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Sophie’s pet projects

Mocha uses the underwater treadmill, a key piece of equipment purchased by donor Sophie Katarynych.

When Sophie Katarynych was growing up during the 1930s, her parents didn’t have a lot of money, but they were always willing to lend a hand to other people. Katarynych has lived her life following their example.

Over the years Katarynych had plenty of opportunities to help people through her nursing and flight attendant careers, but she also resolved to improve the lives of animals, particularly dogs. After inheriting her mother’s dachshund Fritz, Katarynych developed an affection for the breed that prompted her to rescue eight other dachshunds over the years.

Katarynych describes her puppies as her children and speaks of them all with great fondness: “Fritz was with me for about 12 or 14 years, and then came Cleo, Duchess, Isabel, Daisy, Fritzie, Megan and Vincent. Right now I have Chase. They’re forever there, and they’re just so faithful.”

Katarynych first heard of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) when Cleo became ill and her Winnipeg veterinarian, Dr. Mervyn Madill, arranged an appointment at the college’s veterinary medical centre. After Cleo’s successful treatment, Katarynych was so grateful that she offered to buy a piece of equipment for the WCVM’s Small Animal Clinic.

“Maybe it was my nursing background, but I knew how they had helped Cleo, and it felt really good when I bought them an incubator,” recalls Katarynych. “I felt very satisfied that I was doing something worthwhile, and it just took off from there. It became a charity that I wanted to help out.”

For many years Katarynych held an annual plant and garage sale aimed at raising money for the WCVM and its Companion Animal Health Fund. Selling perennials from her garden as well as merchandise she often purchased at other garage sales, Katarynych advertised the event as a fundraiser for the WCVM and promoted the college’s clinical and research services to everyone she could.

As Katarynych made her annual donation to the WCVM, she particularly appreciated that she was able to direct her money to specific items or pieces of equipment. Over the years, she has purchased a long list of practical items for the WCVM — including a bronchial endoscope, an arthroscopic camera and an electrocardiograph machine.

Whenever one of her dachshunds needed specialized treatment, she returned to the WCVM Veterinary Medical Centre (VMC) and used the opportunity to take note of its equipment needs. After Vincent was treated for a spinal problem that required rehabilitation services, Katarynych realized the significance of an underwater treadmill for rehabilitation, and she opted to purchase one for the VMC.

“In effect, she started the pet rehabilitation centre here because it was basically built around the underwater treadmill,” says Dr. Romany Pinto, a clinical associate who is a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner and a certified veterinary acupuncturist. “The donation of the treadmill happened at the perfect time to get the rehabilitation program started.”

For most of the animals seen at the VMC’s pet rehabilitation centre, the underwater treadmill is the highlight of their visit. It’s the most frequently used piece of equipment, and it’s used for purposes that range from rehabilitation after surgery to improving the mobility and quality of life for geriatric patients to treating and preventing soft-tissue injuries in sporting dogs.

Once Katarynych had a chance to tour the rehabilitation centre and see the services provided there, she purchased more specialized equipment for the centre including a lift system, specialized flooring and a thermography machine.

The lift system is particularly useful for animals that are paralyzed in their back legs or unable to walk well on four legs because it allows the staff to pick them up and position them safely. It operates on a grid system that allows access to the underwater and land treadmills as well as the examining table. Pinto emphasizes how important the lift has been for severely ill patients.

“The lift allows us to get patients on the treadmill that probably couldn’t go otherwise. When it’s toward the end of their lives, the best thing we can do for their quality of life is get them in that water and playing with a toy.”

The specialized, non-slip floor is also a valuable addition since traction is extremely important to post-surgical patients and those with neurological problems. The animals become more confident when they can do their exercises without slipping and sliding, and the staff is able to view their movements more accurately.

Although the thermography machine has not yet been selected, it will be another useful addition to the centre that will indicate different temperatures in the different parts of the body – information that can be used to detect areas of inflammation or pain.

“We wouldn’t have had rehabilitation services without Sophie’s donations really initiating the interest,” says Pinto. “And a single piece of equipment can make a huge difference. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of animals have been in the underwater treadmill. It’s truly a highlight for them, especially if they’re recovering from surgery or have a chronic condition where they can’t run and play anymore.”

Katarynych is gratified to hear how much her donations have helped and says it gives her a good feeling inside to know that she’s helped these little creatures. “He who gives while he lives also knows where it goes,” a quote that she once read in a newspaper, aptly describes Katarynych’s joy in improving health care for pets at the WCVM.

“I’ve thought of that [quote] many times. I’ve had a lot of satisfaction out of knowing how my donations have helped, and I’ve always wanted to help more,” says Katarynych. “I feel full of pride, and I can say to myself, ‘Hey! I helped to buy that.’ It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.”

Chyna practices rehabilitation exercises at the WCVM Veterinary Medical Centre.

Pet rehabilitation at the WCVM

The pet rehabilitation centre at the WCVM Veterinary Medical Centre offers rehabilitation services for animals after surgery as well as for animals that have conditions requiring medical management. The rehabilitation specialists also help arthritic or geriatric patients to become more active, and they can assist healthy animals with fitness and weight management.

The rehabilitation team works with different small animals including cats, dogs, exotic animals and birds.


The team includes:

  • two full-time veterinarians with specialized rehabilitation training
  • four registered veterinary technologists
  • dedicated pre-veterinary volunteers.

The clinicians perform an initial patient evaluation to identify specific areas of weakness that need to be improved. Based on the goals for the animal, they develop a treatment plan that works for the owner.

For some patients – often those that have had surgery – the plan requires that they stay in the clinic to receive intense daily therapy. Other patients may require weekly or even monthly appointments along with a regimen of exercises that can be done at home with their owners.

In addition to working with the animals as they use the underwater and land treadmills, the specialists can provide manual therapy, therapeutic ultrasound and laser treatments as well as neuro-muscular electrical stimulation. They also use a variety of exercise equipment that includes stairs, exercise boards and wobble boards.

4 Responses to “Sophie’s pet projects”

  1. sophie mcneill says:

    Sophie is my Aunt and I was named after her, living In Prince Edward Island, I only ever met her once, my mother, her sister was Madeline! Gosh I am so proud of all she has done for dogs, way to go Aunt Sophie!!

  2. Myrna MacDonald says:

    Hi Sophie! Thanks so much for your comment. The WCVM greatly appreciates Sophie’s support of our companion health program — she’s a very special lady!

  3. Karen skinner says:

    I knew Sophie. Through air canada & had opportunity to connect with her in the park where her dog benches are displayed. She is a wonderful caring person & her contributions should not go unnoticed. I will recommend the facility to a neighbour whose dachshund has IVDD & he is at a loss what to do. Bravo Sophie!


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