HOFFMAN ESTATES – It's no surprise that Dr. Debra Rykoff has devoted much of her life to animal rescue.
"I grew up saving worms on sidewalks," Rykoff said.
The local veterinarian's latest rescue has been her office pet – a Betta Fish who overindulged in bottom feeders, making himself sick.
However, Rykoff is most well known for Barrington area dog and cat rescue and rehabilitation. She works out of 4 Life Animal Wellness Center of Hoffman Estates, a Barrington Hills animal rescue and an Elgin veterinary clinic.
The 30-year veterinarian uses complimentary medicine – a cross-mix of prescription drugs and holistic therapy, like acupuncture, chiropractics, essential oil treatment and massages – to get ill or immobile pets back on their paws.
At 4 Life, Rykoff and rehabilitation specialist Dr. Jose Bastida work to rehabilitate up to 50 furry patients each week. The center, open as of May 2013, is one of Rykoff's veterinary practices as well as a complete therapy lab with laser and electrical stimulation treatments, ultrasounds, sonic units, and last but not least – underwater treadmills.
Bastida treats everything from animal arthritis to hip displacements, ligament tears, knee or spine injuries, and general "couch potato" syndrome.
It's all about finding ways to relieve animals of their pain and bringing them up to their best quality of life, Bastida said.
"Our units, whether they be laser, sonic or electrical, produce endorphins so that we can reduce a patient's pain naturally and slowly ween them off prescription anti-inflammatory drugs," Bastida said. "We try to eliminate a patient's lameness by staying away from drugs as much as possible, because sometimes those drugs actually do harm to other parts of the body. We don't want that."
Bastida demonstrated how to use the center's $30,000 underwater treadmill device – an alternative treatment and full-body workout for injured, out-of-shape or chemically-imbalanced, hyper pets. He gave several examples of patients such as Great Danes or Afghan Hounds who are growing too quickly.
"We stimulate their bodies to prevent uneven growth and injury," Bastida said.
The center even treats injured or innmobile cats who surprisingly get used to swimming in the water, he said.
Rehabilitation treatments take about 45 minutes and cost anywhere from $62 to $75, depending on how many sessions are purchased, Bastida said.
"We try to help out our clients as much as possible," he said. "We don't want to burden anyone or see a pet suffer."
Rykoff said she often brings in injured rescue dogs and treats them out of her own pocket. Her friend's dog, a 14-year-old Jack Russel Terrier named Pugsly, was a "typical" rehabilitation case, she said.
"He couldn't use his back legs because of age and lack of exercise," Rykoff said of Pugsly, who now swims in the underwater treadmill for 30 minutes straight in excitement.
Bastida fills the underwater treadmill's tank with up to 380 gallons of 90-degree, non-bleach treated water. His patients are harnessed for safety and start out with a slow walk. By the end of the workout, the animals are usually swimming, depending on how fit they are.
"We turn on the jet-blowers for the more fit dogs," Bastida said, adding that underwater treadmills can be a better workout for pets than swimming pools because impact is not controlled in a pool setting.
Bastida balances the pH balance of the tank's water, filters all hair and debris, and treats the water with potassium bromine, like a pool, but he also controls the hydrostatic pressure of the tank by keeping the treadmill's speed between .75 and 1.5 miles-per-hour and adding water above the animal's knees or hips to control its buoyancy.
Heart rates are measured by the animal's facial expressions, breath or taken by stethoscope, he said.
"I always give them an active break," he said.
Rykoff said the animals of all ages love treatment.
"I've seen older animals truly come alive when they move underwater," Rykoff said.
Both doctors agreed that veterinary medicine is becoming more complimentary in terms of using both holistic and conventional pain treatments – something that was unheard of 30 years ago, Rykoff said.
"It works just as effectively as other medicine," Rykoff said. "There's a broader picture here."
4 Life Animal Wellness Center
When: Appointments Monday through Saturday; hours vary
Where: 1730 W Algonquin Road, Hoffman Estates
Cost: $62 to $75 for rehabilitation session
Info: Call 847-701-8377 or visit www.4lifeanimalwellnesscenter.com