In Helping Others you Help Yourself – I Adopted a Dog with Brain Damage

My friend’s story is not going to be told, since it was a painful experience and much corruption was involved, and so to be on the safe side, he and I decided to cancel the article. He did, however, inspire a great new blog series on my website, In Helping Others you Help Yourself, and I would like to end this series with a tale about Apollo, a dog I spent 10 years of my life with and whose personal limitations taught me a lot about myself.

Apollo had cellular brain damage, which I didn’t know when I adopted him. It wasn’t obvious when he was a puppy, because he was – and has always been – physically healthy and strong; he was also a playful and happy puppy. It wasn’t easy to handle his issues when they slowly broke to the surface, but in time I learned and I did everything possible to give Apollo a good life.

In Helping Others You Help Yourself - I Adopted a Dog With Brain Damage

How Apollo Came Into my Life

In 2009, one of my students approached me because she knew I rescued animals. She told me about her neighbor who had a big Cane Corso mix that had just had a litter of 7 puppies. The mother dog was ill, skin over bones, and her puppies didn’t look much better. The owner did not care for them. The six-week-old puppies even ventured out on the street. My student asked me if I could help. I went with her to her neighbor’s place and we talked her into surrendering the dogs to me, but she did not want to part with the mother …

In the end, we only got six puppies. The owner wanted to keep one of the puppies. A week later, the mother and that puppy were dead …

driving

In that time I volunteered for an animal shelter and I drove those six puppies there. During the drive, one of them crept on my lap and I fell in love with her. They looked like Pit Bull mixes. The one I fell in love with had a pink nose with a black heart-shaped spot on it. She was so adorable. I never forgot about her …

At the shelter, the puppies tested positive for distemper, but they displayed no symptoms. Nonetheless, all but three were euthanized, including the one with the pink nose and heart-shaped spot. It was done when I was absent from the shelter, and I was heartbroken about losing them. Distemper is a deadly disease and although there are dogs that survive it, that rarely happens …

upset

The three surviving dogs had no distemper. They did, however, have parvovirus, as I would soon discover. The shelter had not tested them for parvo. One of those puppies was Apollo; he was the runt of the litter. He was skin over bones with a giant, swollen belly that was ridden with worms … It didn’t look like he was going to make it … His brother and sister did not look much better either, but Apollo was in the worst shape. The shelter manager told me that if I didn’t take them in, that these puppies would not survive. They didn’t have the strength to live at a shelter.

Apollo-Dora-Milo
Apollo, Dora, and Milo

Saving Apollo and Milo

I took them in. It soon turned out that they also had parvovirus, which – like distemper – is a deadly disease. The little girl, whom I called Dora, did not make it. Losing her was very painful for me, after I had spent days bonding with her. She used to love crawling up on me and lie down on my chest.

DoraMiloApollo
Dora , Milo, and Apollo

After Dora died, the shelter manager called me and demanded that I returned Milo and Apollo, so that they could put them down. They did not want to save them. I refused. We argued over the phone. I told him that I would not hand them over if they were going to kill them. I told him that I would fight for them, that I would do everything possible to save their lives. In the end, the man relented, but he said that the shelter would no longer help me with medicine or any other costs; it was all up to me now. Fine by me.

I literally fought for Milo and Apollo. It was such a hard battle to save their lives. Not only did they have parvovirus, and high fever, Apollo was so ridden with worms that it took me nearly three months to get him completely dewormed … But they both made it.

That battle to save them created a unique bond between us, and after they were in the clear, the shelter wanted to send them to Seattle to get them adopted, but I told them that I was keeping them. I had gotten too attached to them. I could not let them go anymore. Both puppies were also very attached to me. They knew I had saved their lives.

Milo and Apollo
Milo and Apollo

Milo and Apollo

Milo grew into a healthy and sociable dog. He was always extremely relaxed, and he liked receiving visitors at home. He was very friendly with other dogs, cats, and people.

Apollo also grew into a healthy dog, and when he was a puppy there were no issues. When he was 10 months old he began to display the first signs that something was wrong. At first, I thought that I had not trained him well and that he just needed to be trained again. Both dogs were neutered, so it wasn’t a hormonal thing either.

Milo was a very easy dog and I could take him everywhere, but Apollo grew increasingly more difficult, and he snapped at my other dogs for no apparent reason. He also tried to bite them. He nearly seemed bipolar, friendly and loving one moment and growling and biting the next moment.

thinking

The dog trainer could not help him at all, and that man blamed me for it, instead of trying to see what other reasons there could be for Apollo’s strange behavior. He never wondered why my other dogs didn’t do what Apollo did. It was just Apollo.

Apollo’s Diagnosis

I am not going to go into detail about what Apollo did, but believe me that he caused me tears in those first years when I did not know what was wrong with him. If you are wondering why I did not take him to a dog psychologist, the answer is that there are no dog psychologists in my area. I live in Los Cabos, Mexico, and there are no animal psychologists here that I know of. For that, I would have to travel to the mainland.

Several vets and acquaintances told me to put him down, but I refused. I was not going to kill him just because I had not figured out what was going on with him. Then, the vet who had known him as a puppy took a blood test and several other tests. Everything indicated that he was a very healthy dog. However, the vet suspected that he had cellular brain damage, because of what he had suffered as a puppy.

veterinarian

He was the only vet who had known Apollo since he was a puppy; he remembered how I had moved mountains to save him and his brother Milo, and he agreed with me that euthanasia was a selfish option. He deducted that the high fevers he had suffered as a puppy might have damaged his brain cells.

We needed more tests and a dog psychologist to prove that, but I had no money left for any more tests; and the dog psychologist … well, I told you, there was none. The vet said that if Apollo were human he would have to go to an institution, but he was a dog, so the only possible option was either euthanasia or taking special care of him. I chose the latter. I would take care of him and give him a happy life. His mother and nearly all his brothers and sisters were dead. Apollo and Milo were the only survivors. I was not going to give up on him.

Apollo’s Care

Over the years, Apollo grew more aggressive towards my other dogs. He even went after Milo, who was at first the only one he did not lash out to. The only thing left to do was to separate him. I paid a worker to build him a large separate area on my land. It had a good size, so he could run around and he would have plenty of space. He was separated from my dogs by a chain link, which allowed him to still have contact with them, but in a safe way.

I would often sit with him in his area, cuddle with him, or watch the sunset with him and enjoying a glass of wine. He always loved that.

Buddies

What I did not realize was that – as time went by – the separation and the safe contact with my dogs allowed him plenty of interaction with them, and soon my dogs understood that he could not hurt them, that it was perfectly safe. He became friends with them again, and it was wonderful to see their relationship improve. A rescued Pit Bull puppy decided that he wanted to be Apollo’s best friend, and he always rushed to Apollo’s area, yapping and wagging his tail. I was terrified, but Apollo also loved the little fella, and they became good friends.

Tommeeh puppy
Tommeeh, as a puppy

Although Apollo’s relationship with my dogs was much better and friendlier now, there were still moments when everything seemed perfectly safe and then all of a sudden he growled at them again. Those moments served as a constant reminder why he lived separated from the other dogs …

Apollo had a very sweet and innocent look in his eyes, but they often clouded over when a moment of madness came over him again and then they looked indeed a little mad. The vet said that in a way he was crazy … and there was nothing I could do about it.

Just me

The only animals that could do nothing wrong with him were cats and Tommeeh, the Pit Bull puppy. He absolutely adored cats! I was the only human Apollo obeyed and wanted to interact with. Except for two friends, in all ten years of his life there was no one in the world that Apollo would allow near him if I was not present.

Visitors could only pet him when I was with them and he could see that it was safe. He would wag his tail and even give a friendly lick, but I could never leave people alone with him, because as soon as I turned my back he would growl and bark at them, so I never left Apollo alone with anyone. Despite that, everybody always remembered Apollo fondly, and most people who really got to know him ended up loving him. Others who didn’t know him were – understandably – afraid πŸ˜‰

Some of my friends thought that it was weird how sweet he was to them only when I was near, but if I left (which I didn’t do, period), his eyes clouded over and he snapped. I know this, because it happened only once, and that was the first and last time. With Apollo, I always paid attention, it became a part of life.

Apollo

For eight years I could not go on vacation. I tried once; I traveled for a few days and left him with a vet. Apollo growled at the man even when he fed him, and on top of that he destroyed his kennel … Enough said … I simply could not go on vacation, and so I didn’t. Although I complained about that and from time to time I sighed that my life was limited because of Apollo, it never occurred to me to get rid of him. I loved him to pieces. With me, he was the sweetest boy. He truly loved me. I could also put my hand in his bowl when he ate – I was the only who could do that. So, when some people “in good advice” told me to euthanize him, I always told them no, why would I kill a perfectly healthy and happy dog? I had no right to do that.

Traveling with Apollo

Despite his situation, Apollo was incredibly happy. I took him for walks, together with Tommeeh. I always had to do two long walks, first with the rest of the dogs, and then again with Apollo and Tommeeh. Man, that was exhausting, lol, but a lot of fun too! Tommeeh always accompanied me on both walks, the little guy, he just loved all the exercise πŸ™‚

Apollo in car

I also took Apollo to the beach. Once, I went camping with him. It was just for one night, because I could not get anyone to look after my dogs for longer, but that one night was all we needed. We slept under the stars, and Apollo was so happy that night, really in awe at his surroundings. It has become an unforgettable memory for me.

In the Jungle

When Apollo was eight years old, friends who lived on the other side of the country invited me for a two-week stay. I told them that such a long time was not possible, because of Apollo, and they said, “Well, bring him over here then.” So, I did. We flew from Los Cabos to Cancun and then we drove to my friend’s place near Tulum – they own and manage a spider monkey sanctuary. Apollo was very welcome there and he was really good with one of my friends (who spent most of his time with Apollo).

The spider monkeys mesmerized Apollo. On top of that, we were in the jungle! Los Cabos is in the semi-desert, and being in the jungle was such an adventure for Apollo. He had a wonderful time and he was on his best behavior. I am so grateful that we were able to make that trip together.

Apollo on the beach

Together Until the End

When Apollo was 10, his health began to deteriorate. He was an old boy now, and we both knew that his time had come. One evening, he was doing badly, and I sat with him in his area. I sat on the ground, by his side, petting him and singing to him. His tail wagged every time he heard my voice sing. Although he was weak, he was happy to have me near. It wouldn’t be long now.

The day he left this world I had to go to work, and it was the last thing I wanted to do, but I was not sure my bosses would understand … Deep down I knew that it could be any time now …

I moved Apollo to a shady spot, told him that I was going to get him more painkillers after work and that I would hurry back here. After work, I rushed back home, and I found Apollo in the same spot where I had left him. I knew that the time had come and there was no more need for pills … I sank down by his side and spoke to him.

“It is time, Apollo, isn’t it?” I said. I petted him and kept on speaking to him. I knew I had to call the vet to put him down, because I did not want him to suffer in his last moments. I got up and called the vet to tell him, and in that moment Apollo passed away.

Apollo had waited for me to come home, so that he could say his last goodbye. I will never forget that. I am so grateful that I was there for him, that I spent that evening with him, singing for him which he so loved, and that I was there with him in his last moments on Earth.

Apollo

If I Could go Back in Time,

I would do it all over again. I am grateful that Apollo came into my life. He was a gift from Heaven, and he taught me so much about myself, so much I didn’t even know about me. Apollo came into my life for a reason.

Was my life limited in some ways? Yes, but I do not regret that. I spent some wonderful and amazing moments with Apollo and that boy showed me who I was, a lesson I will not forget. I am grateful that he was in my life. I am grateful that little Tommeeh (who is now big Tommeeh πŸ˜‰ ) was such a good friend to him, and I am grateful that despite everything Apollo was happy.

I lost count of the people who told me to euthanize him. None of them really knew him. Apollo and Milo are the perfect examples of lives of other dogs that could have lived if they were not taken away by euthanasia. Both Milo and Apollo had good, happy lives and they knew love. They both deserved to live. Euthanasia often seems the easy way out, but you can call it whatever you want, euthanasia, putting down, putting to sleep, sending to paradise … in the end you are still taking a life without permission.

If I could go back in time, I would rescue Milo and Apollo again. It was worth it.

I may have saved Apollo, but in a way he also saved me.

Apollo-eulogy

Apollo-eulogy

13 thoughts on “In Helping Others you Help Yourself – I Adopted a Dog with Brain Damage”

  1. Hello christine,
    Indeed, in helping others, you end up helping yourself.

    I’m inspired by your and Apollo’s story. You were there for Apollo when they have no one. And now Apollo is there for you. Such is this life.

    Is an inspiring story and I’ve learnt a lot from you guys.

    Reply
  2. Aww, Christine, what a touching story. Such a great way you treat your dogs and tell about them. I am so happy you found a way to deal with Apollo’s condition. Wow.

    I hate it if people treat their pets badly. As you know some pet owners over here in Spain are just horrible. And now I read this devastating article in a newspaper, that not only domestic violence is worse in these times of confinement and lockdowns, but that the animals have to suffer even more. Grrr.

    Luckily the dogs in your part of the world can count on you. From your stories I conclude that they are well aware of it. So lovely!

    Reply
    • Hi Hannie,

      I have read many horror stories of animal abuse in Spain, Spain seems to be notorious for it … there are so many online petitions to demand justice for animal cruelty in Spain … I have signed many. I can imagine that domestic abuse is on the increase now. It was the same over here. I hope that the article may provoke people or organizations to stand up for the victims, human and animal.

      Reply
  3. Wow. What a beautiful story, and what a beautiful life for Apollo.
    It’s amazing how strong we can be when we are following our hearts, when love is a priority in our lives. All things suddenly become possible.
    You are fortunate to have found a great teacher like Apollo, someone who will continue to live in your heart and mind for the rest of your life.

    Many thnks for sharing this truly moving story with us.

    Reply
  4. Christine,

    I’m so glad Apollo found his way to you and that you were able to spend those 10 years with him. This story had me tearing up for a few reasons, the main one being that my first dog, Crouton (yes that was his name) was not the sharpest marble and I suspect there may have been some brain damage there. He was the sweetest dog in the world, but he flunked out of the puppy training program three times before we got him to pass. I heard about a dog intelligence test where one part is throwing a blanket over their heads and counting how long it took them to get out from under it. We tried this with Crewy and he went to sleep under the blanket.

    Crouton was almost 18 when his health was bad enough that we had to put him down. He was blind toward the end, but our other dog, a German Shepherd-Wolf mix would guide him around the house and yard. After he passed, she gave up and passed away soon after.

    The other reason I was tearing up is both of our girls are now 12 and we just learned that there was a shadow on the x-ray of our border-aussie mix Zoey. There is a chance that it’s nothing, but the vet suspects it might be early stage bone cancer. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to handle it, but if it does turn out to be cancer, we are planning to make sure she gets to go to the lake and the dog park to play as much as she is able to before we have to say goodbye. It’s going to kill when we have to say goodbye to our girls.

    Thanks for sharing this and bringing back some memories of my good buy, Crouton.
    Sean

    Reply
    • Hi Sean,

      It is hard to lose them. They become part of our family and when the time to say goodbye comes it is heartbreaking. the story of Crouton and your German Shepherd Wolf mix is beautiful. They must have been very close.
      I am sorry to hear about Zoey. I hope that it’s nothing, but all you can indeed do is to make her life pleasant, take her to the lake, play with her, and take her to the dog park as much as possible, enjoy the time you have together. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Zoey.

      Reply
  5. God bless you for your loving heart, Christine! To take in Apollo, Milo, and Dora the way that you did, to take care of them, and to love them like your own babies is truly inspiring. God left us here to love, support and encourage one another, humans and animals alike. You perfectly displayed the love of Jesus Christ through your relentless pursuit of and endless love for your dogs (and cats for that matter!): you never left their side, you never gave up on them, and you were there with them until the end. They knew how much they were loved, and I can assure you that they’re smiling down on you from doggy Heaven right now. God shall bless you for your unwavering love and kindness! God bless you!

    Reply
  6. Hi again Christine! You have such a wonderful heart and this is really awesome. Wow, taking in dogs with brain damage and parvovirus is a really helpful thing to do. I mean, not everyone has a wide heart to accept this. I’m so glad Apollo found his way to you and you were able to stay with him for 10 years. You showed here that you have the heart of Christ, took them in, looked for every possible means to make them happy and you didn’t ever leave their side. This is really awesome and I hope only good things happen to you. 

    Reply
  7. Christine,

    I know how you feel, about Apollo and the troubles you had with him. My dog, Annie, who was a rescue wasn’t nearly as bad. I at least picked her up as a pup from the pound, but her siblings had been put down because the pound where I lived was pretty full more often than not.

    Annie was great as a puppy, though I don’t know if she was all there sometimes. I really started to understand that she would be difficult to train when she was 4-6 months old. I took her to puppy training classes to try to get help training her since I had never had a more difficult dog. But, I was persistent with her, so I kept on training her.

    The hardest thing to train her was going outside to go potty. Ugh. At a year old, she still didn’t get it. I used to get so frustrated with her and man, some days I felt bad because I would scold her for going in the house. But, I still would take her to her spot, put her there and tell her, “You go potty outside Annie. Potty outside.” She would go, then run in and go somewhere else in the house like she didn’t just go outside.

    It was at this point that I was more determined and started a kennel training regime that was pretty strict. I focused on making sure to let her out throughout the day, all day, and then taking her to the spot outside. If she didn’t go and tried to run back inside, I put her back in her kennel. Timing her bathroom breaks, I knew sometimes that she was just not getting it, so I would stand outside for a good 40 mins waiting for her to understand.

    At 2 years old, she finally started getting it. Other commands were very difficult even after this, but I still did training with her every day. It wasn’t until she was 4 or 5 years old that she started being able to actually obey the commands. I was so amazed the first time she actually sat down! I was like, “OMG, did you see that??”

    She also couldn’t be around other dogs at all. When she was a puppy she was fine, I even made sure to socialize her a lot as a pup. But something shifted when she was 2 years old. She started snapping at dogs as we were running. One day she pulled the leash so hard it yanked out of my hand and she took off after a couple with a dog. I was lucky I was in really good shape, because I was able to catch up to her and get her leash before snatching up their dog. She looked so scary, her hackles up, teeth out and growling. The couple was scared to death and I apologized profusely at her snapping. But it didn’t matter, they were simply scared of Annie. I grabbed her leash and took her home. At this point I learned about the gentle lead and had to run with her on that. I would never let anyone else walk her or take her out. She was too volatile.

    I remember the day that I was at a park with my older son. He didn’t know Annie like I did, I didn’t come into his life until he was 13 yrs old. But she was in a fenced in area, no dogs around and I let her off her leash so she could really run. He started running around with her and I yelled for him to “Stop, don’t run! She’ll chase you!!” I tried to get him to stop and saw her tearing after him. I made it to her just as she was jumping up to grab his head and grabbed her by her rear. She grabbed a chunk of his butt instead, but because I yanked her back she only left a bruise, thank goodness. That was the end of the play day for her. I leashed her up and tried to explain to my son that you can’t run with Annie, only I could. She would chase anyone else and try to bite them.

    She was a difficult dog to say the least. But I knew this. I didn’t let her around other dogs, even camping. She would have to be on her gentle lead, only I could walk her to control her, otherwise she would try to kill any other dog.

    She still lived a long life though. I still miss her. I had to put her down in April of this year. She stopped eating, drinking, she was skin and bones. She could barely walk, so I would pick her up and walk her outside.

    Apparently, once she finally got the “potty outside” concept, she never went in the house again. She was really good that way. There was a time I had an emergency and I had to drive across OR and I knew I would be gone for 18 hours, but I couldn’t take Annie with me. I put her in my garage with her bed, her kennel open, a huge bowl of food (she was a grazer and never ate all her food) and a massive bowl of water. I pet her and told her it was okay to go in the garage. I even told her to go potty, so she knew what I meant. She just looked at me and sat down in front of me.

    I came home after about 23 hours, longer than expected. I went straight for the garage to check on her, not even putting my purse down and she was there by the door waiting for me. Dancing on her paws to go out. She hightailed through the house to the backdoor and did her dance at the back door. I opened it, she made it almost the end of concrete that met grass and peed the longest pee I’d ever seen. She looked back at me and the bliss in her eyes was amazing. When she was done, I went back to the garage and there was nothing. She held it the whole time. I gave her lots of treats and lots of “I’m sorry baby.”

    She was pain in my butt, but I loved her and knew her quirks. I was glad she had passed in her own time vs getting rid of her like everyone tried to tell me. I just don’t get rid of dogs once I take them in. I can’t, because I know they won’t have the same life as they do with me.

    Too many people are cruel, especially to animals. So, I keep even the ones that drive me insane.

    Thanks for sharing your story! Mine’s long too. Sorry.

    Reply
    • Annie was lucky to have you and I am glad that you adopted her. Many others might have gotten rid of her, not wanting to put with it, but you were there for her. I think that dogs like Annie and Apollo were meant to be with us. πŸ™‚

      Reply

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