“What we find in a soulmate is not something wild to tame, but something wild to run with.” – Robert Brault
I believe that soulmates come in all forms, and that no one person is limited to one. I believe in souls that are meant to cross paths, or care for each other, or teach each other. I believe that my handsome dan is one of the most prolific soulmates in my life. I’ve been promising to tell the story of Charlie for a while now, but it is constantly developing and I’ve had trouble coming to terms with some basic facts about him and our future. But there is no time like the present, or so they say, and it is Charlie’s time to shine.
Charlie and his litter were the result of an accidental breeding between a small German shepherd female and an unknown mixed breed male. His owner was an elderly woman who lived on a small homestead tucked away in the mountains in La Veta, Colorado. I was looking to adopt a mutt for my mother – some kind of working breed mix that would be well suited to active work and being around farm and ranch animals. I was in contact with the woman about one of the females, preferably a lighter colored, short haired one to better tolerate the heat.
We met at a park in Pueblo. The litter was large, but I only distinctly remember five of the seven. There were two short haired sandy colored females, a short haired black male, and two plush coated male chunks – one the color of soot and the other carmel. The three short haired pups had zero interest in me; the larger darker floof cared only to hide as best he could. But the carmel puff ball sought to cope with his anxiety by tucking himself tightly against my leg and laying there, accepting loves and ignoring his siblings.
And so it was. He really was supposed to be for my mom. I took him home and surprised her with him in my arms. She named him, and for the first few weeks he slept in a kennel in her room. But some things aren’t meant to be how you plan them. Charlie quickly became my bumbling little shadow. And so it was.
Charlie was a learning curve for me. He continues to be. He grew up under my strict health-nazi eye as my will against him coming to an end like his big brother Jack did grew stronger every day. Being a typical shepherd, he is highly anxious, highly driven, and highly intelligent. High maintenance is definitely a fair way to describe my boy. The amount of research I did was massive. Yet life throws kinks your way, and no matter how well prepared you are, there will be upsets along the way.
We began dealing with progressively worse fear aggression. His anxiety has always been incredibly high – and it was very hard to mediate the line between the level of offish protectiveness that I wanted from him, and the overly aggressive fear response that he was presenting on others. After a significant amount of very patient work, and over a large amount of time, that behavior seems to have passed. His behavior towards other humans is now appropriate, though he does still sport fear based anxiety towards very young children who haven’t gotten the hang of moving fluidly.
A Pivotal Problem
Around the time he turned a year old, I began to notice something strange going on in his front feet. They seemed to splay outwards, and knowing that his skeletal structure would very soon be solidified, I began to worry. His left front was particularly crooked, and one day he came to me with a gimp. We went to his vet to discuss the problem, and it was agreed that something was abnormal. I sent my bud in for X-rays of both fronts, and, because it is often a concern in large breed dogs, his hips.
On the plus side, he has beautiful hips that likely will never be a problem.
His front legs are indeed a different story. The x-ray’s revealed that the growth plates of his radius’ and ulnas’ had closed out of turn, one outgrowing the other and causing the goofy toe splay. This is an angular limb deformity, known as a ‘Valgus deformity’, and is very commonly seen in breeds like dachsunds.
His left front was of particular concern, and we were sent to a canine orthopedic surgeon to discuss if he would need an incredibly expensive and difficult to recover from surgery; one that may or may not help much at all. There we learned that the growth deformity presented itself in the feet, but actually affects the elbow. We discussed his level of activity and were told that fetch (the second most important aspect of Charlie’s life) is one of the worst games to play with a young dog, due to the amount of stress it puts on delicate growing joints.
It was, thankfully, decided that Charlie’s defect did not require surgery at that time. It may never, though odds are that something will have to be done. We were instructed to cut down drastically on fetch and high impact activities. I asked if I could, with extreme mindfulness and preparation, take Charlie with me on the Colorado Trail. I was greeted with a, “Yes, he should be able to do it at his own moderated pace.” I cried, thankful that dream hadn’t been crushed. Thankful that my best friend wouldn’t have to undergo such a rough procedure and recovery.
What the Future May Hold
Time has passed and we have trained nearly every day for the 500 mile trail. We’ve taken extra precautions and implemented special lessons to cater to a worst possible scenario. But as things have progressed, I have decided that it would indeed be the wrong decision to take him. He doesn’t outwardly show problems in his feet, but when exhaustion sets in he begins to favor his left. I know now that before his time comes, we will have to do a surgery – but not the corrective one.
It is simply the truth that he would experience better results, less pain, and a faster recovery from an amputation and a good prosthetic. The other option is a surgery that cuts out part of the bone, involves an external to internal splint, minimum 8 weeks zero activity time, with limited results. I will do right by my boy, even if it looks more drastic and devastating.
I will do everything in my power to keep him as healthy, happy, and active as possible for as long as possible. I am absolutely heartbroken knowing that one day it is very likely that I will send him off with a stranger in scrubs, and that he will wake up in pain and missing a limb. It tears me to pieces. But if it eases pain, and, in the long run, grants him greater mobility, I will absolutely shoulder that burden. I won’t put him down in the middle of his life when there is another option.
No Time like the Present
For now, we don’t have to deal with that. He is incredibly athletic and only rarely shows signs of a problem. He gets along without pain and lives an active and adventurous life. My goober is my shadow and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He will always be taken care of to the absolute best of my abilities – because he is dependent on me, he comes before me.
He is an essential component to my mental health. I don’t know what I’d do without the sweet bud and his sister Morgan to greet me at the door when I get home from school or work. Their rambunctious celebration every time I put my hiking shoes on always makes me laugh. His eagerness for bedtime (alone time with momma) is absolutely endearing.
Charlie is the most courteous dog I’ve ever met. He’s very concerned about offending someone in their home, every time we go to someone’s house he has to find something to bring to them. He is strangely considerate, and hates to be a bad boy – or even think he is for that matter.
Fetch is life, though we have had to change the game up a bit. Other than fetch, hiking with me is his absolute favorite thing to do. He spends a lot of time on the trail reprimanding his sister for being wayward and giving him anxiety
He is my best boy, and always comes running to momma to check in if he’s been injured. His quirks are endless. He’s earned a million nicknames, often set to different tunes (usually la cucaracha); Charles Darwin, Charles Xavier, Chuckles, so on and so forth.
I credit adventure dog with helping me to get healthy, without him I’m not sure if I would have had the motivation to lose so much weight. He has taught me so much about life and love, for others and for myself.
I’d like to take this opportunity to help educate about factors that can contribute to health problems in dogs, particularly larger breed dogs.
Watch what they Eat
High protein sounds good, but quality protein is more important. Especially for puppies, high protein is something to look out for. Commercials may advertise to you wolf like diets for your dogs, but the reality is that your dog is not a wolf. Your dog has been selectively bred for generations. This is, in effect, assisted evolution – and humans don’t often get this kind of thing right. High protein and high energy foods can lead to growth problems. Growing puppies need more carbs and less protein than their adult counterparts. Just like human children put fast carbs to use far better than grownups do – The brain consumes and builds off of glucose. Don’t be misled.
Limit High Impact Activity in the First Year
Puppies’ joints are forming. A dog’s skeletal system begins to settle at around the one year mark, and most aren’t considered fully grown until age two. All kinds of activities are higher stress than you may think. We thought that fetch was perfectly harmless – but it can do an incredible amount of damage to a young dog. Skip anything that involves landing or stopping hard.
Adopt a Dog!
Don’t spend an assload of money at a breeder. More often than not, purebreds sport a significant amount of health problems. Don’t look down on mutts with some Hitleresque point of view on pure bloodlines. They are usually healthier.
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Spay and Neuter!
Seriously guys, it is highly unlikely that your dog or cat needs to breed. Leaving unnecessary reproductive parts on your friends significantly increases their risk of certain cancers, infections, and unacceptable behaviors.
Charlie says thank you all for the loves
Now, for the disclaimer – I am not a vet, adventure guide, personal trainer, doctor, nutritionist, or medical authority, this is meant to be only a source of information and inspiration, implementing these techniques into your daily life is something you do of your own free will and at your own risk.
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