The atmosphere is often bustling at our care and rehabilitation center in Maryland, a haven for animals rescued from cruelty, neglect and disasters, where they take their first steps toward a second chance and a loving home. Bear, a 2-year-old Alaskan Malamute mix, was one of approximately 40 dogs rescued in January from an alleged neglect situation in Smith County, Texas. His first steps at the center were determined, albeit a bit wobbly—a veterinary examination revealed he has three fused vertebrae from suspected spinal trauma as a puppy and, because he spent most of his life confined on a hard surface, the muscles in his back end atrophied. But once he was finally able to stretch his legs, Bear was ready to get moving.
“He was so damn sweet, just a giant teddy bear,” says Morgan Rivera, transport and placement coordinator for our Animal Rescue Team. The team quickly realized that he needed more space to regain his mobility and switched him into a larger kennel.
“Literally just doing that, within a day, we could see an improvement in him. He’ll probably always have a slightly funny gait, almost like his back end is independent of his front,” Rivera says. “He just needs help gaining more coordination and control. But this boy is totally like, ‘Ain’t nothing gonna slow me down!’”
Now, Bear is slowly building his leg strength with the help of physical therapy and, according to his new family, he’s almost too eager to learn.
“Our keywords are ‘go slow’ and ‘take it easy,’ which he listens to for about two seconds and then he’s off,” Katherine Gurney says with a laugh. “We keep comparing him to a toddler—‘I can do it, I can do it!’ He doesn’t seem to know that you might need to step in and help him get to where he wants to go.”
Gurney and her husband, Fred, had stared at Bear’s picture on Petfinder.com for a couple of days before they set up a meeting and decided they were up to the challenge: “His goofy self sold it; he is just so cute.”
His adopters set up a long ramp with protective sides so Bear can easily enter and exit their house without having to master stairs, which are still too difficult for him. With a few other modifications—yoga mats on the floor for added traction, boards to even out some tricky spots—Bear has settled right in with his new family and is getting stronger every day.
He’s progressing in “leaps and bounds,” says Gurney. He enjoys exploring his surroundings on their little farm in Middleburg, Florida, also home to a Morgan Cross horse, three mini donkeys and Bear’s new canine companion, an 8-year-old Great Dane named Matilda. Gurney says the two get along wonderfully.
“If Bear gets too crazy for her, she just jumps up on her couch as if to say, ‘this is my safe zone, you’re not allowed,’” Gurney says.
“We’re just letting him kind of learn to be a dog,” says Gurney. “He’s all over the place—he wears himself out, then takes a nice snooze. He’s very gentle with people that he meets and just us in general. But of course, then he goes flying into the yard, barking at squirrels and birds. He absolutely loves being outside.”
We’re just letting him kind of learn to be a dog.
As Bear slowly discovers his new favorite things—like chomping on ice cubes and his KONG Wubba toy—the Gurneys are discovering that caring for a pup with mobility issues isn’t all that different from caring for any other animal.
“We don’t think there’s a ‘perfectly normal animal’ to start with; you can adopt a dog you think is totally fine and they develop diabetes or their knees go out, they can get hip dysplasia,” Gurney says. “Everybody’s got their quirks, so his is he walks a little funny—oh well, he’s adorable.”
And Bear is an example of how resilient animals are, no matter how cruel their introduction to life may be.
“He’s just such a happy-go-lucky dog and has such a will to live. He wants to do all the things,” says Rivera. “He doesn’t care or realize that he’s different; he’s just like, ‘let’s go!’”