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This Beth Miller Erman’s wonderful story about her Miracle Dog, Champ. I love these stories and can never get enough. Champ’s story is especially powerful for me because he is Miracle Dog rescue #306. Our sweet Dolly is #307! I hope you feel the same. It’s especially sweet to share these wonderful stories of love and triumph during this, the Christmas season. Enjoy!
“I lost my first German Shepherd, a smart and loyal black-and-cream girl named Lindy, in July 2010. I felt like I had lost part of my being when she died. We still had my husband’s two dogs when she died (we are a blended family), but it wasn’t the same. She and I had made it through 13 years together. Well-meaning people would tell me about other German Shepherds that became available, but I wasn’t ready, but I knew that I would know when the right one came along.
That happened in mid-April 2014, when Serendipity German Shepherd Dog Rescue posted a photo of a couple of their rescues lying on a yellow blanket in a park. One was named Champ, and he had the classic GSD head tilt in the photo. As soon as I saw that picture, I knew he was the one. Serendipity was looking for a foster or adopter for him since he was in boarding at the time. By this time, we had lost all of our dogs and one of my cats, so I asked my husband if he would consider fostering Champ. He said yes, and we went to meet Champ at the kennel the following weekend.
Champ was very anxious when we met him and didn’t really want to be petted. He ran around the enclosed yard, and we played ball a bit. He was way too thin, missing some hair and needed some TLC. We were approved for adoption, and brought him home May 1, 2014.
My husband and I have had many dogs in our lives, but none of them were like Champ. High-strung and anxious didn’t begin to describe him. He reacted to every noise, every movement outside of the window, didn’t have very good leash manners, and was extremely reactive with other dogs. Even at a low weight, he was strong enough to pull me down. We couldn’t have people come to the house because he was so aggressive. We had our dining room chairs lined up in front of the front windows to keep him from going through them. I had to barricade rooms of the house to keep him from hurting my elderly cat. The whole neighborhood was afraid of him. After 10 days, we realized we were in over our heads with this one. We contacted a local dog training group that offered behavioral evaluations and had a one-hour evaluation. We were recommended for a class (appropriately) called “Dogs with Issues,” but it wasn’t set to start until fall, and we knew we couldn’t wait that long. We tried another trainer, but her style and Champ’s issues weren’t a good fit. The volunteers at Serendipity were always available for help and even came over to watch Champ’s behavior themselves and offer recommendations. We were pretty much at the end of our ropes when we learned about Casey Ray St. Louis Dog Trainers. One of the Serendipity volunteers who had helped us with adopting Champ suggested them, and we went to talk with Casey. Champ showed his true colors at the meeting, and we agreed that a two-week Stay & Learn, followed by weekly group training, would be the best thing for all of us.
It didn’t happen overnight, but Champ is a very different dog than he was before we started training with Casey’s team. We have missed only a handful of group training classes in 2.5 years because he needs the structure and socialization. He is still reactive, but we are able to control him in those situations now, and it’s at a significantly lower level than all-out Cujo like he was in 2014. He is often the star of the class. We even did a 6-week agility class, and it was as if he was born for agility. He mastered it really quickly. To continue that, we take him to local playgrounds when children aren’t present and let him go up the climbs and down the slides. There is no playground he can’t conquer!
Emotionally, he has really come around. It took about 6 months with us before he wagged his tail, and probably 18 months before he would sit down next to one of us on the floor. He’s not much of a snuggler, but he does love to be petted and groomed.
If I could share one lesson from our experience with a rescued GSD, I would say to be patient. I was frustrated early on because I didn’t think he was catching on to things quickly enough, but I did not take into account his emotional scars. Once I realized that he needed to learn things on his own time schedule, build his confidence and learn to trust us and other people, it made things a lot easier. Looking back, it’s been such a joy to watch him blossom. He lets people pet him now, loves kids, especially toddlers, and is a happy, healthy dog. He’s not perfect, but he’s perfect for me. I’m grateful to the Miracle GSD Network for saving him and for Serendipity GSD Rescue for bringing him here for an opportunity for a new life.”
What a terrific story! Thank you, Beth, for sharing. It’s amazing what you’ve accomplished in such a relatively short time. We who have had the joy of having a Miracle Dog (or other adopted rescue) don’t know exactly where our dogs have been prior to rescue or what their lives were like. The best we can do is to give them time, consistency, and strong love to help them learn that their lives are forever changed and that they will never need to be afraid again.