Thumper's Journey to Fighter Pilot Gus Grissom
“Fighter Pilot Gus Grissom”, our handsome GSD, became a forever member of our family in August 2013 following 4 months of her foster mom Diane’s diligent care through Front Range German Shepherd Rescue. Abandoned in the night kennels of a local shelter, Thumper, as he was known, was emaciated and intensely uncomfortable when FRGSR volunteer Amy picked him up and became the first of his many Rescue Angels. At about 18 months of age, he weighed only 59 lbs despite his large frame. He had scratched away much of his coat, and the skin underneath had morphed to elephant-like hide. Thumper was in trouble.
While numerous vets had seen him, none had been able to identify the underlying cause of his allergies despite many tests including bloodwork, skin scrapings, various antibiotics, etc. Amy, extremely dismayed at Thumpers overall condition, wisely took our boy directly to Dr. Dave Roberts, who set the course which would ultimately turn Thumper’s health around. From Dr. Robert’s office, he was taken to a boarding kennel. Between his emaciated state and his continuous scratching, his downward spiral continued and although well cared for, the stress of the kennel environment couldn’t provide a fighting chance at recovery. Amy sent out a plea for fostering and Diane offered to take Thumper. She stepped in, became Thump’s champion, and brought him into her pack.
After extensive testing ruled out numerous other medical conditions, the inevitable conclusion was atopic dermatitis, a genetic disposition to severe allergic reaction to any number of triggers. Likely our big guy was abandoned because of this condition. Dr. Roberts said the first time he saw Thump, he could not scratch his back nor run his hand against his coat; his skin was so inflamed and sensitive.
Through a website shared by Nancie about canine skin yeast infections, Diane put Thumper on a high quality grain free kibble with highly specific ingredients, and started him on Vitamin E, Salmon Oil and probiotics as well. In addition, Dr. Roberts prescribed antibiotics and anti-fungals to treat his skin infections. Diane also began the ritual of bathing him once, and then twice a week with a prescribed shampoo. Too many months of poor health necessitated many months of recovery, but Thumper began the slooooooow journey back. It was a frustrating and sometimes heartbreaking time of staying the course for the long haul as Nancie so frequently pointed out.
In the meantime, I had been looking for a mellow dog to round out the canine portion of my family and help balance my 20 month old, high energy, willful female GSD. At about the 3 month mark with FRGSR, Thumper’s picture and bio were put up on the rescue website. I was fortunate enough to see it immediately, and the sweet face looking back crept deep into my heart. On my first trip to Denver, Diane and I bathed Thump - who was as patient and cooperative as though we’d known each other his whole life. Clearly evident were the streaks of hairless neck, the bald chest, the blackened flanks, and the new, scattered growth of baby hair on his belly - all ravaged with elephant hide. Visiting for several hours afterwards, it was amazing to see a peaceful old soul inside that big scarred body. Thump was friendly, easy going, eager to please and clearly a well-balanced dog. Even after gaining, 19 lbs, he was still lean.
For our next visit, I took my sons and female shepherd Grace up to meet the boy. After our girl determined the “marshmallow” wouldn’t likely kill her, we took the dogs to the dog park. There Thumper demonstrated his expert and finely honed herding skills. Grace was delighted to have such a large area to run, and a big, attentive guy chasing her! It was a breathtaking sight; two beautiful, athletic shepherds racing across the dirt – lost in the joy of the moment.
The following week when Diane felt confident that I would continue with the diet and veterinary care FRGSR had in place for Thumper, we took him home. In our backyard, one of my sons remarked on his tight, fast turns (despite that large frame) in chasing Grace: “Hey, you have some Fighter Pilot moves!” Having been considering the name “Gus”, “Fighter Pilot Gus Grissom” immediately stuck. This name reminds us of Thump’s indomitable spirit, positive affect, abundant affection, and his eager participation in life in the face of such adversity.
Today, Gus’ fighting weight is about 90 lbs. We follow the routine Dr. Roberts and Diane established. We are working on shedding a few extra pounds his sneaky self gained by polishing off his sister’s food. What a fantastic place to be after last March! He has a full coat aside from a small patch on his chest and in his “armpits”. The elephant hide once so visible has healed in all other spots, and when I run my fingers through his coat I see pink skin in its place under a silky soft coat. Patience, time and dedication have brought this boy to an entirely different place regarding his health.