Gandalf defies the odds – twice – and is now a restaurant’s namesake: Send us your pet rescue stories

November 15, 2018

Gandalf defies the odds – twice – and is now a restaurant’s namesake: Send us your pet rescue stories

Michelle and I moved in together in 2006. I had one or two plants (one plastic) in our Cape Cod Bay Village home by Lake Erie. Our lawn was so small, I could mow it with a pair of scissors.

Michelle was a professional equestrian rider and always worked outside, so Bay Village wasn’t exactly her cup of tea. One day, we decided to drive south, into the country, and wound up in Valley City to visit Valley Tack Shop.

While driving to the tack store, we discovered a home for sale, with the house settled in the back of the property, away from the road, up against the woods. We instantly fell in love with the house and acreage and, on the following Monday, we made an offer. They accepted on Valentine’s Day 2007 and we moved in the following April.

In November of 2008, Michelle and I went to the IX Center in Brook Park to see a friend participate in a dog agility show. In addition to the teams of dogs competing, there were rescue dog organizations that were desperately trying to get people to adopt a dog. Michelle and I had talked about one day having a dog, but only when we were ready. The responsibility of taking care of a dog was something that I had not fully experienced. There are no days off; it has to be a full commitment.

But there he was. A little puppy with a white and brown coat that stuck out from all the other puppies. He was the most playful and energetic in the group. And we instantly fell in love with him.

When we got home, this little puppy was so shy and scared. He came from a chaotic environment filled with over-excited puppies to our quiet place in Valley City. We fed him and put a bed together for the first night in his new home.

We named him Gandalf, based on my love of “The Lord of the Rings.”

The next morning, we came downstairs to see the new arrival. Instead of being energetic and excited like the day before, he appeared lethargic and tired. We thought he might just be getting used to his new surroundings, so he might be a bit overwhelmed. But something was wrong. Gandalf walked across the floor and immediately started to have diarrhea. I took him outside and it continued. We tried to give him water and he refused. So, we decided to take him to the veterinarian.

We took Gandalf to Akron Veterinary Emergency Hospital and they had him tested while we anxiously waited. The doctor came back in the room and started to tell us about canine parvovirus, or parvo, a gastrointestinal virus that is very common and a concern for young puppies due to their weak immune systems. I had never heard of it. So, I just listened to the doctor. Michelle had heard of it, because she grew up on a farm. So, she started to cry.

The doctor looked at us and said we had to make a decision. The treatment was expensive and some dog owners often took the easy and cheaper way out and put the dog down. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We just got this puppy and we had to make a life-or-death decision? I had to decide if we were going to kill him -- after the first day in our home? No way, this is crazy.

But we asked the doctor to bring Gandalf back into the room. She put him on the table; he looked so weak and sick. I leaned over to him, looked into his little brown eyes, and asked him, ”Do you want to live?”

He immediately perked up and his little tail started to wag. I looked up at the doctor and said, ”Save our boy.” And she did.

Gandalf rebounded from parvo quite quickly. His energy came back, as well as his appetite (which has never left). We played ball together, we walked in the park together. Michelle worked with him to teach him basic obedience and tricks. She taught him how to walk with us, how to sit, how to be patient for his food or a treat.

We got Invisible Fence for our property, which gave Gandalf two acres in which to run, play and chase birds and squirrels. He did all of that and then some. In return, every morning, he would jump on the bed and lick our faces -- at 6 am. His tail would be wagging and he would bark “I love you, mom and dad” or ”get up and feed me.” I like to think it was the first one.

At night, he would wait for us to come home from work and greet us with kisses and his chew toy, Frankie Kong (a wiener dog body with a monkey’s face). He always would come to us and snuggle in our laps. We truly felt the love of a dog.

I thought this was great. I had land, I had a dog. What else could I possibly get? Well, Michelle’s friend worked for the Cleveland APL and always sent over pictures of dogs that were abandoned or just admitted to the facility. I have to admit, I would always change the channel when the commercials came on with Sarah McLachlan music in the background. They always brought a tear to my eye.

But something changed in us. Michelle and I started to watch social media more and tried to share information about dogs so that they would get adopted. We started to donate to area animal shelters and participate in pack walks.

One day, we decided that we had more than enough space to get another dog. This one had to be less energetic than Gandalf. Maybe the next dog could calm him down and be a companion. As luck would have it, the next dog was a female that treated Gandalf as her own pup. Her name is Jezzi and she came from the APL. She has turned out to be such a great addition to our family.

Michelle and I felt so much love from these two dogs; it was like they knew they were saved by us. But with the amount of joy and love they gave us, it really felt like WE were the ones being saved. We looked forward to spending time with them every day. Their personalities were so different, their moods, the way the slept, dreamt, reacted when we spoke to them. They had such great souls and unconditional love for us.

So we got another one. His name is Ringo and he is a Treeing Walker Coonhound. He rounded out our pack.

On a late October night in 2013, Michelle and I came home from dinner at an area establishment only to be greeted by the bark of a neighbor’s dog. When we opened the door to our house, our excited dogs flew out of the house to confront their canine neighbor. In a rush to arrive on the scene, Gandalf blindly cut across the bushes only to run into a trailer hitch from our truck that had been protruding into the bushes. I was standing there and heard the thud and high-pitched scream from my boy. I knew exactly who it was, but I couldn’t see him in the dark.

Before I could call for him, he appeared in the dark and slowly walked toward me with his head down. As he got closer, I could see the extent of the damage to his head and back. He just leaned into me, as if asking for help, and I hugged him. I screamed for Michelle and she came running out the door.

We got a towel, lifted him up and immediately put him in the car. We called area vets as we sped east on Ohio 303, only to find a 24-hour facility in Copley, Ohio, 45 minutes away. It was the same place that we had taken Gandalf five years before for parvovirus.

I called out to Gandalf as I sped to the hospital, telling him that he would be OK and that we loved him. He walked over to me and started to lick my outstretched hand. That’s when I knew he was going to be all right. It wasn’t his time and he was telling us not to worry, he wasn’t going anywhere.

Dr. H. Rodney Ferguson operated on Gandalf the next morning, cleaned out his wound, fixed the head trauma and started Gandalf on the road to healing.

Michelle and I love our dogs. In fact, we love all dogs. They’ve helped us to become better people by realizing that we are here to co-exist with animals. The love they give us, no matter what mood or day we have, is a precious gift that we’ve come to appreciate. We will do anything to help animals.

We even named our restaurant in Valley City after my boy -- Gandalf’s Pub & Restaurant.

Please enjoy this video that we made in honor of Gandalf. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRSgGpuIirM&t=25s

Sean Lackey,

Valley City

Do you share your life with an animal that is near and dear to you? Tell us something about your pet - all species are welcome - and send along a photo of the two of you. Be sure to tell us which Greater Cleveland community you live in. Send everything to Ann Norman at anorman@cleveland.com.

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