Retriever won’t let disease get in the way

CorrespondentApril 10, 2013 

Neither cold, heat nor dreaded disease stops Girl, a three-legged Chesapeake Bay Retriever. To say she’s got heart is an understatement.

Maybe her drive is an inbred passion lingering from the days when Chessies first retrieved waterfowl along the Eastern Shore.

This 4-year-old lives to go afield with her master, Kevin Clark, a 30-year-old robotics engineer from Mebane. It hurts to watch Girl galloping on three legs through a field with heavy cover. You wonder how she manages without stumbling and falling.

Already she has achieved more than many of her four-legged brethren. Not only does she hunt most Saturdays during duck season, but Girl also runs hunt tests and in four outings snagged her junior hunter title. Now she’s chasing a senior title, and then, maybe, to master events.

But time is Girl’s worst enemy. Vets say that a 50 to 75 percent chance exists she won’t live another two years.

In the meantime Clark is determined she live a life filled with love and plenty of ducks to retrieve.

“She was three when I noticed something was wrong,” Clark said. “I sent her on a retrieve and her run looked funny.”

After visits to several veterinary hospitals, doctors at the N.C. State vet school diagnosed Girl with bone cancer.

Clark, struck with worry, wondered if he could afford the treatment and if amputation sentenced her to a life of boredom.

“I wondered was this going to take her spirit,” he said. “The first week after amputation she was having trouble on tile floor and going up and down stairs, but in two weeks she was back to normal and raring to go.”

And “go” she did, faster on three legs than on four.

“Girl’s a better dog now than when she had four legs,” Clark said. “Her drive and passion prove it, and it’s not just me. My training buddies see it too.”

Then Girl faced the supreme test – could she swim with one of her front legs gone?

“I took everything out of my pockets and stood on the bank ready to swim after her,” Clark said. “I stood in awe; she immediately figured it out.”

At home Girl stays inside, bossing around a 140-pound Great Dane twice her size. She is Clark’s second Chessie, a breed that first intrigued him when he was 15.

“I did some research and found Chessies were truly old ducking dogs first bred in America, unlike most other retrievers. That resonated with me,” he said.

Now Clark plans for the future. He’s bringing a Chessie pup into his home in early July to join his wife and 1-year-old daughter. At the end of the month, his wife is scheduled to give birth to their second child.

By then, maybe Clark will know more about the spot recently found on Girl’s lungs. He hopes she proves the vets wrong, leaving Girl with many more duck seasons. He’s also prepared for the worst.

“On the last day of duck season she did a beautiful double retrieve,” Clark said. “I had one of those ducks mounted in case it was her last.”

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