- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

TAYLORVILLE, Ill. (AP) - It’s just a doggone shame when a member of the family can’t get around like they used to.

Take 10-year-old Butkus, for example. The big Newfoundland-mix’s owner, Loren Podlinsek, frequently does. Despite expensive and extensive treatments, Butkus has been left with a medical condition that makes getting around a challenge. The dog’s wobbling frame won’t let him go for any long walks but the enormous black hound, named for the legendary Chicago Bears linebacker, knows how to do an end run around adversity.

He wakes Podlinsek every morning so she can chauffeur him for his 6:15 daily drive. They hop into a green Dodge van bought especially for his use (his previous Pontiac Grand Am was totaled in a deer collision in November) and set off. Podlinsek isn’t sure how many miles they zip around town, but she says she must drive the same route or Butkus gets upset.

He also likes to ride shotgun and won’t tolerate cutting corners to try and rush the trip. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Butkus believes life is a journey, not a destination.

“Oh no, we have to go for about 25 minutes,” says Podlinsek, a former junior high school literature and social studies teacher married to Jim Podlinsek, who is also a soft touch when it comes to dogs. His wife, who retired four years ago from teaching, had actually thought she would be able to sleep in until the decadent time of 7 a.m., instead of getting up at 5:30 a.m., as when she was working.

“But now I get up at 6 a.m every day,” says Podlinsek, 68. “That’s when Butkus wakes me.”

Butkus is a rescue dog as is Lola, the Podlinsek’s fully ambulatory border collie, and Serena, their equally able-bodied cat. Loren Podlinsek says the couple have had many pets over the years but none quite like Butkus. “He’s got the Butkus temperament to a T and wants everything his way,” she says. “Oh my God, I’ll never name another dog after a football player. Butkus is just too smart for his britches.”

Back when they had the Pontiac, his travel history including figuring out how to adjust the wiper speed to make them swish to and fro faster.

“So he could see better,” explains Loren. He also figured out which button to press to lock the doors (and once locked her out) and even how to turn the engine off and sound the horn.

“I was at the vet’s early one morning to pick up medicine and all of a sudden I heard the horn,” Podlinsek recalls. “And then it wasn’t very long before the horn goes off again. The vet said ‘I think you’ve been in here too long; Butkus wants to go for his ride.’ And yup, that’s what it was: That dog figured out if he sounded the horn, I would come.”

He hasn’t mastered all the controls on the new van yet, but is enjoying the bigger space as, accompanied by his trusty co-pilot, they roam the happy highways where Butkus once walked, but cannot walk again. The big dog cruiser is such a familiar sight that stops along the way have grown used to seeing them and make provision for their visits.

“They give him milk bones at the drive-up at First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust,” says Podlinsek, who usually brings Lola as well to also get a treat. Podlinsek says she’s tried buying her own milk bones but Butkus won’t eat them from her. On one occasion at the Walgreens prescription drive-up, another place where they dispense free milk bones, the dynamic duo pulled up to find the milk bone cupboard bare.

“Butkus leaned over and almost got his head out the window to make sure they saw him,” recalls his owner. “He was devastated.”

Podlinsek’s friend, Carol Alexander, says Butkus also gets taken through the McDonald’s drive through for treats after enduring any tough medical procedures, and he’s had a few. She says he wolfs down four regular burgers (he’s watching his weight and doesn’t always eat the pickle) and says the kindness lavished on this dog’s life would give anyone paws for thought.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of such routine and dedicated devotion to a dog’s needs,” Alexander said. She says the adorable Butkus deserves a bigger audience on his car rides and would like to see him featured on “The Late Late show with James Corden.” She sees Butkus going for a spin in the segment where Corden takes stars out for a ride and sings karaoke with them.

“Corden’s done ‘carpool karaoke’ with Adele and Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey,” Alexander says. “Couldn’t you just see Butkus in that passenger seat?”

In the meantime, Butkus continues to pluck at the heartstrings of his sympathetic owners and wants for nothing. He has bologna mixed with his dog food in the mornings because he likes it, and pork steak mixed with his dog food in the evenings because he also likes that. Podlinsek says the dog may ultimately be taking her for a ride, but it’s hard not to love a big, furry critter with a limp who takes such a big bite out of your heart.

“Yeah, we spoil him,” she admits, and then laughs. “I’ve got a teacher friend who said ‘When I die, I want to come back as one of your animals, no doubt about it.’ “

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, http://bit.ly/1rNf7Pd

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Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com

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