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What do Nolan Ryan, Tim Salmon, Rod Carew, Jered Weaver, Mike Trout, and Clyde the German Shepherd mix have in common?
They have all played baseball at Angel Stadium, home to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Southern California.
Two-year-old Clyde regularly runs the bases, catches pop flies, and snags ground balls out in center field. This big, goofy, gentle giant — he weighs in at a lean 96 pounds — is a fixture at the stadium. Most days, Clyde “works” with his dad, Barney Lopas, the head groundskeeper at Angel Stadium, as he maintains one of the most well-known baseball diamonds in the nation.
Clyde is living the dream of many young boys and girls across the country, catching balls on the famed baseball field. But even more remarkable is Clyde’s miraculous journey to get to that beloved diamond. In fact, it’s a miracle he’s even still alive.
It began on Valentine’s Day 2014 when Clyde was born to an unknown father and his German Shepherd mom. Mom and pups wound up in a high-kill shelter, but German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County came through and saved the little family. Clyde recuperated and grew stronger in the home of a foster dad, and that’s when the Lopas family of Anaheim came into the picture.
In January 2014, the Lopases lost their beloved Golden Retriever, Slider, and Barney’s wife, Lori, became depressed. She vowed no more dogs, but as the months progressed, she wasn’t feeling any better. In June, Barney convinced her it was time to open up their hearts and homes to another fur baby. But this time, they wanted to try a German Shepherd. They saw and fell in love with 4-month-old Clyde on GSROC’s website. “He was so cute, just a little fluff ball,” Lori said.
Right away, Lori knew something was wrong. Initially, Clyde seemed perfectly fine and happy. Yet when he came home with Lori and later met up with Barney, Clyde acted terrified. His fear erupted from him so forcefully that he got aggressive, biting and barking anyone near him. Anyone but Lori. “I was like his protector,” she said.
Barney and Lori hoped it was just a phase and that Clyde would grow out of it. Instead, he got worse, biting everyone, drawing blood, and becoming frantically upset whenever he met anyone. It was time for the professionals.
Lori was devastated when the trainer she turned to told her Clyde suffered from one of the most severe cases of fear aggression that he had ever seen, and it might not be curable. In a panic, Lori called GSROC, knowing she needed a miracle or she would have to give the dog back. Immediately, the rescue group stepped up to help. They secured Clyde a spot with a proven trainer used by the group, who began a lengthy, arduous, dedicated stint of helping Clyde overcome his issues and learning to trust people, including Barney.
“My husband was so determined,” Lori said. Barney spent night after night lying on the floor next to the dog’s crate as Clyde huddled in the far recess of the back, terrified.
Little by little, night after night, Barney inched closer to the crate, then moved a bit inside the crate, then crawled completely inside. Clyde soon accepted Barney, and now the two are totally inseparable. “He wanted that dog to like him so bad,” Lori said.
The trainer told the Lopases that if anyone else got Clyde, he most likely would have been put to sleep — especially if he stayed in the shelter — and it was nothing shy of a miracle that he was able to get the exact type of training he needed. “(The trainer) trained us right along with the dog,” Lori said.
Once Clyde made progress, he began coming to work with Barney, who has been the head groundskeeper at Angel Stadium since 1996. And Clyde has been “working” ever since. From riding around in a golf cart and fetching balls while Barney works on the mound after the game, to catching pop flies, rolling in the grass, or frolicking in water on the field while things get hosed down, Clyde exhibits more enthusiasm than a rookie playing his first major league game.
Today, Clyde has zero aggression in him at all. He is incredibly social and has met some of the Angels players and about a zillion other people. He even has his own bed. Well, it’s actually Lori and Barney’s bed. But Clyde crawls up there each and every night, nestling his big lion-like head on Barney’s pillow. “He’s a very happy dog right now,” Lori said. “We are so thankful to have him.”
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About the author: Kyra Kirkwood writes for many pet-related, food-centered, and entertainment-themed publications. When this California-based freelance writer isn’t working, she’s teaching college journalism classes, writing books, or enjoying the company of her husband, two young children, and special-needs rescue dog Ralph. Visit her website at kyrakirkwood.com, or follow her onFacebook and Twitter.