Originally published in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About German Shepherd Dogs.
Beating the Odds
Several months ago a dirty guy reeking of alcohol dropped off his German Shepherd-mix, Max, at the pound where I work as an animal control officer. Admitting he made Max live outside, he said he no longer wanted the dog because he kept getting hit by cars.
As soon as I laid eyes on Max, I was in love, and the more I found out about his situation, the angrier I became. There was obviously something wrong with Max’s back end because his nails and the tips of his toes were worn off and gushing blood from being dragged during his 1½-mile walk to our facility. The guy went on and on about how his neighbors had to feed Max because he couldn’t afford dog food while I tended to Max’s wounds, exhaustion, and thirst. I was shocked and saddened to find that Max had suffered for four years in the hands of this man. I tolerated his babbling for a few minutes until he raised his hand to Max, and Max cringed right to the floor. I was done, so I asked the guy for the $50.00 surrender fee to get him out of my office. He told me he would have to walk to the bank to get it and complained about the heat. Could he come back another day? No! I took his dog and his wallet and told him to take a hike. I wanted him to suffer, just as he had made Max suffer.
The guy did come back, paid the 50 bucks, and Max was officially free of him. Over the next several weeks, Max made himself at home in my air-conditioned office on a nice, soft, clean blanket atop his Kuranda bed. We gave him as much food and water as he wanted. Whenever I got up from my desk, poor Max got up to follow. It pained me to watch him walk.
I tried to get a rescue to take Max in, but everyone was either full or they wanted to know what was wrong with him. Finally, after almost losing hope, Barbara from Hot Water Rescue agreed to spring him and help me pay for his vet care while I rehabilitated him. After almost a month at the pound, Max was finally going to be a family dog. Our apartment is on my boyfriends’ parents’ 30-acre farm, and they are kind enough to let me bring home animals from time to time. It’s a nice environment for Max, with other dogs, cats, ponies, donkeys, horses, chickens, pigs, etc. to keep him entertained.
It was also time to begin getting Max the vet care he desperately needed. Tests and x-rays confirmed that Max had perfect hips, which was the only good news. He also had heartworm and Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyelopathy (CDRM—a progressive spinal cord disease). There is no cure for CDRM and no treatment. It just gets worse over time, eventually affecting Max’s ability to walk. In a month or months (the vet couldn’t tell), I would have to put Max down.
Or maybe I wouldn’t…
Extensive online research revealed that many dogs with CDRM remain mobile by using a wheeled cart to support their back end. So after collecting donations to help with Max’s vetting, I still had enough money left over to buy his dog cart. Poor Max was such a trooper while my boyfriend, Tim, and I sized it to fit and then strapped him in. At first Max didn’t know what to do, but within minutes he had the hang of it and was off down the driveway. His first stop was to greet Tim’s dad, and then he was off to say hello to our pony and donkey. Again on the move, he made another stop at the wood-splitting area to hang out with all the guys. Everyone was so happy to see him out exploring without dragging himself from spot to spot.
I can now take Max out for long walks, and he no longer has any pain. He simply rolls along in his cart with booties to protect his feet from sores. I actually have to put him on a leash because otherwise he’ll take off down the ¼-mile dirt driveway to see whom he can greet first; he just loves everyone.
When I brought Max home, I wanted to show him what being loved, and cared for, was all about, even if our time together would be limited. Little did I know that Max would show me that even in the face of adversity, a little ingenuity can help one beat the odds, at least for a time.