‘My heart just melted:’ Charlie on the mend - Republic-Times | News

‘My heart just melted:’ Charlie on the mend

By on June 13, 2018 at 2:46 pm

Charlie was hit by a car when he was a year old and has coped with the injuries ever since. He has received care from Helping Strays and a Columbia couple that has improved his life drastically. (submitted photo)

Thanks to a local animal shelter and couple, a disabled dog is getting a second chance at life. 

When he was only a year old, Charlie the dog was struck by a car. As a result, he suffered a spinal cord injury that caused him, among other things, to lose movement in his legs. 

He also injured his left eye and dislocated both hips. 

In early January, four years after his accident, Charlie’s owner surrendered him to Helping Strays of Monroe County, an animal shelter dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating dogs and cats and finding them permanent homes. Charlie’s previous owner hoped the nonprofit could provide better care.

That hope was fulfilled, as the shelter provided the necessary care for Charlie largely because of the money donated to its Pet In Need fund. 

“We were fortunate to have the owner surrender him because Charlie needed so much medical attention and the owner was not capable of providing this,” shelter director Bill Dahlkamp explained. “We were able to get him a wheelchair, take care of his eye and meet his other needs to nurse him back to health.”

The process of rehabilitating Charlie required the shelter to surgically remove his eye, which was blind and infected, to improve his comfort and avoid further complications. 

He also began a regimen of hydrotherapy. For this treatment, the 5-year-old beagle and dachshund mix is placed on an underwater treadmill and encouraged to walk. 

In mid-January, Mark and Kathleen Thien of Columbia took Charlie home to foster him throughout his rehabilitation process.

“When I first saw him, my heart just melted for him because he was so cute and he needed help and somebody with a big heart like we have,” Kathleen, a part-time pharmacist who also volunteers at the shelter, said.

Mark, an electronics technician with the Federal Aviation Administration, was a bit more reluctant to take in a disabled dog.

His hesitation soon dissipated. 

“If you see him, your heart just sinks for him and you want to help him,” Mark said. “It’s kind of sad, even though to him it probably doesn’t seem like a big deal because he’s been in this situation for four years. But to somebody like us it just breaks our heart.”

As part of fostering Charlie the Thiens provide care to the dog, who joined their three beagles as part of the family. They said the main thing they do for Charlie, who is incontinent, is help him urinate and defecate. 

The couple must express his bladder every four to five hours. They also must take him outside regularly so he can defecate or clean up his droppings in their home. 

Additionally, they take Charlie to his hydrotherapy appointments twice a week. When he began the process, he could only walk for about three and a half minutes. Now, he walks for approximately 14, the Thiens said.

Charlie has progressed to the point that he can stand by himself for a few minutes and even take a few steps.

When he is in his wheelchair that goes on his hindquarters, however, he can do much more.

“He walks great in his wheelchair,” Kathleen said. “He’s like king of the hill. He runs and he’s confident and happy in the wheelchair.”

Despite his hardships, the couple said Charlie has a cheery disposition. 

“Most of the time he’s very sweet,” Kathleen said. “He likes to just sit in our lap and give us kisses. He wants to be by us all the time.”

The Thiens said they plan to adopt Charlie once they figure out how to afford his hydrotherapy, which will continue indefinitely. Currently, it is provided for free by Murphy Animal Hospital since Helping Strays is a nonprofit.

“He’s staying here,” Kathleen adamantly said. “I can’t see him going anywhere else.”

“I’m afraid that if he went somewhere else it would just break his heart,” Mark added.  

While Charlie has been a success story for Helping Strays, an abundance of cases like Charlie’s that require medical care beyond what the shelter normally provides have depleted the Pet In Need fund. 

This makes it more difficult for the shelter to assist needy animals, but Dahlkamp said it will not stop the shelter from continuing its mission. 

“No matter how much money is or is not in the fund, we will never turn away an animal that needs help,” he said.  “We simply dig in our heels and fund-raise more to build up the fund.  Every animal has the opportunity for quality care and a quality life and we will do everything in our capability to provide that.”

The Thiens echoed that sentiment, saying taking care of a special needs dog like Charlie is a serious commitment, but a worthwhile one.

“It’s a lot of work. It’s not a joke. It’s not easy for us,” Mark admitted. 

“But I think the reward is there,” Kathleen added while Mark agreed. “Charlie’s happy again. That makes me happy that we’re changing his life for the better.”

To give to Helping Strays or to find out how to volunteer, visit helpingstrays.org.  

James Moss