October is a month of many meanings, one of which is Adopt a Dog Month. Potential pet owners are encouraged this month to find the dog of their dreams, usually from a rescue or shelter, and bring it home.
Shelters and rescue organizations can make a huge impact on the life and well-being of a dog, turning them from a difficult case to a dream dog.
Executive Director Julie Edwards said in January, a dog they named Walker came to them with two crushed back legs. Despite the pain he felt, Edwards said he had a good temperament, describing him as a loving dog that enjoyed attention from anyone.
As a younger dog, Edwards said Walker still had the possibility of a very full life ahead of him despite his injuries, so they decided to move forth with treatment for him, including getting an opinion from a pet orthopedic specialist that partners with the humane society. The specialist thought with the correct surgery, discounted because Humane Society of Northeast Georgia was a partner with them, Walker would be ok. So Edwards said they did what they had to do to help Walker. “We put out an appeal to our donors online and asked them to help pay for his surgery. Everyone was incredibly generous and stepped up to the plate to raise the money, which was about $3,000 - $1,500 per leg.”
“He had to go through months and months and months of physical therapy to heal before he could walk again,” said Edward. “I remember the first day he could walk again, the whole staff came out to watch him walk again for the first time, everybody was clapping and it was just so awesome.”
But Walker faced a new struggle. Since he had been in the kennel for quite a while while undergoing treatment, he had developed what Edwards called “bad behaviors.” However, volunteers consistently working with Walker helped curb those behaviors while Walker spent nine months at the shelter. “He started getting a little stir crazy in the half-kennel. He began to nip at people sometimes, he'd get ‘mouthy’ as we call it, really out of boredom.” Edwards said the volunteers coming in to help Walker, plus the humane society’s annual Adoption Angel Lock In and their summer camp program helped Walker get the attention he desired, and eventually, permanently.
“I always tell people, the dog finds you, and in Walker’s case I think that was very true.”
And that seemed to be the case with 7-year-old Lizzie Falls, who met Walker at the summer camp and never forgot about him.
"When I first saw him, Walker sniffed everyone in the room, and then he put his head on my leg before he left," she said. "No one wanted him but everyone was looking at him, but no one just, like, wanted him. No one wanted to save their money just for Walker."
Sitting on the couch between her parents at their Gainesville home, Lizzie Falls rubbed Walker's back and beamed at him before resting her head on his back. "And you wanted to save your money for Walker?" her mother, Rona Falls, asked. Lizzie Falls nodded with a big smile.
"She's been wanting a dog for a really long time so we thought that was a great opportunity for her to learn how to take care of a pet and kind of get exposed to it," said Rona Falls. "She met Walker and she just really fell in love with him."
During the camp, Lizzie Falls worked with Walker on commands like sit and lay down.
Rona and Eric Falls weren't sure they were ready to add a furry family member to their household, but Lizzie Falls was persistent.
"She couldn't stop talking about him," said Eric Falls. "She asked and asked and asked," Rona Falls added.
Despite hectic travel schedules and the opening and management of a new family business, the Falls finally couldn't resist anymore when a social media searched showed Walker was still at the Humane Society in September.
"I remember one morning we were driving and I looked at [Eric] and said, 'I feel really guilty, I feel like he's been waiting for Lizzie,'" said Rona Falls.
"Finding out that he was still there," is what Eric Falls said gave them a green light. "We went with the full intention of bringing him home. But then when we met him, he's just a good dog."
"We'd been told once people find out he has this medical history, that obviously puts some questions in there," said Rona Falls. "But he has been awesome... it has not been in anyway a hindrance to him playing or getting up or being excited around people."
They noticed Walker does prefer to lie on his side, with his front half straight, hips turned and resting outward, like an upside-down 7. Walker is still young and the Falls reported he hasn't had any health struggles since joining their family.
"He has no problems with running or walking, he sits with his legs kicked out to the side, but otherwise no problems at all with his health," said Eric Falls. He said in Walker's medical history, there were early reports on his records that amputations may be necessary, but now, he and Walker walk or run for half and hour every morning.
As Walker adjusts to his new life, Rona Falls said he is adapting to the things around him.
"He doesn't like cars, so we think he got run over," said Rona Falls. "Whenever they go out to run and he sees a car he would stop and hide behind [Eric's] legs."
"He's gotten better," said Eric Falls. "But he would absolutely cower when a car came by."
Despite that challenge, Rona Falls said Walker was a good dog and overcoming his new challenges. "Considering he's a puppy and he's never really lived in a home with a family, he's adjusted very well to the dynamics of this house. He adjusted pretty quickly, he responds to commands very well." They said since he was a little skittish, they didn't have to do much to stop him from taking part in bad behaviors.
It was a new experience for Eric Falls too, as he said he usually had smaller dogs, so he was surprised at how big Walker was.
And, Eric Falls said Walker wasn't just special because he had overcome hardship. Walker reminded him of a dog he had growing up, Oscar.
"He reminds me a little bit of a dog I had when I was younger. Bigger, I had a smaller dog. But he has the same temperament," said Eric Falls. "And it's just... he feels like a member of the family already." The family agreed, likening it to the Disney movie A Dog's Journey, in which the dog character is reincarnated as his owner's newest dog after his previous life ends, so the owner has the same dog's spirit in each of his pets.
"We joke around, especially with his mom, that there's a little bit of Oscar inside of Walker," said Rona Falls. She said Walker immediately latched on to Eric, despite the fact the couple had not yet met Walker when they decided to adopt him.
As for those who are considering taking a risk on a shelter dog with a history, the Falls say do your research, but don't be scared.
"For somebody like Walker, who has medical problems, or did, just get the temperament down," said Eric Falls. "I think that's what's key. If there's a high risk animal that's aggressive, you may want to really do your research on it. But for medical, I would say meet the dog and make sure your personalities click."
"I think that is what really made it work for us. For one, [Lizzie] had already met him and spent a week with him and she knew that this was her dog," said Rona Falls. "Then we went out to meet him and it was just a personality match. So I think regardless of the medical history, if your personality and the dog's personality are in sync, it just goes well through that."
As for Lizzie Falls, she encouraged other kids to ask their parents if they wanted to adopt a shelter dog of their own, and to remember that you'll have to learn to help them, too.