By Sarah Carey
When the Big Dog of University of Florida basketball’s dog has a problem, he rings the home team: veterinarians at the UF Small Animal Hospital.
Billy Donovan, longtime head coach of the UF men’s basketball team, has led his players to two national championships and three appearances in the title game. He and his wife, Christine, have also recently led two family dogs on leashes through hospital hallways for orthopedic surgery.
Billy Donovan’s dog, an 11-month-old white Labrador retriever named Otie – named for Atsena Otie, a small island near Cedar Key and one of Donovan’s favorite fishing spots– came to UF in April with swelling in joints in all four limbs. Otie had a painful joint condition known as osteochondritis dissecans, which affected both his hocks and his elbows.
Dr. Antonio Pozzi, an assistant professor of small animal surgery at UF, performed arthroscopic surgery to remove diseased articular cartilage from Otie’s inflamed joints.
“The surgery has made Otie much more comfortable,” Pozzi said. “This is a well accepted treatment in both people and dogs. There are other possible treatments we may consider for Otie in the future, but for now we want to give it time and see how he does.”
Pozzi added that the recovery for this type of procedure is typically slow, but that Otie is doing well.
“While Otie will never be completely normal, he has improved tremendously as a result of the surgery,” said Dr. Dan Lewis, who recently performed surgery on one of the Donovans’ other dogs, Charly.
A 1-year-old yorkiepoo, Charly sustained multiple pelvic fractures and a broken leg as the result of being hit by a car.
“Surgery went well and all of Charly’s fractures have healed,” Lewis said. “Charly had a lot of muscle damage from her accident, but the therapy performed by Dr. Carolina Medina and our rehabilitation service helped a lot to speed her recovery.”
Medina, chief of the hospital’s acupuncture and rehabilitation service, said Charly underwent eight rehabilitation treatments, which began one week after her surgery. The dog’s treatments consisted of a combination of laser therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, massage and stretching, as well as various strengthening exercises.
“She improved dramatically with each treatment,” Medina said.
The Donovans said their experiences with UF’s veterinarians have made them lifelong fans. They took particular interest because their daughter, Hasbrouck, an avid equine enthusiast who competes in hunter-jumper events hopes to one day work in the animal industry and has some aspirations of becoming a veterinarian.
“We have four dogs, but Billy really wanted to get a white lab after we lost our black Lab last August,” Christine Donovan said. “So he did some research. We actually found Otie and surprised Billy with him. He just loves that dog.”
Christine Donovan said that while the family had never previously experienced major veterinary problems with their dogs, all of a sudden both Otie and Charly needed help at the same time.
“I spent so much time at the UF vet clinic during that one month that I got on a first-name basis with everyone,” she said. “First Charly was hit by a car; then Otie had his problem. There were so many visits to UF for Charly’s surgery and physical therapy that I got on a first-name basis with everyone.”
Donovan said UF’s staff was “friendly and caring” throughout the dogs’ ordeal.
“The UF Small Animal Hospital is a wonderful place to bring a dog in an emergency situation,” she said. “Everyone was very nurturing and the staff was super about calling us and keeping us up to date.”