maverick01Meet One of Our Featured Pet Partner Team
Maverick and Rodney Whaley

I got my little buddy, Maverick from a sled dog kennel in British Columbia Canada.

My first experience with him came in 2002. For my 50th birthday, I wanted to spend a week mushing sled dogs and entering a race. I had found an outfitter in Princeton, British Columbia, Canada by the name of Nakitsilik Outdoor Adventures that offered what I was looking for. There were 27 beautiful Siberian huskies at Nalitsilik. Maverick was one of them. While he was not in my race team that year, I did run him in a team.

During the following year, I communicated frequently with the outfitter, and was invited back in 2003 for three weeks. During this time, I worked as a tour guide in exchange for the opportunity to simply enjoy mushing and working with the dogs. That year I drove (2,500 miles one way!) so I could take my own two dogs from Tennessee, Chinook and Chelan. I had raised them from puppies and had trained them here in Tennessee with a cart (I call my dogsled on wheels). I really wanted to see how they would do with well-trained, established sled dogs. Chelan and Chinook did exceptionally well. By the end of the first week, Chinook was running lead in my race team along beside another lead dog that was in the movie, Snow Dogs.

The way the kennels were set up, the dogs were in large pens with anywhere from three to six dogs in a pen. Typically, they were grouped according to the teams they ran in. Chelan and Chinook, my two dogs, were in a separate pen to themselves. The dogs were not on chains and seemed to socialize quite well in this environment. About the third day I was there, there was a fight between two male dogs, Blue and Maverick. We immediately broke them up, but not before Maverick had been bitten in the face. The owner decided to separate Maverick and put him in a pen all by himself which was right next to my two dogs. She explained that she had had a lot of trouble with Maverick lately. No matter what pen he was in, another male dog would pick on him and they would fight. His eyes had become cloudy and he could not see very well. He had become very irritable. She could not understand why the other dogs always wanted to fight with him and he with them. He had just had his 8th birthday. She said that when Maverick was a young dog, he had been a show dog.

As I continued my stay, I became very fond of Maverick. When I would go out to spend time with my two dogs, I would always give him a lot of attention. He really responded to me. I would put him in the pen with my dogs and they appeared to get along great. I just fell in love with the little fellow. I nursed his injured face, and as often as I could, ran him in my team. Laurie, the owner, noticed how well we related to each other. She did not know what to do with him, and offered for me to take him home as a gift. I was really excited about this possibility. Maverick was registered by the Canadian Kennel Club. The only hurdle was convincing my wife, who had stated several times that the four we had were plenty.

The last weekend before I was to return home, Vicki, my wife, was going to be there with me. She had flown to Washington State to visit her mother and came up to BC Canada see the kennels, etc. After a time of discussion (A LOT of discussion) she agreed for Maverick to return with me to Tennessee.

I drove the 2,500 miles home in four days. Maverick had very yellow teeth and awful breath. We decided to take him to our veterinarian, Dr. Paula Schuerer, to get his teeth cleaned, hoping this would improve his breath. I also wanted her to look at his eyes, as he was about blind. So we took him in. Dr. Paula is a close personal friend in addition to our vet. After she got him anesthetized, she called us and told us what she had found. He had several rotten teeth. His mouth was full of serious infection. She had pulled one tooth with just her fingers. She had to pull five teeth. She put him on a strong antibiotic for the infection. She stated that there was no way to know this without anesthetizing him and getting in there and seeing it. This was no reflection on his previous owner, but explained a lot of things. The reason Maverick had been so irritable was because he was sick and felt bad. Too, the other dogs, smelling the infection and realizing he was sick, attacked him and picked on him. Finding this infection in his mouth answered a lot of questions.

We got Maverick home and he continued to improve. It wasn’t long before he was a totally different dog. His eyes were very cloudy, and they began to improve as well. His face, unbeknown to us previously, had been swollen from the infection. He now took on a different look as the swelling went down.

As for our relationship, Maverick is VERY attached to me. We have a fenced in back yard that is adjacent to our driveway. When I leave in the morning, Maverick is right there watching me leave. When it is time for me to come home in the evening, he waits by the fence watching the driveway for me to arrive. When I drive in, he gets all excited. He is usually the first one I see when I get out of my truck. When I scout the yard on PP (poop patrol), cleaning up the yard, he strolls along right by my side. We are very attached to EACH OTHER. We have a very special relationship, Maverick and I.

This past January, I went back to Canada with all three of my dogs for another three week stint. Laurie could not believe how good Maverick looked. She also commented on how focused he was on me. Whatever I would be doing, whether feeding the dogs, watering, hooking up a team to take out, taking a tourist on a tour, Maverick always kept his eyes on me. My main team last year consisted of my three dogs plus eight more from the kennels there for a total of eleven. Maverick ran and pulled very well.

This past Spring, my little Siberian Husky buddy, Maverick, and I trained to be a Pet Partner therapy team. This past Saturday we went to an assisted living facility, not far from our home, called Benton House. The residents in this facility, while feeble, are coherent and quite alert for the most part. They each have a room that includes their own bathroom, a kitchenette, bedroom, and a sitting area. There are also common areas such as the dining area, lounge, and an activity area. It is very nice. Visiting with Maverick and me was an eleven-year-old youngster who is really into dogs. His family has been friends of ours for years and he was visiting “my dogs” for the day.

We began our visit in the activity area. There were several residents there awaiting our visit. As always, Maverick brought smiles to the faces of the residents. He went from person to person, allowing them to pet him. Many told of the pets they had when they were young, etc. He happily took treats from the residents. We had been there for quite some time and were preparing to leave. Susan, the activity director who was guiding me, said, “Before you go, we must visit Mrs. Johnson, she needs some encouragement.” This was fine with me. We proceeded down the hall and knocked on Mrs. Johnson’s door. As soon as the door opened and she saw Maverick, this small elderly lady shrieked with joy. Immediately tears began running down her face. She stooped down as best she could and embraced my little canine buddy. She hugged him and hugged him. Maverick knew exactly how to respond. He immediately returned the affection. After the exchange of introductions, made our way to the couch. I sat beside Mrs. Johnson and Maverick sat between us on the floor. As we visited I learned the story.

Mrs. Johnson had been a dog lover all her life. When she was younger, she would take in all the strays, feed them, restore their health, and find homes for them. Today, we would say she was “rescuing” them. When she reached a point in life that she had to go to this senior adult facility, she took her dog with her. The dog had lived in the room with her. However, anytime she went outside with the pooch or even down the hall, she had to have him on a leash. He never got to run or play. She reached a point of realization that the dog would be happier with her grandchildren, running and playing. So she gave him up to her loving grandchildren to keep for the well being of the animal. Although she felt this was the right thing to do, since his departure, she had been very depressed, lonely, and discouraged.

It seemed Maverick knew exactly what to do. He would sit there and lean against her. When she would stop petting for a moment, he would lay his chubby little paw gently on her hand as if to say, “Please pet me some more.” We visited quite a while. Mrs. Johnson was overjoyed. Needless to say, it made my day as well, and also made a lifelong impression on an eleven-year-old youngster.

I guess this is why I do this stuff! The world is full of “Mrs. Johnsons” just waiting for someone to stop and say, “You’re important and I want to spend some time with you.” And a dog can say it so much better than I can!