2006-07-20 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Jasmine, Shepherd/Lab mix Jasmine, Shepherd/Lab mix Our Chewbacca, a hero in Shepherd Cyberspace, died July 5th, a few weeks shy of his first anniversary in "happily ever after". He was (and is) so much more than an old dog. This stray German shepherd, adopted from Babylon Town Shelter, remains a symbol of hope for senior dogs; a testament to the reach of Internet rescue; and an inspiration to all about the power of compassion.

Chewbacca's story is new to Post readers but Beacon and Record readers may know part of it. The sweet, senior purebred showed up at Babylon Shelter in June '05 where he won everyone's heart during his 2 month stay .His wobbly back end made him out to be about 11, and a difficult placement. My "Sam Shephard, the aging hunk" yielded no homes, while the Star Wars name given to him on Petfinder by Kristin, our Animal Control Officer was the charm when she posted this description on the shelter site: "Meet Chewbacca. This old guy would like to live out the rest of his life in luxury. Chewbacca was found roaming the streets by the police. He looks like he has had it rough and gets around but would like to curl up at your feet and share your sandwich."

Chewie swimming in Boston. Chewie swimming in Boston. Someone in Maine attached Chewbacca's link to an "Adopt a Senior" campaign on a German Shepherd Dog (GSD) Rescue message board where his photo and story were discovered by Donna Joseph, an oncology nurse at Dana Farber in Boston and the volunteer photographer for New England GSD Rescue. She was drawn to him. Her first visit ever to NY was to save Chewie so she could add him to her pack of rescued Shepherds and cats.

All year Donna chronicled every step of Chewie's new life online for the entire GSD world to see. She nursed him back to the vital pup he once was. For quite some time he could run up the stairs and chase the ball with his siblingsSally, Matsi and Red. Photos showed him leaving the shelter, meeting his family, swimming at the beach, romping at the park and even having his own Boston Tea Party. More recently her camera and comments praised an ill Chewie's charisma when he visited the emergency hospital. From the moment Donna entered her life, the elderly dog had a "Chewbacca Fan Club" clamoring for more, so Donna developed a Chewbacca calendar and novelties, including Chewbacca undies. The proceeds go to German Shepherd Rescue.

Mikey, longhair kitten Mikey, longhair kitten Meanwhile, last fall Kristin and I entered Chewie's story in a national contestPetfinder's "Adopt a Senior Month" and won a watercolor portrait. Some day these prints may be sold to benefit the pets at Babylon Shelter. Donna has plans now for either a video or book to tell Chewie's story and encourage adoption of other senior pets. Chewbacca's legacy will live on.

In some ways Chewie is reminiscent of the more famous Vivi, the lost WKC Whippet, or Barbaro, the disabled Derby winner. Like them, he touched the lives of so many that never met or pet him. Tributes continue to appear daily on the GSD Internet threads. Someone who called herself "Midget" wrote: "Nobody who read about you will ever look at an "old" dog the same way again. Through Donna you have given us all a chance to see the true value and grace of age, and you have given so many dogs a new chance at life. Thank you. Chewie, you will never be forgotten."

Donna, so experienced with end of life care, was the perfect person to embrace a senior pet like Chewie. In an email to us, she said: "As a cancer nurse in a research institute, I deal with many tragic stories. My patients are my heroes as they endure so much physical and emotional suffering because they love their lives and mostly they love their children. I often wonder if I could be as strong given the circumstances. Anyway, as for as many patients that don't make it, there is always the one who defeats the odds, and that is the person I cling to that keeps me working really hard for the rest."

Chewbacca beat the odds too.

This week in Chewbacca's honor, I had to advertise a mature dog at Oyster Bay Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset. Jasmine #060633 is a middle aged Shepherd/Lab with excellent dog manners. She's about 5.The shelter has a larger selection of dogs this week, plus many cats, including handsome Mikey #060664a 6 month declawed, neut. longhair kittencream and white. Family allergies cost this sweetie a home. See more photos on the Oyster Bay's Petfinder site.

Females: Megana 3 year Lab/Border collie; Tinkthe 1 year Neapolitan Mastiff; a female Husky #060611 Males: a purebred German shepherd #060513a stocky, young version of Chewbacca.

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