Sept. 29, 2011
BY JOHN PAINTER
Smokey IX is on the mend.
Fans at Tennessee's Sept. 10 football game against Cincinnati might have noticed a limp by the blue tick coon hound when the Vols scored their first touchdown of the second half. Smokey wasn't injured, but he was feeling the effects of some preexisting conditions.
"He has the early stages of osteoarthritis of both hips, along with stifle," said Joy Postell-Gee, UT's Spirit Coordinator and Smokey's gameday supervisor since 1991. "Stifle in an animal refers to the knee joints. He already had that preexisting condition.
"In addition to that he also has had a low-grade medial patella luxation in both knees, which is just a fancy term that means the kneecap may temporarily dislocate and then spontaneously correct itself."
During all Tennessee home games, Dr. Darryl Millis of the UT College of Veterinary Medicine occupies a seat in Section L, Row 1, of Neyland Stadium. His location is deliberate. Millis is stationed approximately 20 feet away from Smokey's usual spot in the southeast corner of the field to make sure along with Postell-Gee and handlers Robert Moser and Trey McAdams that the dog is receiving proper care.
"His direct supervision affords us an expert in regards to the heat and if he is getting enough water and those kinds of things," Postell-Gee said. "We feel very comfortable and fortunate that Dr. Millis is there, not to mention that Dr. Millis is also one of the most well-renowned vets in America and the world.
"He has some great credentials."
Millis consulted with Moser during the second half of the Cincinnati game and decided to examine Smokey immediately afterward back in his on-campus office.
"His assessment was that in the aging process of 98 percent of canines generally, and blue tick hounds specifically, the supporting tissue around the knee begins to stretch and this condition becomes more symptomatic," Postell-Gee said. "He said that clearly Smokey has a slow progressive deterioration of the ligament, coupled with the two existing issues of the luxation and the osteoporosis. Because of that, Smokey was suffering from swelling and therefore had abnormal range of motion. That's what alerted Dr. Millis and the handlers to the limping."
Millis recommended therapy, which Smokey started immediately. He began walking on an underwater treadmill daily from Sunday, Sept. 11, through departure for Florida on Thursday, Sept. 17.
By that time, Millis gave Smokey a clean bill of health.
But one more hurdle remained before Smokey could make the trip to Gainesville. He had to get the OK from his owner, Earl Hudson.
"We had to get full permission by Mr. Earl to endorse Smokey going to Florida," Postell-Gee said. "He's the owner and the only one with final say, regardless of what Dr. Millis said. But Mr. Earl said, `Take him! We want him to be there!'"
Postell-Gee and her staff still took plenty of precautions at Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. She had two vets, who are colleagues of Millis, on call inside the stadium with an emergency plan in place should there be any detection of discomfort.
"We didn't notice a single problem," Postell-Gee said. "We clearly have the treatment in place and that's to manage the inflammation. He has a great range of motion now and has been to physical therapy only twice this week: Monday and again Wednesday. That's where we are with Smokey."
Postell-Gee said Smokey's orthopedic condition is so common that U.S. dog owners spend $1.4 billion annually on medical treatments.
"It's also the most common orthopedic condition they see at the UT vet school," she said. "And the UT vet school is a worldwide leader in canine rehabilitation. They offer the nation's only university-based canine rehabilitation certification program. Two of the faculty are charter members in sports medicine and rehabilitation medicine. Dr. Millis happens to be one of those treating our four-legged athlete here."
Postell-Gee added the level of medical care for Smokey, who turned 8 years old this month, goes beyond what even UT student-athletes enjoy.
"It's just like Dr. (Greg) Mathien and Dr. (Chris) Klenck are readily available for the other athletes," she said. "I really feel he is in the best of hands."