It's hard to watch a grand dog slow down with the infirmities that come with advanced age, but Faye Klein of Peters accentuated the positive when she wrote a heartwarming, prize-winning essay about the love and the joy that she shares with Irwin, her 13-year-old Great Dane/English pointer mix.
"I think my mom is sad because she's been hugging and kissing me a lot more than usual," says the opening line of the essay written from the dog's point of view.
The essay won fourth place in the Petco Great Ones national contest. It brought a $5,000 prize for Ms. Klein, a graphics designer, and $5,000 for Angel Ridge Animal Rescue in Washington, Pa., where she volunteers. The grand prize winner received $100,000.
This contest had an interesting twist. Instead of inviting people to say how great their pets are, Petco asked owners to send videos or essays to "show how you are a great one to your pet." The contest goal was "to recognize the love that people feel for their pets and to give back to shelters and rescue organizations."
Get out your hankies and tissues when you go to http://wholepets.petco.com/greatone to see the winners and nearly 60 finalists. If you've ever felt sad about people who abuse or abandon pets, here's your chance to see how many people go to incredible lengths to help animals. Most are "rescues," including Irwin.
Contestants include a beagle rescued from a research lab and a dachshund adopted after seven years in a cage as a breeding animal at a puppy mill. For sheer laughs, don't miss the second-place winner, a costumed pug doing a rap song.
Eleven years ago, Ms. Klein and her husband, Leo Kennedy, were looking for a Great Dane to adopt. They found one at the Indiana County Humane Society. He had been running loose as a stray.
The 70-pound black-and-white dog "did nothing to further his cause," Ms. Klein said. "He never even looked at us or paid any attention to us, and he was very sick with kennel cough." She wanted to leave the dog in the shelter. He wanted to take the dog home. Mr. Kennedy won, and they named the dog Irwin.
It took three months to nurse Irwin back to health. It didn't take that long to get his attention and win his love.
"The people who control the food in your life, you bond quickly to them," Ms. Klein said with a chuckle. "And he liked his walks. He was a blank slate when we got him, but he turned into the best dog."
Here are portions of Ms. Klein's essay:
Eleven years ago, "Mom and I walked three miles every morning and three miles every afternoon. We still walk twice every day but just a mile and it takes just as long. Walks are the highlight of my days, and though my spirit is willing, my body is falling apart. I've sprung a leak, drag my feet and have trouble getting up from the floor. Mom straps me in a harness that has handles to help get me up and down."
For those coveted walks, "she puts rubber booties on my back feet since I've worn my toenails to the quick. I stop a lot and stumble -- mom grabs the [harness] handles and has me back on my feet in seconds. I get to lead now, by the nose, of course. I lollygag and stare into the sky" and that's OK with Irwin's "mom."
"My once-buff body has visibly thinned, but people still tell me I'm a beautiful boy. ... I take a lot of pills. They always have peanut butter stuck to them, so I drool and slurp them up with glee. ... When I began to wet the bed, mom had special flannel bands made for me to wear. They keep me dry and comfortable. ..."
And here's the end of the essay:
"My world is slowly shrinking. Still ... I love my home, my food, my walks and my big orange ball in the backyard and as long as I have my mom, I have everything."
Do you have an old dog that needs some help? Irwin's harness is from Blue Dog and you can find it at http://helpmeup.com/about-blue-dog-design.
Irwin wears Pawz natural rubber dog boots. Go to pawzdogboots.com to see them. They look like balloons and because they stretch to cling and fit paws, they don't fall off. They're primarily advertised for snow and mud.
Robert and Janine Fragasso of Bethel Park will be donating as much as $50,000 to the Animal Friends low-cost spay/neuter program. The amount of their gift hinges on the generosity of other animal lovers.
Through the end of the year, the Fragassos will give 50 cents for every dollar other people donate to the program that lowers the cost of veterinary surgery.
"Fundraising for spay and neuter programming isn't an easy sell," according to the Animal Friends news release. "It isn't cute and fuzzy. But it is critical."
Mr. Fragasso said he and his wife "decided to step up to offer this funding challenge because spaying and neutering companion animals and feral cat colonies is the only way that we can eventually control overpopulation and eliminate thousands of unwarranted animals euthanized each year in our region."
Animal Friends has spayed and neutered more than 100,000 animals since 1994.
Donations can be made at www.thinkingoutsidethecage.org, by calling 412-847-7052 or mailing to the Ohio Township shelter at 562 Camp Horne Road, Pittsburgh 15237.
Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064.