Dog-paddling in the kitty pool

New York Post
Sunday, July 18, 2010

It’s not easy learning to dog-paddle when you’re a cat.

Here’s 6-year-old Nazzaning, partially paralyzed by a spinal-cord injury, learning to walk again with the help of aquatic therapy at Water 4 Dogs, an animal-rehabilitation center on Worth Street in TriBeCa.

Owner Florence Rostami got a frantic call from her mother, saying her beloved cat, whose name means “Dear One” in Turkish, had broken her front paw in their Garment District apartment.

“She didn’t realize Nazzaning was paralyzed on the left side,” Rostami said. “I rushed home and took her to the hospital.”

The emergency-room vet at the NYC Veterinary Specialists in Hell’s Kitchen found the cat’s paw wasn’t broken, but couldn’t figure out what was ailing the normally feisty feline.

“We were very afraid and thought we would lose her that first night,” Rostami recalled of the June 21 ER visit.

Luckily, the condition didn’t require surgery. Boaz Levitin, a neurologist at the clinic, instead suggested a novel idea normally prescribed for humans or dogs — physical therapy in water.

Since most cats have a maniacal aversion to H2O, there was doubt that Nazzaning would willingly take the plunge. She would have to dog-paddle in a custom-made swimming pool and, in a shallower tank, on a submerged treadmill at the Worth Street rehabilitation center.

Her meowing eventually mellowed with cat-whisperer John Larson, a therapist at the clinic, guiding her in the 92-degree water.

“I only hold her to make sure her ears don’t get wet,” Larson said during Friday’s session.

So far she’s doing swimmingly. With each $160 session, Nazzaning’s injuries are improving.

She’s one of the first cats to successfully undergo hydrotherapy treatment, said Levitin. “I’m a big believer in physical therapy but most cats just see water and flip out so I’ve never recommended that for them before.”

Nine sessions later, Nazzaning, a Turkish Van cat breed, is back to her old oddball antics.

“She basically runs the house,” Rostami said, adding that all the tests and work cost the family a pretty penny.

“I had major surgery on my foot three months ago, and my $10,000 therapy has cost about the same as Nazzaning’s.”

This story was originally published Sunday, July18, 2010 in the New York Post.