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Shop Dogs: My best friend Dolph

By JoAnn Bortles

Since 1981, there has been a German Shepherd in my shop. Each one of these GSD pups has been special, but the fuzzy guy that’s been protecting it for the past 11 years is very unique. It’s been a relationship unlike any other I’ve known. In early 2007, I was without a German Shepherd for the first time in over 30 years and got a call from a friend who asked me if I wanted to adopt a full-grown two-year-old male shepherd. Next thing I knew, I was on my way to Connecticut to pick up this dog I had never even seen. He’d been returned to his breeder after the owner complained that no matter how much he beat him, the dog wouldn’t turn mean. The breeder gave the guy $20 for the dog, as the owner threatened to shoot the pup if he didn’t get any money back. The dog was named Adolph as Adolph Hilter was the owner’s hero.

It was a dark night when I picked up this very strange-acting, very large, very furry dog with very big sharp teeth. The breeder assured me that the dog would not bite me, and that “I’d be OK” and loaded him and his crate into my truck. I named the big handsome guy Dolph, after another big handsome guy, and started the 800-mile journey home to North Carolina. Halfway home I figured the big guy needed a potty break and let him out of his crate. It was the moment of truth—would this strange guy bite me? I opened the crate and carefully snapped the leash on his collar. He hopped down and began to explore. And so began our real journey. A journey of healing, maybe for both of us.

Shop Dogs: My best friend Dolph

He was very nervous, almost shell-shocked. If I tried to pet him, he would roll over and urinate all over himself. He wasn’t housetrained and preferred to stay outside, by his doghouse. After a year he began to play a bit, chasing the frisbee, going for walks. He remained nervous and would growl if I tried to make him do anything he didn’t want to do. He loved going for rides in the truck or car, but didn’t want to get out and would only do so when he was ready. One time, a repairman left his van open, and Dolph got in. It took an hour to get him out of that van.

As the years passed, it was dog edition of Benjamin Button, as Dolph was turning into a puppy, only he was a 90-pound puppy who didn’t know how big and strong he was. He was filled with love and joy and expressed it every chance he got. Each day, each moment, was a new chance to be happy. His joy was infectious, touching everyone he came across.

He became my hiking buddy, going for walks each day. He had also become my best friend in a way that no other dog had been. There was a sense of knowing behind those golden brown eyes of his. He’d know when I was sad or upset and he’d let me know that there was no reason I should be sad as he was right there. He’d lay on the floor next to my chair as I worked, never wanting to be too far away from me. Helping me deal with the stress of running and working a shop was his main job.

Last year at age 13, Dolph collapsed in the shop. He had an infection that had taken over his body and was near death. After two weeks of IV meds and fluids at the vet, he was able to come home. He’s been thriving ever since, loving every moment of his life. He does have a spinal disorder that affects older dogs and his back legs are getting weaker. But he still tries to run around with the enthusiasm of a puppy. Eventually his back legs will no longer function and we will fabricate a cart for him. He’ll be hell on wheels, blasting all over the field. I’ve said goodbye to all of my previous pups, but this will be the hardest. Until then, I’ve got the best guy ever showing me how to be happy, living a full life in each precious moment.

Shop Dogs: My best friend Dolph

Our dogs are by our sides during the roughest journeys of our lives, wondering how we can be sad when they love us so much. They see life very differently than we do, and they try very hard to help us to live life as they see it, to be happy in that exact moment.

Not everyone in your life will love you more than anything else. When it happens, it’s one of the most incredible things you will ever experience. And I have been lucky enough to experience that with this big, handsome fuzzy guy that is waiting for me right now, out in my shop.

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