When Martha Rehmeyer, president of Carolina Great Pyrenees Rescue, Inc., met Earl in October 2012, she never thought he’d find a home. Martha’d recieved a call from a man in Virginia. His father, a backyard breeder, had died, and the family wasn’t continuing the business. When volunteers met Earl, he walked with difficulty, one leg tucked up and hopping on the other. The breeder’s son said Earl broke his leg when he was four weeks old and it was never treated.
According to Rehmeyer, what they found is typical of puppy mills. In this case, the dogs were thin and their coats were matted. They’d never been groomed, let alone vaccinated or visited the vet. All the animals were kept in a barn, hadn’t been handled much, and had ear infections. Because he had good lines, the breeder kept Earl after his accident, planning to breed him.
“I thought we were going to have him forever,” says Rehmeyer, remembering how he looked that day. But Earl had other plans.
When Rehmeyer took him to the vet, she learned his “good” leg was deformed from the way he walked. He needed surgery on that leg before addressing the other. The rescue raised the $10,000 needed for treatment, and Earl had his surgery.
One year and many treatments later, Earl walked on the good leg, and there was a plan for the bad leg, including surgery and physical therapy, but realistically, he was a special needs dog. He’d also developed an antibiotic-resistant staph infection. For him to be adopted—and plenty of people were interested—he needed a one-story home and a family who probably faced lifelong physical therapy and potential surgeries with Earl.
Enter the foster family of Barb and Jay Hutcherson. Their companion Pyr died the year before, and their most recent foster had found his home. They specialized in older dogs and dogs with special needs. When Barb met Earl, she decided her own personal mission: let Earl be a dog. He’d never rolled in the grass or played in the snow. With the staph infection, nobody was sure how long Earl would even live, but Barb wanted whatever time he had to be happy.
“The decision to admit we were ‘failed’ fosters simply occurred by living with him,” she says. “He was a happy dog, he seemed happy with us. He brought out the best in us, and we couldn’t imagine him going someplace else. We just fell in love with him and had to keep him.”
Falling in love with Earl meant committing to four-day-a-week physical therapy sessions, but Barb is happy to do it. Over the course of two years, Earl has gone from hopping like a bunny to walking with a limp. But he’s walking, rolling, and generally being a dog. And like so many unlikely rescues before him, he managed to steal someone’s heart.
Kim Justen is a freelance writer living in North Carolina with two rescue cats, one Doberman, a beta fish and her two teenagers. The cats keep her on her toes; the Doberman keeps the kids in line and the Beta acts as her editor. She also writes romance novels as Kimberly Hope. (NOTE: we’re only including bios for experts)
Personal interview, Barb Hutcherson, Earl’s owner 5/1/14
Phone interview, Martha Rehmeyer, 5/7/14
Additional background, Carolina Great Pyrenees Rescue newsletters, 2012-2013, http://www.cgpr.org/newsletters
Earl and Barb: Photo courtesy of Ed Woodard
Earl in wheelchair: Photo courtesy of Tracy Strassburg