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Mex, a 5-year-old German shepherd, is seen when he was stationed in Afghanistan for two years as a patrol/narcotics detection dog. Mex had to retire last summer because of health problems and was adopted by Bob and Cheryl Ross of Utica. They are hoping to raise money to buy a wheeled cart to help Mex get around. (Courtesy photo / Newark Advocate)
To help Mex or learn more about his condition, visit www.gofundme.com/3kvly0. Any donations not used to help Mex will be donated to Military Working Dog Adoptions or the U.S. War Dog Association.
UTICA, OHIO — Cheryl Ross has photos of her dog, Mex, racing around in the snow outside of her Utica home.
“He loves to be outside,” she said. “He likes to chase the cats.”
Almost a year ago, Mex spent his days outdoors, patrolling a base in Afghanistan, where he was stationed as a guard and narcotics dog.
But now, he can’t stand up without Cheryl or her husband, Bob, helping him. He drags his useless back legs when he wants to find the cat or greet someone at the door.
“It’s hard to see,” Cheryl said. “He knows there is something wrong and he can’t do what he used to do.”
The 5-year-old German shepherd has severe hip dysplasia and canine degenerative myelopathy, a disease that eventually leads to complete paralysis.
Mex is in the early stages of the disease and still has a lot of life left in him. But the Ross family is struggling to pay the for the treatments and equipment needed to improve his quality of life.
“He served his country. He’s done his duty,” Bob said. “We are trying to give him the best we possibly can.”
Mex was born in 2008 and trained in Holland as a contract working dog for military or police work.
In October 2010, he was contracted out by the Defense Department and sent to Afghanistan, where he patrolled a forward operating base.
Mex served four units, including the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. With handlers, he worked as a guard and inspected vehicles for drugs.
Mex was given the United States Military Working Dog Service Award in recognition of his work.
But in the summer of 2012, his handlers noticed he was having hip pain and retired him, sending him back to the United States.
A long-time supporter of the military, Cheryl had been sending care packages to dogs helping the military overseas when she found out about Military Working Dog Adoptions, an organization that helps place retired dogs in forever homes.
She and Bob had just lost their golden retriever and were thinking about getting a puppy. They changed their minds when they found out they could help a service dog.
“I kept telling Bob I knew this was the next step for us,” Cheryl said. “It was an overwhelming feeling that this was what we needed to do.”
Cheryl and Bob applied to the organization and got a phone call about Mex in September 2012. About a month later, the dog arrived at their house.
Mex was used to constant training and patrolling, but he transitioned easily into life at the Ross house.
Bob said he was slightly nervous about how the dog would act around his grandchildren, but Mex was as gentle as could be with them.
“I was skeptical, but he’s turned out to be the world’s greatest,” he said. “He just fit right in and did his thing.”
Cheryl and Bob knew from the beginning that Mex had hip problems. But in February, his condition started rapidly going downhill.
After X-rays and tests, he was diagnosed with canine degenerative myelopathy, which is similar to the human disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The disease usually doesn’t affect dogs until they are older, but working in the rough terrain of Afghanistan might have brought on Mex’s symptoms faster, Cheryl said.
The disease will get worse, and Mex’s vets said he likely has about two years before his quality of life seriously deteriorates.
Right now he’s still spunky and loves to spend time with his family, Cheryl said.
“We’ve had people tell us to put him down,” she said. “But until I look into those eyes and see he’s given up, we can’t give up, either.”
Bob and Cheryl installed ramps throughout the house and carpeting in every room to make it easier for Mex to get around.
They bought a mobility harness for Mex so they can support his back legs when he walks or goes to the bathroom.
Their next goal is to buy Mex a wheeled cart that will support his back legs. The cart will give him the opportunity to run outside and will take some of the weight off his upper body, Cheryl said.
“We want to give him his best chance to go out and run,” Bob said. “He’s strong and still has a lot more mobility left.”
A cart designed for Mex, which can be adjusted as his disease progresses, will cost about $800.
He also needs about $250 to $300 worth of medication every month and laser treatments for his hips.
Cheryl works full time and Bob, who is retired, cares for Mex every day. With more vet bills coming in, they can’t afford to buy the cart on their own.
They decided to launch an online campaign to raise $2,500. That would pay for Mex’s cart, some physical therapy, laser treatments and some medications. Any extra money will be donated to Military Working Dog Adoptions or the U.S. War Dog Association.
“It isn’t about us. It’s all about him,” she said. “Financially, we can’t give him what he needs.”
After everything Mex has been through, Bob and Cheryl want to do everything they can to give him a good life.
“He has made our lives so much better, and we hope we are making his better,” Bob said. “We want to reward him for serving our country.”