- Associated Press - Thursday, November 26, 2015

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - An 8-1/2 pound survivor named G.I. Joe has experienced an amazing turnaround in his life. The long-haired chihuahua cross owes a lot to his new-found human friends, but it’s his friends who are thanking him for showing them what it means to be a fighter.

“This dog has inspired so many people,” Alison Smith of Mandan, one of his rescuers, told the Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/1MFG8ua ). “We have people all over the place I don’t know who they are that are following his story. We have people who are also in wheelchairs or are paralyzed or are fighting illness or cancer… They are bonding with this dog, and that’s giving them inspiration to battle their own issues.”

G.I. Joe is making connections through his own Facebook page at facebook.com/gijoesjourney. Within a month of establishing the site, G.I. Joe had nearly 1,000 followers, from both near and as far away as New Zealand.

More than a cute face, G.I. Joe has a story that’s compelling.

Amber Runyon of Minot encountered the dog, dirty and scared, about six weeks ago while taking photos of a Minot house for a property management company for which she works.

“When I saw the condition of his back legs, my heart fainted. I wanted to cry,” she said.

G.I. Joe had been the victim of a vehicle accident about a year and a half earlier. The incident left him numb and paralyzed from his shoulders down. He no longer had bladder or bowel control. Because he could only get around by dragging himself, he had worn his back legs to stumps, which were badly infected.

A member of Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue near Mandan, Runyon texted Smith, the organization’s director, to ask what she should do. Smith suggested she attempt to obtain the dog from the owner, which proved to be as simple as making the request.

The dog’s original owner had felt his injury was so severe that the best option was to put him to death. The second owner, from whom Runyon acquired the dog, had disagreed and had taken the dog in to save its life. However, the level of care the dog required overwhelmed him.

Smith took the dog into her care when local animal welfare services weren’t able to assist. Triple H has rescued more than 500 horses since 2007, along with everything from rabbits to goats on occasion. Taking in dogs is unusual and only occurs when no other options are available.

Smith took G.I. Joe to a veterinarian, who prescribed medicine for the infection and showed her how to express the dog’s bladder and bowels four times a day. G.I. Joe also wears a belly band for leaks. He receives monthly veterinarian checkups, particularly because of the risk of urinary infections. His bedding must be washed daily.

A veterinarian estimated the dog’s age at 2-4 years.

“He’s not completely healed, but nearly, and really is doing well,” Smith said last week. “He’s happy and gets around really well.”

He’s also stolen a lot of hearts, she added.

Smith initially began posting information about G.I. Joe on Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue’s Facebook page. The rescue organization’s primary focus, though, is miniature horses so the audience of the page was not attuned to dogs. Smith decided to set G.I. Joe up with his own Facebook page. Each day, there is a new encouraging quote posted to the page, along with other thoughtful or humorous quips from Joe.

Smith said people have been asking for a G.I. Joe calendar so she took photos and plans to produce one.

“I don’t know what it is, but for whatever the reason, people are just mad about him,” Smith said.

One follower who uses a wheelchair comments she wishes she could do what G.I. Joe is able to do, Smith said. When the rescue organization announced it was starting hydro-therapy with G.I. Joe, a follower sent him a life jacket. “People want to help with his recovery,” Smith said.

G.I. Joe’s joyful, living-life-in-full-force energy in his home videos may have something to do with that.

It wasn’t always that way, though.

When G.I. Joe first arrived at Triple H, he was so defensive that it was difficult for rescuers to safely remove him from the kennel. Smith said they still are cautious in introducing him to strangers, but he has warmed up completely to those he knows.

“He’s kind of coming out of his shell,” Smith said. “He’s a little love bug.”

Runyon agreed that G.I. Joe isn’t the same dog she found in a Minot neighborhood.

“You can just see the transformation. It’s amazing,” Runyon said.

G.I. Joe now wears a “drag bag,” which enables him to be mobile without injuring himself from the friction. He was gifted a “wheelchair” by a woman who had it for her dog before it died. His wheels let him take walks outdoors and run with his buddy, Roy, another small dog at Triple H. who, according to G.I. Joe on his Facebook page, “Accepts me as I am. Always look for THAT guy and also … BE THAT guy! Makes life so nice.”

“When he’s hooked up to the wheelchair, he can run as fast as any other dog,” Smith said. “He is not slowed down a lot due to his injury or his handicap and just loves playing like every other dog. He loves to go in the car. He’s very attached to his humans now.”

Smith said G.I. Joe is likely to remain at the rescue ranch for the remainder of his life. Because of the amount of care he requires, he’s not considered suitable for adoption.

Smith said she’s grateful that Runyon saw him that day in Minot and she thanks the owner who gave him up for doing the right thing for G.I. Joe.

Runyon said the thanks goes to Smith for the immense effort she gives to helping G.I. Joe. The dog is alive because of people like his second Minot owner and Smith, who took the steps to save his life, she said.

“I do think that G.I. Joe has a guardian angel, with people coming in at the right time to save him,” Runyon said.

G.I. Joe thanks his adoring public.

“Thanks for all your support,” reads a recent post on his Facebook page. “I want to share my journey with everyone to help give others hope and encouragement. I will continue to share even after I heal, as every day is a challenge with no feet and no feeling from your shoulders down. I will grow with you and we can learn from each other. I am learning to be less defensive but I have a long way to go. That’s ok though, as I plan on being around a long time.”

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Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com

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