Louisiana. LSU Vet Med is dedicated to improving and protecting the lives of animals and people through superior education, transformational research, and compassionate care. We teach. We heal. We discover. We protect.