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Charlie and Parker's Long Journey Home

Photo of Michele and Mike Waincott

Meant to Be

It was a blistering summer afternoon in Piedmont, Okla. Dennis and Jesse McGee were cooling down after a run on the country roads outside of Oklahoma City. While crossing a bridge, the father and son heard whimpers that sounded like pleas for help coming from below. Fifteen feet below two Weimaraner puppies huddled together in the dry creek bed.

Stunned by the emaciated animals covered in fleas and ticks, Jesse McGee coaxed the puppies up to the road and nearly a mile back to his house. “They were flipping and flopping around, and they were having a hard time getting out of the ditch,” says Dennis McGee. “The male was carrying his back leg completely cockeyed, and the female was limping.”

No one knows for sure what happened to the dogs. Authorities and veterinarians speculate that the dogs were thrown off the bridge from a vehicle. It is possible that the impact of the fall broke their legs or perhaps the legs were broken before the dogs were abandoned.

Dennis McGee’s daughter and son-in-law, Kellie and Jeremie Pennington, took the dogs to their house. After careful examination by a veterinarian, it was determined that both puppies had severely broken legs. The puppies were approximately 12 weeks old, and from the healing patterns of the bones, it appeared they had been living on their own for nearly three weeks.

The Penningtons spent $400 to have radiographs taken of the puppies’ legs and to have them dipped for fleas and ticks. However, when given the estimate of $6,000 for surgery to repair the dogs’ legs, the couple had to make a tough decision. “We wanted to keep them, but we realized that at the time, we couldn’t give them the kind of care they needed,” says Kellie Pennington.

She contacted 10 animal rescue groups hoping to place the puppies in a home. With each call, she became more discouraged. All of them were full to capacity. Finally, one group offered to contact Heartland Weimaraner Rescue in Pleasant Valley, Mo.

Perfect Timing

Gail Orth-Aikmus, founding director of Heartland, took the call. “I contacted two Weim rescue groups down South to see if they could do anything, but I got the same answers that Kellie was getting,” she says. “I knew that there was no way we could turn these dogs away.”

Lara and Nathan Kline of Kansas City, Mo., had been volunteering with Heartland for several weeks. “We were traveling to Oklahoma to see Nathan’s parents,” says Lara Kline. “Right before we left, Gail called. The timing of our trip couldn’t have been more perfect. We drove over to Oklahoma City to meet the Penningtons.

“They looked like rough-and-tumble dogs from the wrong side of the tracks,” she recalls. “They were covered in flea bites and cuts, and their coats were a disaster. In spite of their injuries, they never whined or cried out in pain.”

The puppies were content in back of the Klines’ SUV until they stopped at a rest stop. “They looked terrified. They must have thought we were going to abandon them,” she says. “You could see them visibly relax when we got back in the car.”

Heartland’s policy is to give the transporters the privilege of naming the rescued animals. The Klines wanted the dogs’ names to reflect a little piece of Kansas City. Nathan, a jazz fan, remembered that the great jazz musician Charlie “Yardbird” Parker was born in Kansas City. Consequently, the puppies became “Charlie” and “Parker.”

The pups first went to stay with Orth-Aikmus and her son, Brian. Orth-Aikmus was concerned. The surgeries to fix the dogs’ legs were going to be exorbitantly expensive, and several veterinarians had talked about amputation.

After several consultations, Orth-Aikmus was referred to Dr. Roger Becker at Independence (Mo.) Animal Hospital. “Dr. Becker quoted us a price at a discounted rate that was substantially lower than other quotes that we had,” she says. “The surgeries were extremely involved because he had to clean up the calcium that had built up from the bones that were healing incorrectly.”

“First of all, we felt that offering our services at a discounted rate was our way of giving something back to the animal community,” Becker says. “It inspired others to donate money to Heartland as well. Secondly, it was a surgical challenge that we couldn’t pass up.”

Charlie, the female, had a mid-shaft fracture of the left rear femur. With a month-old injury, she had muscle atrophy and scar tissue buildup. Becker set the bones and placed pins in Charlie’s leg.

“We got lucky,” he says. “The pups were young, and there was no growth plate damage. With physical therapy and time, Charlie was able to regain almost 100 percent mobility.”

Parker’s right rear leg fracture was significantly worse because not only did he have a broken bone, he also had a shattered knee. Getting the scar tissue loosened up in order to achieve some mobility was a challenge to the doctors. Extra bone from Charlie’s surgery was saved and used to rebuild Parker’s leg. Parker’s separated pieces were pinned to each other.

Getting Well

Both dogs were able to keep their legs and within days a certified canine rehabilitation specialist, Cheri Kollman of Sirius Therapeutics in Kansas City, Mo., had offered her services free of charge. Kollman heard about the dogs’ story from Orth-Aikmus at a Heartland fundraiser.

“A lot like what we do with humans, the rehab consisted of orthopedic procedures and neurological work with balance and coordination,” Kollman says. “They had strengthening work on an exercise ball. Parker had a very tight thigh muscle called a quad tie-down. The leg couldn’t straighten out all the way. We did quite a bit of stretching and used infra-red heat to loosen it up."

Meanwhile, Orth-Aikmus put out a plea to Weimaraner groups and individuals across the country asking for financial assistance. Although the veterinarian had offered his services at very little cost, there were still great costs involved with Charlie and Parker’s recovery.

“We received money from as far away as Portugal and Australia,” says Orth-Aikmus. “People sent boxes filled with toys. Some would send cards with their own dogs’ photo. The response from people was phenomenal every step of the way.”

With money from the fundraising efforts, the dogs’ foster family, Jill and Tim Connell, were able to buy an inflatable swimming pool for their backyard to continue the puppies’ water therapy. Charlie loved the water, and was always excited to jump in. Parker, however, was terrified of the water.

“It’s amazing the advancements the dogs made in just nine weeks,” says Jill Connell. “We took them to therapy twice a week and exercised in the pool every day. By the end of therapy, Charlie popped the swimming pool because she was trying to jump in ahead of me.”

After a summer of therapy and healing, the puppies were ready to be placed in an adoptive home. Heartland received applications from all over the world. “We knew that Charlie and Parker needed to be placed together because they were so reliant on each other after surviving together for so long,” says Orth-Aikmus.

Orth-Aikmus received an application from Michele Jarvis Wonnacott and Mike Wonnacott of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Although Heartland was hoping to keep the puppies closer to Kansas City, it was obvious that they couldn’t turn down the Wonnacotts.

“Michele is a certified holistic wellness advisor and animal obedience trainer,” Orth-Aikmus says. “Never did I get a sense that they wanted Charlie and Parker because of anything other than truly wanting to help them.”

The Wonnacotts made the long trip to Kansas City to take Charlie and Parker home last September. “Charlie and Parker were a little nervous on the trip home, especially on the ferry boat across to Vancouver Island,” says Jarvis Wonnacott.

In Canada, the dogs were greeted by their new family: “Dylan,” a yellow Labrador Retriever, “Mya,” a Weimaraner, and “Pepper,” a Pomeranian/Pug mix. “Once we arrived home, it was like they had known the other dogs for years,” Jarvis Wonnacott says.

The dogs have settled in well at their new home. “We take them on walks in the forest every day,” she says. “They can climb over woodpiles and jump up to reach things. Most importantly, they seem truly happy. It’s amazing the horrible things that creatures can experience and remain so forgiving.”

Orth-Aikmus is perhaps the happiest of all. She has seen hundreds of dogs come through Heartland’s doors every year. Every dog has a story, but Charlie and Parker were special. What’s more, Heartland added Oklahoma to its rescue area as a result of the dogs’ rescue.

“All of this just came too easy,” Orth-Aikmus says. “From the very first phone call to the transporters, to finding the veterinarian, to the rehabilitation person volunteering to the fact that the Wonnacotts happened to be playing around on the Internet and found the online application. These puppies had a will to live like we had never seen before. Someone was watching out for them.”

In the Eyes of the World

Public response to the story of Charlie and Parker’s rescue went beyond the worldwide donations that Heartland Weimaraner Rescue received. Individuals and groups from around the world continued to follow the story until the dogs’ adoption last September.

It didn’t stop then. The adoptive family, Michele and Mike Wonnacott, wanted to provide a connection so people could continue to follow the dogs’ progress. Mike Wonnacott designed a Web site, which can be found at www.charlieandparker.com, to chronicle the new adventures of the dogs.

The Web site includes stories published in Canada, video footage of television coverage, and a slide show created by Heartland Weimaraner Rescue during Charlie and Parker’s rehabilitation. A series of small photos show the dogs’ first four months with their new family, and a “chat” box has nearly 600 notes of goodwill from visitors.

“It’s amazing how this story has brought people together,” says Mike Wonnacott. “These are the pups that the whole world fell in love with. We’ve been the recipients of so much kindness because of Charlie and Parker.”

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