Monday, January 16, 2012

A True Dog Series: Disregarded Dogs, Rising Above

Disregarded Dogs, Duke's story, 3 of 3

This will be the third and final story in the True Dog series, Disregarded Dogs, Rising Above. I wrote this series to share the inspirational stories of three wonderful True Dogs and follow their journeys from abuse and neglect, to rescue, and life in their new homes. My hope is that this series just might spark action, from you the reader, to do your part in ending animal abuse and neglect. 

You can refer to the following links to read about Chico and Hockey's stories. In Chico's story Part 1 and Hockey's story Part 2

This is the story of Duke. The dog named "Duke" is publicly known for the tragedy and cruelty he experienced, but more fitting, the story of Duke, and his owner, should be a story of strength, courage, and love. This is less a story about tragedy and more a story about the triumphs found in compassion, resilience, patience, and the lasting bond that will be forever shared between Duke and his owner.


On January 27, 2011, two photographers where out taking pictures of bald eagles along the frigid waters of the Des Moines River in Des Moines, IA  when they spotted a large dog struggling to get out of the icy waters. The women approached the dog and pulled him from the frigid water. The photographers covered the Mastiff mix with their coats and called animal control. Unfortunately, the dog was near death when they pulled him from the water.

Animal control officers arrived and quickly took the dog to the ARL Animal Rescue League (ARL)  where veterinarians assessed him. Veterinarians found this dog had a small wound in his back.  After further examination it was discovered that the injury was a .22 caliber bullet lodged in the dog's spinal cord.  

It's believed the this dog was intentionally shot and dumped in the Des Moines river where he was left to die. Shortly after arriving at the ARL, the care of the dog was transferred to Iowa State University Veterinarian Clinic.  As quickly as the dog was transported to ISU, his story hit the media. The story of the shot dog disgusted and outraged thousands. The media, ARL workers, and police, found out that this dog's name was Duke as stated by the local residents who knew the dog. The residents also noted that Duke was a nice dog that they had become accustomed to seeing in their neighborhood. 


Emergency surgery was performed to remove the .22 caliber bullet. Tragically, the bullet had damaged Duke's spinal cord. The bullet caused permanent lower body paralysis. 

Although faced with several disappointing hurdles Duke had thousands of new friends and fans cheering him through his recovery.  A very special company,, heard about Duke's paralysis and donated his Walkin Wheels. The donation allowed Duke the ability to stay active and speed his recovery. 

Duke in his Walkin Wheels

Paralysis wasn't going to slow Duke down, even with a long road of recovery. Duke was well on his way with the help of ISU students, staff and veterinarians.  However, Duke needed one thing to help him excel in his recovery, a home. 

Because of the paralysis, Duke has special needs.  Duke's bladder needs to be expressed at least 4 times a day. This is in addition to the other needs that are a direct result of his paralysis.  He also needs to be lifted up stairs, he cannot be left alone in his wheels, and just like most young, active dogs, he needs exercise.  

Hundreds of people inquired about adopting Duke, but once they found out the details of his care, only two families applied to adopt him.  After 3 visits, and 1 press conference, on March 5, 2011, Duke went to his forever home and joined the family of Susan (Duke's new owner), Molly and Theo (Duke's Lhasa Apso canine siblings.) 

A very happy Duke

Bumps In The Road

The new pack seemed to fit well for everyone. Molly and Theo had all meet Duke prior to his arrival. Theo and Duke played while Molly decided she would be the boss of the boys and supervise any and all play that took place. Within a week, Susan felt comfortable with everyone being out together unattended while she was away from home. It didn't take long for Duke to physically feel better and enjoy his new life. He loved the toys, treats, food, and human attention he received.  In late Spring, Susan decided that it was time to let the public see how well Duke was doing by attending a local Dog Walk Fundraiser. Duke was as always a hit with people and soaked up the attention. However, Susan noticed Duke was very nervous and uncomfortable around other dogs.  Duke started displaying reactive behavior towards another dog. Reactivity is when a dog barks, and/or lunges, towards another dog, person or moving object out of fear. Reactivity can be caused by a single, or multiple, traumatic experience, genetics, lack of socialization, and physical stresses in a dogs life.  

Duke wondering why the camera is in his face

Susan contacted the ARL for advice on how to handle this new behavior. The ARL suggested how to redirect Duke's behavior while on walks with treats, praise, and positive training. They also suggested to keep Duke a distance away from his trigger (which was dogs) so he could be successful on keeping his fear and discomfort at bay. They also suggested that Susan work with Duke's veterinarian on possibly starting him on a medication for his anxiety towards other dogs.  Susan immediately did all those things.  With the aid of positive training, and medication, Duke made huge strides and could comfortably encounter dogs from a safe distance while out on runs and walks in his neighborhood.  

Confident Duke in his wheels!

Just when Susan felt like she had made progress in redirecting Duke's fear based reactivity to other dogs, they were faced with a terrifying situation beyond their control. In October 2011 Susan and Duke were at a public open green space in their neighborhood exercising.  Susan had Duke on a leash to respect the leash law in place. Susan and Duke were enjoying the day when Susan noticed two off leash dogs barrelling towards them.  Susan shouted for the owner to leash her dogs and not to come any closer.  The owner was able to leash one dog, but the other was too fast and curious of the dog on wheels. Susan tried to block the dog from approaching Duke with her body, she redirected Duke, but it was too late. In a blink, fur was flying. Susan didn't hesitate to try and separate the dogs. Finally, the owner got control of her unleashed dog. Susan and Duke headed home. Duke didn't appear to have suffered any physical injuries, but in the midst of the chaos Susan sustained minor injuries to her hands.  Today, physically, Duke and Susan are fine but the emotional cost of situation is prevalent.


Rising Above

The off leash dog episode was shocking for both Susan and Duke. After the encounter, Susan has had to take pause when considering their daily walks and runs. This is unfortunate. Dogs and their owners shouldn't have to doubt being able to leave their house at the risk of an off leash dog. If there are leash laws, please abide by them. Some dogs aren't always comfortable being approached by other dogs whether they are on or off leash. These dogs are referred to as DINOS (Dogs In Need of Space.)  It doesn't mean the dog is aggressive or unfit. It just means that some dogs needs more space than others.  Read more about DINOS here. If you are considering approaching any dog, whether you have a dog with you or not, please ask the owner's permission before approaching.

The famous and handsome Duke sporting his leash!

True to Duke's nature, the encounter with the off leash dog wasn't going to put a stop to his ability to rise above adversity.  Susan and Duke are determined to work through Duke's anxiety and fear of other dogs. Duke is a wonderfully True Dog. With continued support of friends who have worked through similar issues with their dogs, and with the support of fans, several thousands of them as a matter of fact, along with some conditioning, desensitizing, and positive training the possibilities are endless for Duke and Susan. Will he improve? Absolutely! Will it take time? Yes.  But I'll never doubt the possibilities of the boisterous, outgoing, loving, friendly dog on two wheels.


Initially, there was a reward of $6,500 for information leading to the arrest of the individual(s) who shot Duke and dumped him in the river. As this was written, there have been no leads and no arrests in Duke's case. In 2011 Duke's case was closed due to lack of evidence. 

True Dogs Chico, Hockey, and Duke all have lives that are now filled with joy and positive experiences. Dogs like Chico, Hockey, and Duke show us that life is best lived in the present, each day is a gift, and that love is stronger than fear and anger. If our hope is to someday end animal abuse, knowledge and action will be the key factors. Together we can all speak out against animal abuse and neglect.  We will rise above.

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  1. Wonderful article,I have been following Duke's progress through Facebook and the DesMoines ARL .

  2. hi, i'm a friend of susan's, and, of course, dukes', molly's, and theo's. they are one of the most amazing families i've ever been privileged to know. duke is an absolute lover--and kisser!--besides being extraordinarily handsome. his sister and brother are equally loving and fun to be with. susan is a remarkable woman of strength, compassion, love, and patience. i can't begin to imagine how her life has changed since duke's arrival, but she's done it all and continues to do it all with huge generosity of heart and caring. she's also very generous in sharing duke w/ all of us, and i know we are extremely grateful. thank you for sharing duke's remarkable story of survival, triumph, and love. it was hard to read, despite knowing most of the details already. we'll never be fully accustomed to the horror of what happened to duke, but we'll always thank God, the two women who pulled duke out of the water, the arl, isu, and susan, for giving this special, special boy the beautiful life he has today. congratulations, duke and mama, on your approaching 1-year anniversary. love always.

  3. It's an absolute gift that Duke and Susan continue to share their journey with us, even when it seems easier not to. I'm so privileged that Susan (and crew) allowed me to come into their lives and share it with everyone. In the process I've made some pretty amazing friends. Expect more great things from Duke and Susan!

  4. Great story. I've followed Duke's story as well living in Des Moines. Susan has done a super job with him. Would love to meet him someday.

  5. awesome story. I would just like to suggest looking up Eddie's Wheels as an option for Duke's cart.
    Eddie's Wheels custom makes each cart to fit each individual animal perfectly! Eddie's Wheels offers better stability for the dog. I am not a sales person; I am an owner to a dog that uses a cart to get around in everyday life, and the Walkin Wheels didn't cut it for my active Pitbull.
    this article/video explains it all: