GSRA is many things to many people, but all would probably agree that first and foremost, it’s about second chances for German shepherds in and around North Carolina. The Voice of the Pack Leader blog was started to tell the remarkable story of the Fab Five, which we so enjoyed sharing with the greater GSRA family as we lived it. Now that we’ve told their story, this blog will begin telling the stories of a few other GSRA dogs who, for whatever reason, especially capture people’s interest. We’ll begin that new focus with Ripp’s story.
Ripp’s Story, Part 1: Ripp comes to GSRA
|This was the first photo of Ripp |
we received from the shelter. There’s a softness in
his face that makes you immediately want to help him.
Plus I wanted to get after those toenails!
We first heard about Ripp in early May 2012, when a small shelter in eastern South Carolina contacted us about a sweet, handsome, middle-aged German shepherd who has been seized by the courts as a cruelty case and turned over into their care. Well THAT got our attention! Seeking more information, we learned that the cruelty took the form of extreme neglect, which caused Ripp to live for years with severe, chronically infected ears. How many of you reading this blog have ever had an ear infection? Do you remember how painful that can be? Imagine living with it year after year… that was Ripp’s life, and it eventually led to deafness. But of course, deafness was the least of his problems, because the pain didn’t go away just because his hearing did. Through those dark times, he somehow held onto an extremely sweet and gentle disposition. Once he came into their care, the shelter got Ripp’s ears some immediate attention, but then reached out to us because they felt that his ongoing rehab needs would be beyond both their means and the means of many of their local adopters. They recognized how special this guy was, and wanted the very best for him.
|When Ripp was dizzy and feeling the worst, |
his crate became his safe place.
He’d stay there, even with the doors open.
We gave him pain meds to keep him
comfortable until we could get him to the vet.
It took a few weeks for GSRA to work out the on-site assessment and transport logistics of bringing him into the rescue, but he finally arrived at my house on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. I had fostered deaf dogs before so was not concerned about this, but acclimating a new dog is always a bit of an adventure. Has he ever been inside a house before? Does he understand that the bathroom is outside (big dogs don’t have small accidents, after all!)? Will he get along with my two male dogs? Will he tolerate being crated? Well, I needn’t have worried about any of that. Aside from being a bit disoriented in a new place and tired from the travel, he settled in very easily, and I looked forward to getting to know him.
Well, his ears started causing a problem right from the beginning. He was shaking his head a bit from the time he arrived, but as the holiday weekend went on they quickly became worse, to the point where his balance was affected and he could only stagger around in a circle! I felt so bad for him, being in a strange place, not able to hear, and so dizzy you couldn’t even walk normally. An ear wash helped a bit, as did pain meds, but believe me, I was counting the hours until I could get him to the vet on Tuesday morning!
And so our journey to ear health began. I had noticed over the weekend that the base of Ripp’s ears had no “give” to it, as normal shepherd ears do. Instead, it was hard as a rock! I learned at the vet’s that this was due to calcification, a result of long-term inflammation, and it continued far into the ear canal. It’s common in dogs with chronic ear infections, but they had NEVER seen a case this bad. His ears were also terribly inflamed, and loaded with bacteria. But, we could do something about both of those things, and he would soon be starting to feel better. We started him on a combination of oral antibiotics (pills to swallow) and topical medicine to put in his ears, plus continued his pain meds. I also started flushing his ears every other day to clean them, a routine I would continue for the next six weeks.
|Ripp wouldn’t focus on me in the early days. |
See how he’s looking off to the left?
He was too sick to care who I was.
Now, I am not someone who thinks a pill can fix anything that ails you, but drugs do have their place, and in this case they worked wonders. Ripp was clearly feeling better just 12 hours after his first dose of antibiotics, and by 24 hours I think I was beginning to see the real him for the first time—despite the fact that he’d been with me for five days by this point. Initially, he didn’t focus on me at all, which presented a real quandary as far as training him. I mean, if he can’t hear, all I’m left with is visual and physical communication. His lack of focus had me thinking that he must have a fairly significant vision impairment, but I now know this isn’t the case; he can see just fine, except perhaps for quite close up—He needs reading glasses. But he’s rarely called upon to read, so that’s not a problem. ;-) His lack of focus in the first few days must have been a symptom of just how bad he felt! But of course, since I didn’t know him, I didn’t know what “normal” looked like. Thank goodness we’re beyond that.
|Ripp and his foster bothers. |
That’s Ripp on the left, of course.
Chester’s on the right and Max is behind.
They’re good boys who just roll their eyes
when Ripp is a little clumsy socially.
So, let me tell you about life with “normal” Ripp. Once he was feeling better, getting him to focus on me was NO problem at all. In fact, he keeps such close tabs of me that there’s pretty much no need for a “come” command; he’s already there! But, if I need him to approach closer, I can do this with a few hand claps and a beckoning motion with my hands. He’s also learned to sit on a hand signal and to wait for his food. Although that doesn’t sound like much, it was pretty much all he needed to live easily in my home. He walked nicely on the leash from early on, was nondestructive in the house, and gets on quite well with my dogs. I must say, though, that a lot of the credit for that goes to my boys being so tolerant. Although Ripp doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body, his doggie manners are a tad on the clumsy side. If another dog has something he wants (a ball, for example) it doesn’t occur to him that they might object if he tries to take it. And if they do object, he has absolutely NO survival skills as far as defending himself. So, it’s just as well my guys are not the “butt-kicking” sort.
Ripp had to wear a belly band for a few
days after his tummy tuck.
I mentioned earlier that I would keep up the routine of every-other-day cleaning for 6 weeks. Over that time the amount of nastiness I was removing certainly decreased, but Ripp’s ears were still inflamed and clearly painful. The next step was to take him back to the vet, sedate him, and do a deep ear cleaning. The vet would also be able to finally get a good look and assess whether we were really getting on top of the infection. Since he was going to be sedated, we also decided to get him a little “tummy tuck” to remove the extra flap of skin that hung down from his belly—a purely cosmetic procedure that we would not have put him though if it was the only reason for him to have a surgery.
Ripp’s not worried.
He knows he’s in good hands now.
The ear exam proved to be extremely informative, if not quite the sort of information we wanted to hear. It turns out that the calcification mentioned earlier is so severe that Ripp’s ear canals are completely closed! Although on some level this surprised me, on another it did not, because over the six weeks that I had been flushing his ears to clean them, I always felt like they filled up with flushing solution well before they should; well, now I knew why…. More importantly, the closed ear canals meant that we were never going to get on top of this with antibiotics and cleaning. In fact, the worst part of the infection is almost certainly deep inside, where we can’t get at it at all. Well, at least we know that now, and can move on to something else. The “something else” in this case is a consult with the surgical team at the NCSU Vet School. We will be doing that in the coming week and report about the experience in our next blog.