Lucky Puppy of the Week: Dixie the Redbone-Lab Mix

Timothy McHenry rescued three-legged Dixie, who then pulled him back from the brink of suicide. He now must say goodbye to his best friend.

When Timothy McHenry adopted Dixie, a neglected dog who had recently lost her leg, he knew his new companion was special, but never did he imagine just how extraordinary – and lifesaving – she would turn out to be. The following is their shared story of rescue, redemption, and healing. Make sure to grab a tissue first.

“Dixie is a Redbone Lab with questionable taste in humans. Why she chose me, I’ll never know, but choose me she did one late October day in 2005. That’s when we began a shared journey of healing that has nearly come full circle.

It had been five years since I lost my beloved golden Lab, Princess, and I naively stumbled into the local shelter thinking I would find her clone. I nearly did. Like the wheat fields that stretch across my home state of Kansas, this dog had a golden tint to her coat. But it was those eyes that had me – soft and soulful, yet mirroring a pain I did not yet understand. Over the years, those eyes somehow managed to shoot tiny arrows into my heart, finally reaching a place in my soul barren of love and light.

I was so mesmerized by this creature that her gait went unnoticed, as Dixie didn’t walk, she lurched. It was easy to see why – her left front leg had been amputated. I had to know more and summoned the adoption counselor. She explained that Dixie had been hit by a car and then inexplicably tethered in the front yard. As the story goes, her humans thought she had caught a rabbit on the third day of her exile because she was chewing on something bloody.

Dixie was quickly relinquished to the care of a shelter. Amputations are expensive, but a compassionate shelter director got on the phone and pleaded with local veterinarians to perform the surgery pro bono. Fortunately for Dixie, one stepped forward.

There was no turning back now; Dixie was going home with me. She couldn’t navigate the stairs leading up to my bedroom, so I slept with her on the floor. In fact, she didn’t move around much for the first few days. I tried to walk her, but she couldn’t make it around the block without pancaking on the sidewalk to rest. Then our walks got longer, and we began to hike the local trails. Hikes became jogs – three miles, three times a week, on three legs. We enrolled in training classes. She earned her Canine Good Citizenship certification. She amazed me.

Then the wheels came off the bus, and it was I who needed rescuing. I had been working with children and youth in various capacities for 25 years. In 2006, I was wrongly accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a child while serving as the director of an early education center. Child Protective Services was contacted, then local law enforcement. I was interrogated and subsequently arrested. In a state of panic, I called a good friend.

‘Please take care of my dog,’ I sobbed into the phone from the county jail before they took me away.

With the help of family and friends, I posted bail two days later and came home to my beloved Dixie. News of the accusation hit local media outlets, and my case was front-page fodder. I stopped eating and lost nearly 40 pounds.

(Photos courtesy Tim Yeaglin Photography)
Sweet Dixie. (Photos courtesy Tim Yeaglin Photography)

There were prescription medications for sleep, for depression, and for the panic attacks that sent my heart racing as though I was running from a predator. Why was this happening? I had done nothing wrong other than befriend a delusional child. A trial date had been set for the following September, which meant I had a year to wait. My future as a free man hung in the balance.

Dixie’s devotion was unyielding. Her love was a ray of sunshine that pierced through the cloud that hovered over me. At night, I would hold her close as a freight train rumbled through the center of my brain. She became my only link to the outside world. People would look at her and smile. Sometimes they would ask about her story, and I would reluctantly share it without ever really making eye contact, but it got easier over time and I actually started looking at people again.

But there were setbacks. As the trial date grew near, the prosecution realized they had no case and bluffed giving me a stiffer sentence if I did not confess to this heinous crime. I couldn’t take it anymore and was ready to end my life. The plan was to walk Dixie to a nearby bridge where I would throw myself into the depths of a small lake. I did not swim well and was quite certain I would drown.

As I said my goodbyes, Dixie suddenly tore out in pursuit of the geese that frequented the shoreline. She had never shown any interest in them before. I yelled an obscenity at her for interrupting my celebrated suicide attempt and suddenly realized the absurdity of my situation. Dixie returned to my side, and we walked home.

A month later, I was acquitted after a weeklong trial. I began a new career as a dog trainer. Dixie helps me rehabilitate leash-reactive dogs, and together we discovered the sport of agility. She has earned 17 titles. For a time, we worked as a therapy dog team, and I even self-published a memoir about our lives together. We were finally healed, or so I thought.

In 2013, Dixie contracted cancer. Together, we beat it, and it has not returned. In February, she suffered a spinal stroke, then exhibited more stroke-like symptoms in late April. Our veterinarian referred us to the University of Missouri Veterinary Health Center, where an MRI revealed an inoperable brain tumor.

Unfortunately, Dixie has just a few weeks left. I am devastated but will summon all my cowardly energy and be strong for my girl. We have come up with a bucket list for her, which includes riding on a train, hiking a bunch of trails, going on a vacation, and eating cheeseburgers and ice cream. It’s the least I can do for the dog who has given her all for me.

Dixie has taught me that we are all more than the sum of our parts. This was the lesson that ultimately delivered me into the light. Who rescued whom? You tell me.”

As Tim and Dixie’s story illustrates, there’s nothing like the healing power of love to get us through our darkest days and give us the courage to live again. We wish you well, Tim, and know Dixie will love being spoiled rotten in the coming weeks. You have obviously given your special girl a beautiful life, and she has clearly enriched yours. Best wishes.

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Lisa Plummer Savas

A devoted dog mom, journalist, and animal activist, Lisa uses her writing to spread awareness about animal welfare and cruelty issues. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one entitled Pug, and a very understanding husband. Read more of her work at her blog and website, and follow her on Twitter.

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