Have you ever seen the movie 50 First Dates? It’s the film where the lead character played by Drew Barrymore has a type of amnesia that makes her forget everyone she met during the day, once she has fallen asleep at night. Well that was our life for nearly a year when we adopted our new dog, Cody. Our beautiful boy had been rescued by Heaven Can Wait Animal Society, the organization I helped start, from an animal collector. He was a 2 year-old Shepherd/Collie mix that had spent the first 1 ½ years of his life in a homemade dog pen that was about the size of an average dining room table. Cody wasn’t abused, but he wasn’t socialized either. His entire existence consisted of sitting in his pen day after day. Once he came to Heaven Can Wait he was enrolled in our Pups on Parole program where he lived with a female inmate at the correctional facility for women. Life at the prison agreed with Cody and he quickly bonded with his inmate handler. The affection between them was mutual because when he arrived at our house, his belongings included a large crocheted pink ladybug pillow that his handler made for him.
The problem was however, Cody had bonded with women at the prison and was very skittish around men. His initial reaction to Ken was at best, lukewarm, and our typical day was just like living inside the movie 50 First Dates. Thank goodness Ken’s ego doesn’t bruise easily because an average day would start off like this:
Ken, Sophie, Shadow, Cody and I would wake up and start to get out of bed when Cody would realize he was in the same room with a man. He would take one look at Ken and jump to his feet in a state of panic. Then he would bolt out the bedroom door and run through the house as fast as he could until he shot out the doggie door and landed in the safety of our backyard.
This scenario went on for nearly a year.
We knew Cody had to learn to trust Ken, so throughout the day we made Ken the fun Dad. He would handout treats to Cody, hold the leash when we went for walks, take Cody for car rides and repeatedly praise him. By the time we all settled down to watch television in the evening Cody would work his way onto the couch so he could sit next to his fun buddy Ken.
Then the next morning would come and Cody would wake up and act as if he saw Ken for the first time. He would jump to his feet in a panic, bolt through the house and shoot out the doggie door to the safety of our yard. Ultimately patience, a good sense of humor and lots of treats turned Cody into one of the best family dogs we have ever had.
The bonding process between Cody and our princess female dogs took a while too. Sophie and Shadow acted like the spoiled girls on the playground. They snubbed Cody and refused to play with him. Their snooty attitude continued until we resumed the family walks we had done around the 3-mile loop in our community while Bear and Missy were alive.
The walks solidified our dogs as a pack and made Cody’s personality shine. This dog is all about the walk. While some dogs live to chase after a ball or munch on a favorite squeaky toy, Cody’s number one activity is to go for a daily walk. After being cooped up in a pen and then a prison cell, I can only guess that the splendor of the open spaces and multitude of smells that come with a walk are heaven to him.
Soon our canine clan was walking the path in our neighborhood nearly every day. Cody would be to the left of me and Shadow would walk on my right. Ken would carry supplies like water and treats in a little canvas backpack while he held tightly onto Sophie’s leash. Although Sophie was smaller than the other dogs, her independent mannerisms made it best that she walk alone. We walked so often that neighbors began to recognize us and wave. They even referred to us as the dog walkers when we met them at community gatherings. One time a neighbor stopped us to ask how much we would charge to walk her dog.
Life was good and that of course meant change was on the horizon. One of those changes came in December 2007 and I want to take a quick sidebar to tell you about them. A litter of feral kittens joined our family early that month. Ken and I were asked to help the 10 week-old babies who were fending for themselves, so one evening we loaded up our car with traps and much to our surprise we returned with the entire litter in tow. To make a long story short, we spent the winter socializing this very wild foursome and if anyone asks me when I got my last tetanus shot I can tell them it was that winter thanks to a nasty cat bite. All of the kittens were vaccinated and sterilized, but only the female turned friendly enough to be adopted. Today, Sport, Spike and Tiger reside at our house.
Now back to our family walks and how change caught us when we least expected it.
From September 2005 when Cody was adopted until the summer of 2008, the five of us clocked hundreds of miles on the loop. Then on a typical walk in late summer, Ken and I noticed that Sophie was having a hard time keeping up with the group. We stopped more times than usual to give her water and let her rest. We teased her and called her an old lady because after all, she was 10 years-old.
Soon after, Sophie began to slip on the tile floor at home. At first we wouldn’t see her slip and only catch her pulling herself up from the ground. It looked like her hind legs had given out under the weight of her body. I would check to see if water or some other liquid had spilled on the floor, but the area would be completely dry. I would inspect her legs for any telltale sign, but there wouldn’t be clue to help me.
Ken and I were baffled by her symptoms of weakness and lameness because otherwise Sophie seemed like herself. She was still the bossy dog who ruled the house. She ate well and she still wanted to go for walks. As with Missy and Bear our walks started to get shorter and shorter. By early November Sophie made her first visit to the vet for this mysterious problem.