Shortly after relocating to S.C. in 2004, we began to discuss starting our family. Over the course of the next two years, we would learn it wouldn’t be a possibility for me to have a family naturally. While contemplating our next steps and learning to surf the emotional waves of this knowledge, my beagle, Charlie, of 15 years passed away. I was hurting.
At the time, I had begun treating children with special needs and had the opportunity to visit an equestrian riding facility 70 minutes from our home. I was blown away by the children’s response to the horses. Kiddos with autism were making verbalizations after just one riding session and others with cerebral palsy were demonstrating improved trunk control and motor coordination. With zero knowledge or experience with horses and not having the budget necessary to delve into this sort of therapy service, I began researching all animals that I could incorporate into my pediatric practice and their known healing “powers”, including dolphins and dogs.
So it came to be, that while I was grieving the loss of my womb and my dog, that I would discover the Newfoundland. After visiting a Southeast Newfoundland Club (SENC) sponsored water trial at Lake Keowee, Seth and I knew we’d be forever in love with the breed. We scoured the web, emailed and made a dozen phone calls before deciding to purchase a puppy from Rockcastle Newfoundland’s of West Virginia. Their gorgeous brown female, Phoenix, was expecting in August. Oddly, we anticipated the birth of our puppy daily while checking in with the lovely breeder, Laura, much in the same way all parents anticipate their new little ones. Born August 17, 2006, our girl Ginger Gold came home with us at ten weeks of age that October. We agreed not to decide on a name until we got to know her. We didn’t anticipate that her eyes would sparkle like yellow diamonds. The previous week, through the Society of St. Andrew (SOSA), we had the pleasure of taking a group of teens gleaning apples in the North Georgia Mountains. Both Seth and I LOVED the Ginger Gold apple variety we handpicked in abundance there. The moment our chocolaty-brown Newf puppy flashed those killer eyes our way, we knew there could be no other name for her but Ginger Gold (affectionately known as GG) after the gorgeous fall apples we’d harvested.
That winter we promptly enrolled her in obedience training in order to get an early start as is recommended with giant breeds. Actually, if owners did this sooner than later, fewer gentle giants would be surrendered to rescues like our beloved SENC – but this is a soapbox story of mine for another day! Back to Ginger Gold, it was important to train her early so that I’d stop being startled awake, pinned to the bed in the dark with steamy, hot breath on my neck. I had several early mornings where I laid in the dark, perfectly still and with my eyes closed as thoughts raced through my mind about what my next move should be. Clearly, someone had broken into our home after Seth left for work at 3:30am and they were on top of me. Should I reach for the lamp, punch them in the face with all my might or just scream? Turns out it was just a 100# four-legged, hairy, drooling Newfie toddler. Yes, early training was paramount. Well, Ginger was apparently too young when we enrolled her and fell asleep on the gymnasium floor at 7:00pm each night we went for training. Seth and I still benefited as the trainer trained us instead. She was gracious and invited us back, free of charge, several months later when GG was older and could benefit more from the class.
Ginger has always been beautiful to us, even when she was growing through her “uglies”. She marched in the Savannah Christmas parade at sixteen months. Yes, that’s Seth and me in lederhosen. We want our blog to be authentic and this picture is about as real as it gets!
When GG was seventeen months, we boarded her with our veterinarian over the Christmas holiday while we enjoyed a cruise to Grand Cayman and Mexico. When we returned, I stayed back at our house to start the laundry while Seth went to the vet’s office to retrieve Ginger. He called from the veterinarian’s and told me I needed to come down there. I drove like a proverbial bat out of hell, worrying about what might or might not have happened to GG, only to discover Seth and Ginger playing with a three-legged yellow lab – his amputation bandage still moist from recent surgery.
As the story goes, “Rocky” was brought in by a good Samaritan from a farmer’s field on nearby Rock House Road. He was full of shotgun pellets, had been left for dead and recently hatched larvae were feasting on his infected wound. The veterinarian and her staff performed surgery to amputate clear up to his shoulder joint. He exhibited severe anxiety anytime humans were not in sight. On one occasion, he was left out in the vet’s run, behind the building, to go potty and get fresh air. Several minutes later, the office manager noticed Rocky standing at the front door, hopping on three legs and trying to get back inside the building. Using the tiny remaining portion of humeral bone he had, he scaled their six-foot chain-link fence to get back to the vet’s staff. This resulted in him requiring another procedure to suture the stump. From that point on, Rocky went home nightly with a different staff member while he was recovering and overcoming his anxieties.
So on the day we returned from our cruise, Seth discovered this dog and learned of his story. The staff reported they were closing for the New Year’s holiday, after the busyness of Christmas boarding, and wished they had a trustworthy couple to leave Rocky with for a week. I promise Seth colluded with the veterinary staff because, by the time I arrived at the office that day, they were trying to figure out if they knew anyone with extensive knowledge of wound care and residual limb management, you know, an occupational therapist like yours truly. We joked for years after we officially adopted him that the vet went on vacation that week and apparently never returned!
Rocky lived the remainder of his days, alongside his BFF Ginger, like the prince he was – blissfully happy and convinced he was a Newfie. He had no limitations and no idea he’d lost a leg, and we never told him. He loved his momma (me) something fierce. Unlike GG who you can’t keep out of the water; Rocky only entered if I did, and not because he liked to but because he wanted to protect me. Only able to make left-hand turns like a NASCAR driver, he was relegated to swimming in circles. On one swimming adventure at Lake Wylie, I had floated about 50 feet from the island we were picnicking on. I looked up and realized Rocky had charted his course straight toward me. No left turns. Just straight out to me. He was an incredible example of courage, strength and pure happiness even in the face of adversity.
Want to learn more about how you can support rescue efforts through the Southeast Newfoundland Rescue or learn about gleaning opportunities through the SOSA? Check out these links: http://www.sencrescue.org/ and https://endhunger.org/
Stay tuned for The Adventures of Ginger & Rocky (Part 2) where I’ll share a story of GG and the Rock Star hiking to a unique and biodiverse location here in the Palmetto State.