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This morning, while I sat on the sofa sipping my coffee, I watched Ford sleep. Our morning routine around here is my favorite because all of the dogs are calm and snuggly. When I get up in the morning, he first thing I do is carry Josh out to the sofa to lay on his blanket where he immediately falls back asleep next to me. Then I boil the water for coffee and while it’s boiling, I take Ford out to go potty. Like clockwork, he goes number one and number two immediately. After our quick trip outside, I lay him down on a dog bed in the living room where he snuggles up and goes back to sleep too. Slowly, all of the other dogs come out to the living room and find their spot on their own individual bed. There are six dogs spread out across the floor, snoring away, and Ford is one of them. He is just one of the pack. A calm, quiet, well adjusted pack. He is almost angelic when he’s asleep. He actually curls his paws up near his face and rests his head on them like an innocent, sleeping child.

It is in these moments, in the darkness of early morning, where I contemplate making Ford part of my family forever. Where I consider adding more dogs to the pack because it all seems so easy and manageable and almost silly to suggest otherwise. Ford just gets it, he gets our vibe and our routine. Asleep in his bed, he doesn’t feel like any extra work... but then the day starts. The phone calls, emails, work, rescue obligations and life gets really busy.

Bitey Ford’s adoption papers were signed this week and I will personally be driving him to his forever home in Chesapeake, VA. This case has been a lot of work, but in the very best way. Ford was officially diagnosed with Cerebellar Hypoplasia. Due to the severity of his cerebellar symptoms, I was certain that there was more going on than just CH. In fact, even our neurologist, Dr. Scott Plummer at the veterinary neurological center thought the same thing. He said that he was shocked to find that Ford’s MRI only revealed a moderate structural abnormality of the cerebellum.

Ford’s physical challenges are far greater than Josh, who is quite severe himself. I have learned that the spectrum for Cerebellar Hypoplasia stretches much farther than I originally thought and Bitey has taught me a lot about how this range presents itself in day to day functioning.

Since living with us, Ford has come a really long way. He used to be really reactive when I would try to touch his ears or face but that is no longer an issue. I can stick my fingers in his ears and snuggle his face. He trusts me so he lets me do whatever I need to do. When he came to me, he had no routine and was not potty trained. Well, I am proud to announce that after a few tireless months, Ford is completely potty trained and in a solid routine. For a long time I had to have him wear a diaper at night because he would have accidents nightly but we haven’t had any for weeks. He does still wake me up for potty break between 2:30am - 3:30am but he is able to hold it now.

Ford has extremely high needs but is also an absolute blast and so worth the effort. Obviously, I contemplated keeping him for many reasons. I have fallen head over heels in love with him and his big personality. Not to mention, he is the most uniquely adorable doodle that I have seen in a long time. I still don’t understand his perky ears, they are definitely not typical goldendoodle ears. Instead, they look like they belong to a terrier of some sort and his nose is the most beautiful, pink nose I have ever laid eyes on. His coat is so soft, I would love to grow it out full and shaggy, just like Josh.

Everyone who meets him, absolutely loves him, but they all say the same thing “wow, he’s a lot of work” and they aren’t wrong. Ford has a much different energy than Josh, who just chills at my feet all day, minding his business and being self sufficient but Ford constantly needs something. He asks to go potty roughly every 90 minutes. He will whine until I take him out and his potty habits still need constant advocacy. I have to physically hold up 100% of his body weight to help him go potty.

Or, I have to lift him up and put him in his chair so he can take himself around the yard to go. I don’t have a fence around my pool or a wheelchair ramp (yet) so I cannot let Ford advocate for himself either. He needs me to push his chair though the grass and keep watch for the pool. He needs me to lift his chair up over the step to get outside and then back in again when he’s done. At no point am I able to just let Ford fend for himself. He’s a lot like having a baby.

He also needs a lot of enrichment and exercise, much more than Josh who likes to just lay on my lap all day long and never make a sound. Between 9am and 5pm he doesn’t need anything but Ford is the opposite, he needs something every 60 minutes. He has a deep desire to run and chase other dogs and he craves interaction with people. He wants to play, chase, bite, and be a puppy all of the time. I have to spend a lot of time away from my work, obligations, and my other dogs because I’m caring for him. He has wild puppy energy trapped inside of a body that doesn’t cooperate and so I need to constantly bridge that gap for him so he doesn’t experience frustration. His adoptive family will need to work tirelessly to provide opportunities for him to exercise and release pent up mental and physical energy.

Ford really loves water and demands a long drink multiple times a day. He drinks copious amounts of water and is relentlessly thirsty but he cannot drink on his own. He can’t get up and walk to his bowl nor can he hold himself up and stable long enough to get a drink. I have to physically carry him to the elevated feeder, stand him up on the traction rug, straddle his body and hug his ribs with my knees. Then I hold him upright by his harness handle with my right hand and stabilize his bobble head with my left hand because he can’t steer his face & head appropriately. Usually, 1/2 of the water from the bowl ends up splashing all over the floor, walls, and rug. Ford is by far, the messiest dog I have ever cared for. Most days it’s hilarious... most, not all.

Due to the severity of his CH, he currently has zero independent mobility. He absolutely cannot walk at all without my assistance or his wheelchair. He has been in swim therapy but he just can’t seem to make any headway. His adoptive family will need to continue with swim therapy and daily wheelchair exercise. I do believe he has a shot at independent mobility to some degree, but I think it will be a long and arduous road and the results may be minimal compared to other cerebellar hypoplasia cases.

After living with Ford over the past few months, I knew he wouldn’t do well in a home where his owners work a typical 9-to-5 job away from the house.Nor would he do well in a home with a family who has multiple children or extracurricular activities that keeps them tied up with obligations. He couldn’t live with a young, single person who wants to be out experiencing freedom and nightlife and he needs people who are at least somewhat fit and agile since he requires a certain amount of strength to be lifted and placed into his wheelchair and to be carried where he needs to go. Also, when holding him up and guiding him with his harness, I have to be in a bent over position for an extended period of time and my back is constantly being put to the test. As silly as it sounds, I'm in a deadlift position much of the time when handling Ford, which requires me to hold my posture perfect and have a very strong core.

Dogs like Ford require me to be fit. My fitness level is literally a saving grace when I am fostering special needs dogs. I even had to evaluate the fitness level of the family who wants to adopt him. I know, this sounds crazy but these are the kind of things I have to consider when placing dogs with special needs. Essentially, for challenging cases like Ford, I am looking for a service person much like a person with a disability or medical condition needs a service dog. Not every dog is fit for the job just like not every person is fit (literally) to be a service person. It’s not as simple as finding a family who can financially provide or who have the desire to do so. It’s so much more than that and it is my job to thoroughly learn and understand the dog’s needs and their day-to-day routine and then I need to be able to teach it to people who can handle it, mentally and physically. The process of getting a dog like Ford, from intake to adoption, is a huge time commitment and requires a lot of strategic planning. He requires constant handling and honestly, it’s unrealistic for most people. Having said that, I know that there are some people, like myself, who are willing to learn and overextend themselves, even make changes in their life to make room for him and that is why I continue to do the work that I do. While he may not be a dog for everyone, he is a dog for someone and I know there are a lot of people out there who are capable, if they choose to be.

I knew that if I kept him, I wouldn’t be able to foster any more and I would probably begin to neglect other things in my life just to care for him. I still thought about it though; I still considered adopting him, but Andrew was adamant that it would be way too much for us. Even still, I kept it as an option in my back pocket for quite some time. But then I reminded myself of the bigger picture. If I keep acquiring high needs dogs, I will eventually find myself in over my head, which I have seen a lot of rescuers go down that road and it’s hard to come back from. My goal is to continue making an impact through sustainable practices and I already have struggled with losing myself in this process so I have to draw firm boundaries, which isn’t always easy.

As applications for Ford came in, we read over every single one again and again. Everyone sounded amazing but I knew that I needed an unusually durable family with a unique set up, and I found them. They were actually the very first application that came in and it was flagged immediately.

Dr. Kostal is a physician and Neuro-endocrine professor In Virginia. She was actually involved in Bitey’s diagnostic process and offered some insight and things to consider with testing and ruling out in future cases. Her husband works from home and they have two kids. They also have a young, playful goldendoodle named Harrie that is desperately awaiting a playmate. When talking with Dr. Kostal about why she wanted to adopt Ford, she had told me that they had been looking at rescue dogs for quite some time. For the greater part of the year, they were looking for someone new to add to their family and when they saw Ford, they just knew he was the one. They weren’t specifically looking for a dog with special needs, they were just looking for the right fit. Right away they fell in love with Ford and applied for him knowing about his disability but not lending it much relevance. They just knew that he was the dog for them and they would somehow figure out how to work his needs into their life, which is a great example of what we strive for at the Be Like Josh Foundation. This is the “see not stare“ that we teach in our kids curriculums when we visit schools and educate about Josh and our peers with different abilities and neurological differences. It's important to see one another’s differences and not turn a blind eye, but also not allow those differences to solely define an individual or animal, for that matter. While Ford’s special needs were definitely part of the conversation, they weren’t the whole conversation.

Who Ford is as a dog has as much importance as his disability. It’s imperative that we address his needs and prepare for them but not solely focus on them. Bitey Ford is more than just a dog with a disability. He is a loving, mischievous, high energy companion who needs mental and physical enrichment on a daily basis, and he loves other dogs. I would never adopt him out to a home without other dogs, he would be miserable.

He loves meeting new people, so I wanted to adopt him out to a family that is outgoing and social and has children that will have friends over to the house. Bitey is high energy and full of life, I knew that he needed to be in a home that had a lot going on but not too much. I needed a family that was capable of working him into the equation and meeting his needs. It’s still shocking to me that the most perfect fit was the very first application that came in on our website. I am so grateful that there are other people out there in the world who are willing to love these high maintenance, special dogs. While the demands of their routine and needs vary from case to case, there is one thing that remains true for all of them: they need to be accepted into a family who sees them for who they really are, above and beyond their differences. After all, we all have differences, some are just more visible and pronounced than others.

I know that I will be a wreck the day that I have to hand him over to his forever family. I will cry and sob and try to make a bargain with myself about why he should just stay, but thankfully I havea great team of compassionate advocates behind me that will remind me of the big picture.

They will remind me of the legacy I am leaving behind with every adoption that I do. Being the driving force behind this mission is a lot of pressure sometimes. Not just public pressure because of social media, but the pressure to “do what's right” and lead by example. There are so many times when I want to be selfish and throw out all the rules, but then I wouldn’t be acting in the best interest of the greater good, and of Josh, who needs more of me as it is. But just in case you were wondering, doing this the right way gets old sometimes. I start feeling selfish and overly tired. I forget what its like to put myself first and be selfish or impulsive. I forget what it’s like to have anonymity and the freedom that comes with it. But then I take a look at our website and all of the success stories and testimonials, or I glance at my DM and see all of the tags by families who have welcomed one of our animals or who have adopted a dog with special needs after following our page and I’m reminded of the legacy of Josh. One day, his legacy will be all that is left of him and his time here on earth and so, I release Ford.

I release him and I wait.

I wait until I am called upon again to be of service. It is hard and it hurts, but it's what I do.

It’s who I am.

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