Only 5 months old when he landed in Canada, Pal the Golden Retriever mix was frightened as he finally stepped out of his crate after a 12-hour flight from Istanbul. Blind since birth, the white-coated pup needed someone to lead him to his new home, and dog trainer Joanne George was the perfect person for the job.
“As soon as I picked up the leash at the airport and walked him a bit, it felt so natural,” Joanne tells Dogster. “I knew how to send my good energy down the leash to that dog because that’s what I learned with Smiley.”
You may have heard of Smiley, Joanne’s older Golden Retriever. A fellow Dogster Monday Miracle, Smiley is also blind, but that hasn’t stopped the hoarding survivor from becoming the perfect pet, a therapy dog, and an international viral sensation. He’s been with Joanne for more than a decade now, and has taught her a lifetime of lessons about helping blind dogs. So when Joanne was scrolling through her social media and saw a post about a blind puppy in Turkey, she knew she and Smiley could help.
“My husband looked at me — I was beside him on the couch — and I was in tears because I just instantly knew that dog was going to come here and he would be ours.”
Joanne immediately contacted Golden Rescue and applied to adopt the then 4-month-old pup who was still in the care of Turkish rescuers who had asked Golden Rescue to get him to Canada. In early October, Pal stepped off the plane and into her life, and into the lives of her husband Darrin; her son Shepherd; the family’s sighted Border Collie, Pippi; and of course, Smiley.
When Pal entered the family’s Stouffville, Ontario, home he made two things clear: He wanted food, and he did not want the other dogs to come near him. Joanne says Pal was as skinny a dog as she’s ever seen, and was clearly in survival mode.
“He was just like a bear,” says Joanne. “Thank goodness Pippi and Smiley are very tolerant, understanding, and quiet. It only took him about a day to realize these dogs were never going to hurt him, and he stopped reacting.”
Soon Pal learned to ignore food that wasn’t his. His gentle, loving personality began to shine through as he let down his guard. In just a few weeks, Joanne saw the kind of progress that had taken six months with Smiley.
“Everything that Smiley taught me, I’ve used in dog training with other people’s dogs, but now being able to put it into our new dog has been amazing, easy, and fast.”
By the end of October, Pal was not only a functioning member of George’s family, he was also behaving beautifully with her dog walking clients on group treks through the forest. He’d grown larger than Pippi and Smiley, prompting some speculation about his breed (a DNA test is in his future). Unfortunately, Pal’s progress was suddenly replaced by crippling pain on October 31.
“I’d only had him a month, and the next thing you know he can’t get up, he can’t walk,” Joanne says. “He was diagnosed with hypertrophic osteodystrophy. They don’t even have a definite cause for it, but they have a lot of things that seem to be linked to it.”
Common in fast-growing large breeds, hypertrophic osteodystrophy is a painful bone disease. Pal was hospitalized, and vets told Joanne he was basically a perfect storm of suspected risk factors due to the stress of his life in Turkey.
“Then he comes here, and he gets balanced nutrition. All of a sudden, he’s getting these minerals and nutrients. They said basically his bones kind of went into shock,” Joanne explains.
Treatments for hypertrophic osteodystrophy include pain medications and anti-inflammatories, but there is no cure. Many families choose euthansia, but Joanne and her medical team put Pal on a rehab regime that has worked wonders.
Laser therapy, hydrotherapy on an underwater treadmill, and chiropractic treatments keep Pal moving. He’ll never be an agility prospect, but Joanne says the sweet-natured pup likely has a future as a therapy dog, just like his big brother, Smiley. He may not be physically perfect, but Pal has definitely found the perfect home.