On a cold, rainy afternoon in 1986, I drove my mother to the vet's office with her farm cat that was dying from eating a mouse that had ingested rat poison. While at the vet's office waiting for the diagnosis, a West Virginia State Trooper drove up and got out of his cruiser with the ugliest, skinniest German Shepherd puppy I had ever seen. Shortly thereafter, the trooper and the pup walked into the waiting room. The sight of the pup was horrific, the smell unbearable. The puppy stayed near the door while the trooper went in to talk to the vet. I walked over and discovered the stench was coming from a wound caused by a chain that was embedded in the pup's neck. With all his misery and in those strange surroundings, he looked at me like a well-dressed city girl would look at a middle-aged farmer with dirty clothes and an old cowboy hat with a rain cover. For some unknown reason, I could not get this skinny, rancid pup out of my mind. I called the vet's office the very next day to see if he survived the surgery to remove the chain from his neck. I told them he would have a home with me. After a few days, I received a call telling me when I could pick him up at the local animal shelter. It was months before I realized what I had.
But first, he needed a name. With his long face, long ears and tail, sable color, and his great ability to jump, the name had to be "Joey". Just like a baby kangaroo. Within weeks, he was growing long and tall. I noticed he wanted to be with me all the time, watched every move I made, and did everything I did. We began playing 'hide-and-seek'. He seemed to understand everything I did! We enrolled in a local Humane Society basic obedience class. A leash was new to both of us, but mandatory if we were to join the class. The leash offended Joey--he thought he was too good for that. He graduated at the top of his class! During the classes, I was eager to show off his long down-stays of 25-30 minutes in strange surroundings and in a large crowd of people. I taught him not to listen to anyone else while on the long down-stays, which later became important with his protection work. People were very impressed by Joey. But I still didn't know what I had. Within another 12 months, the ugly pup turned into the most beautiful of German Shepherds. Soon it was noticed that his exceptional speed and agility equaled his brains and good looks. His speed equaled that of my wife's Whippet! Soon I was showing off at lure coursing events. On command, he would chase the plastic 'bunny' and minutes later be commanded a down-stay within inches of the fast-moving lure and the racing dogs.
Joey even made an appearance on a local TV station. It made for a good demonstration how, with a single command, he would turn from sweet and affectionate into a fierce, spine-chilling attack dog. At 100 pounds and with a top speed of 35 mph, he could take down the best-armored, most experienced attack dog 'dummies' from the Schutzhund clubs.
He traveled with me every day in our Chevy El Camino. We did demonstrations ranging from just a few people to large gatherings. At salvage yards and manufacturing warehouses, there were sometimes 20 people who would 'pretend' to be bad guys. After the 'bad' people had been securely barricaded, I would send Joey into the building. He would always go to the most aggressive person first, passing by secretaries and mild-mannered employees, straight for owners, security guards or the 'bar-fighters'. This was so awesome to watch, and it seldom offended the self-proclaimed 'bad guys'. Occasion-ally people would ask for 'slow-motion' demonstrations. This is where I would show people how to pretend, in slow motion, to hit at me, but never touch me. When they would start to 'hit' me, Joey would first get this 'look' and stare them straight in the eyes. Most people stopped there, but if they continued, he would do warning growls, show his teeth and move closer to the 'bad guy'. If they still persisted, Joey would move between the 'bad guy' and me and get very ferocious. He gave many chances for the 'bad guy' to change his mind. I'm proud to say no one ever got bit during these demonstrations. My son, a strapping, young 20-something, at times, would be the attack dog 'dummy', called the agitator, in the German sport of Schutzhund. The 'dummy' is in a protective padded suit. Joey had passed his Temperament Testing for police work with a recovery time of 45 seconds (longer than 2 minutes is a failing time for police work). On occasion, immediately after the 'bite work', my son would take off his protective clothing and play with Joey by wrestling him down and sticking his finger down Joey's throat to gag him. I repeatedly told my son that some day Joey would get sick of their little game and bite him. He never did!
One day when my teen-aged daughter was home alone, Joey saved her when a drunken man tried to force his way into our home. Another time, when my wife was teaching a private basic obedience class, a group of men stoped on our rural road. Two of the men tried to come onto the property. Joey and Cloud (my daughter's German Shepherd running buddy) convinced them that wasn't a very good idea. It turned out these men were a gang that was raping and mutilating people in the area.
I own a trucking company and travel a lot going to many out-of-state auctions and job sites. In Joey's lifetime, we wore out two Chevy El Caminos. In a vehicle, he was like a person. On the interstate, he would get bored and sleep. On secondary roads and in small towns, he would watch out the windows and look at me and complain if a reckless driver was tailgating or came too close when passing. When I would touch the brake pedal, he knew to sit back in his seat. When I used the turn signal, he knew which way to lean. Sometimes I would turn right with the left signal blinking. I would laugh when he had to 're-plant' his feet. After regaining his composure, he would give me a look, as if saying, "That's not funny!"
My wife and I were very selective about who bought Joey's pups. Some people waited as long as two years. One of his pups became well known throughout our prison system in West Virginia. He was nationally recognized for his exceptional years of service and honored after his death at age 14. Harvey, Joey's grandson, will soon be eight years old and I am looking for a 'qualified' female. I am very well aware of the over population problem with dogs, but I feel I need to keep the bloodline alive.
Just from seeing Joey and me together, people began asking for training lessons. In the late 1980's, Joey made this middle-aged farm boy into a dog trainer using exercise, discipline and praise. This worked very well with my wife's pet grooming and boarding business. I realized I could take an out-of-control dog and, within minutes, have it show great improvement. I understood the canine world respects authority and has a superior ability to read body language. I learned all this from my relationship with Joey. In my training classes, I tell my students, "Watch me. Head up. Shoulders back. Do everything I do--when I do it--how I do it." Admittedly, some students would look at each other in doubt. Then, a few years later, Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, says, "Be me." Since I started with protection dogs, I have used a guttural sound (Aaa) for correction and a hissing sound (Sst) to signal total silence. Joey helped me learn this through our relationship. I was surprised and proud when someone told me to watch Cesar Milan because he "trains just like you have been for years!"
Joey did not slow down until he was 11 years old. At 12 years old, I tried to accept the inevitable. A year later, in 1999, at the age of 13, with pain showing in his face, he managed his last trip to the barn with me. We walked back to my wife's grooming shop where he had his feet washed every day for the past 13 years. Joey was gone in minutes.
I have been at my desk writing this all afternoon. My wife and her best friend/kennel manager have been in and out, washing dog towels and receiving faxes. (I hope they think I have a cold.) After all these years, while writing this, I still cry. At my side today is Joey's grandson, Harvey. Harvey is approximately half as smart as Joey, but twice as smart as other dogs. (And yes, I know many people who love their dog say their dog is the greatest.)
I am certainly not known for being softhearted. I own a trucking company with an unemployment rate of 4.5% and do everything possible for my employees. But I have become almost bitter seeing ignorance, moral decline, and theft on a regular basis. I like the bumper sticker, "The more I meet people, the better I like my dog".
I took comfort in reading a PETA article describing the bond between a man and his dog as "indescribable". Through the years, I was frequently asked these two questions: "What all can Joey do?" My answer--"Anything I can communicate to him to do." And, "What is Joey's monetary worth?" My answer-- "A 'finished' street dog goes for about $7,000" (at that time), but selling Joey is unthinkable and would be like selling my soul.
Before that day in 1986 at the vet's office, I was just an average person raised on a farm in West Virginia. Today, I get irritated when someone calls animals 'dumb'. Animals can read you like an open book--animals know the weather without tuning in to the Weather Channel. They know what time it is without a watch or calendar.
Top judges and trainers told me Joey was a once in a lifetime dog--be thankful. And I am. Very thankful.
Because of Joey, I learned that animals have a life, too--with real feelings. That's why I work with shelters and individuals and specialize with aggression problems in my training programs at Circle M. Pet Motel.
The story of Joey is written to create awareness that there may be an ugly pup in a shelter somewhere that could change YOUR life.
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