Downeast Dog News

Starting Anew with Help from Friends

By Susan Spisak | Apr 01, 2019

Retired Army Sergeant Christy Gardner has a new friend to nurture--a special needs yellow puppy that she met while working for Varney’s Labs. Her role at that breeding facility in Turner was to care for litters and match adopters with the right pup.

Varney’s owners agreed the best place for the Lab with the club foot would be in a school as a therapy dog. Christy stepped up and took over caring for, training, and raising the pup with her treasured seizure alert response and mobility assistance service dog--a Golden Retriever named Moxie--who helps as a canine friend and role model.

Eventually, a specialist determined the little guy required an amputation. The pup she initially nicknamed “Tiny Tim” had the surgery and is adjusting to and blooming in his “new normal,” thanks to his perseverance and a plucky attitude that he has in common with Christy.

Fighting for Survival

Christy’s comeback story is inspirational. This US Army vet’s life went sideways in 2006 while serving in Asia as a Sergeant in the Military Police. She was traumatically injured and forced to retire. She was plagued with seizures and serious mobility issues, lost parts of her memory and two fingers, and relied on leg braces to walk. Doctors told this accomplished high school and college athlete that she’d never be independent again… never ride a bike, run, play sports, even bathe herself, and she was advised to apply for a service dog.

This Lewiston veteran underwent years of physical and speech therapy and revisited many years of her school education. With fierce determination, a strong support system and that ever-loyal canine friend Moxie, she rebounded and redefined herself.

She explored her love of athletics and began participating in adaptive sports. She played with the USA Warriors Ice Hockey, then co-founded and is captain of the New England Warriors Sled Hockey. She attended a sled hockey camp, and as a result, plays for the US Women’s Sled Hockey Team. She was named as the USA Hockey’s Disabled Athlete of the Year in 2013.

She went on to show off Track and Field skills at the 2016 US Paralympics’ Team Trials. (She shared she’s currently 5th in shot put and 11th in discus--in the world.) Christy also participated in the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Chicago with Team Army--and the pretty Moxie led the parade of athletes into Soldier Field for opening ceremonies. In 2018, she and her US Women’s Sled Hockey teammates celebrated their second gold medal win (the first was in 2014) at the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey International Women’s Cup.

Tired of dealing with leg braces (and a wheelchair when pain was excruciating) and having a weakened body that made her feel “like a piece of crap,” she welcomed an alternative three years+ ago. Now a double amputee with eight sets of prosthetic legs for various activities, “they have different ankle components if you will,” she has greater freedom. (She added that they’ve eased winter issues--Maine’s icy and snowy seasons aren’t chair-friendly.)

To stay fit and continually challenge herself, she runs 5k’s monthly--and Moxie loves them. “We started registering her as well so that she’d have her own bib, so people wouldn’t freak that there was a dog on the course.” For fun, the duo that’s been together about 9 years surfs, paddleboards, kayaks, and snowboards.

Her courageous story has been widely covered by the media, touching hearts worldwide. She and Moxie grace ads (Disable American Veterans) on billboards and bus stop shelters, garnering support for vets. She’s a sought after local and national speaker--she recently spoke at the National Security Agency in DC.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, she was treated to a full “amazing” makeover on the Rachel Ray Show last fall--and Moxie was a hit, too. (Rachel hooked Christy up with prosthetic legs for high heels--complete with cool shoes. Here’s a link to the makeover, Grab Kleenex.)

Lucky Tim

“I met him shortly after he was born,” she said of the Varney’s pup born last December. A veterinarian originally cast the deformed foot to straighten it out. “It turned out later it was still horribly deformed,” she explained. The pup was missing most of his wrist bones and had a deformed elbow--the best solution would be to remove the front leg to the shoulder.

Meanwhile, over in the town of Leeds, the kids of Leeds Central School were interested in service dogs after seeing a photo of President Bush’s service dog, Sully. That coupled with Christy’s speech on the powers of service dogs and meeting her Moxie sparked an idea--the kids wanted to raise monies for a service dog through the Maine-based non-profit, K9’s on the Front Line, for a local veteran. (Principal Danielle Harris said they’ve raised about $1750.)

Knowing that the adorably fearless pup would be terrific for students who needed a morale boost, Christy approached Leeds Central School leaders about the possibility of taking on her charge permanently after he completes all training and passes necessary tests, which may take a year. “They jumped all over it,” said Christy. The kids embraced the idea that the dog would be in-house daily and had a contest to name him--he’s now Lucky Tim.

Once the superintendent and board approve of Lucky Tim--Principal Harris believes it’ll take several months for the busy superintendent to explore, but she has a “gut feeling” it’ll be approved, she will become his owner and handler. Lucky Tim will spend his days in classrooms comforting and alleviating anxiety and when the bell rings, he’ll head home with her--where he’ll also be doted on by her husband Mike, son Thomas, and dog Zoey. (If Lucky Tim isn’t approved at Leeds, Christy will find another area school that will benefit from his presence.)

Lucky Tim’s leg amputation (and hernia repair) was financed thanks to Christy’s GoFundMe efforts, “Little Guy, Big Mission.” VetriScience® Laboratories, an animal health supplement company, became aware of the pup and granted $10,000 for the surgery. All other monies raised will offset his formal training, medical insurance, and future needs so that he can be donated without financial burden.

Christy said Lucky Tim was “completely full of it” the day after surgery, which was trouble for her as he was to be quiet. “By day seven, I’ll be up a creek,” she laughed. It sounds like he’s adjusting to being three-legged and will move forward doing good works like his raiser and her four-legged protector. While the pup is still under her wing, she will continue to visit the school with Moxie and Lucky Tim, delighting the students and staff.

Golden Love

Christy knows first-hand how a service and/or therapy dog can reduce stress, bring compassion and become a best friend like Moxie. “We’re amazing together, perfectly bonded. I know her expressions; she’s like a non-verbal family member.”

She said without this Golden, she would have given up on her life a long time ago. She admitted to having plenty of dark thoughts, but ultimately knew Moxie would be lost and depressed without her--it’s her job to watch over Christy.

Moxie brings physical balance and stability; she can turn on lights and carry items for her. She will nudge or pull Christy gently to the ground in the event of a seizure--and can run to a neighbor’s for help. When Christy had a land line, Moxie would dial and bark into their special phone. “Dispatch at 9-1-1 knew if a dog called, it was for me.”

This lifesaving Golden is going to be 11 soon, and Christy indicated there will come a time when she’ll have to retire her, but she won’t replace her. “She wouldn’t understand.” Instead, she’s going to teach Moxie to be a couch potato.

For now, Christy’s concentrating on Lucky Tim and training for and participating in trials to accomplish her next goal--the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo. “With Moxie by my side, I’ve got the will to pursue it.”