Written by Alice Munley


Cam'O at 3 months

Fuzzy, white Cam’O at about 3 months wearing his red Paw Pals tag, with a look of contemplation.

What parent doesn’t think their child is the most beautiful, handsome, and smartest one in the world? And what dog owner doesn’t think the same thing about their darling and special four-legged family member? That is the perfect description of Cam’O to us. Support for our “kids” is so important in all respects but most importantly for these four-legged kids who will hopefully go on to provide a service within society for someone in need.

I believe this is a good time to share a clearer update on Cam’O as he reaches 16 months of age and continues to grow in size, stateliness, confidence, and maturity. And indeed, he is a beautiful boy. Thankfully, his personality and temperament match his beauty. And while he remains in our care as a service dog puppy in training, I see him as the perfect family member. Of course, he presents challenges at this time in his life like any teenager. All in all, Cam’O is a wonderful, loving, and beautiful dog headed for a life as an awesome and mature grown-up full of unconditional love and acceptance for all he meets.

Cam'O at 15 months

Cam’O at 15 months showing a rather stately pose and a fluffy coat not quite as white as at 3 months. His nose is now showing a little pink in the center.

I have resisted sharing much about Cam’O’s health concerns that began last fall. As the time for advanced training moves closer, I find my concerns for his final advancement and placement growing. Most of my concerns revolve around Cam’O’s health.

Cam’O has been dealing with an unusual and somewhat rare condition since last October that affected the nerves and muscles of his hindquarters (his back legs) and robbed him of the ability to stand or walk at that time. He underwent numerous tests and visits to our local vet last fall, as well seeing the specialist and his awesome techs in Denver, including a hospital stay there. Cam’O was diagnosed with something called “junction-opathy” and then prescribed medication that brought back the use of his legs. All symptoms and issues were gone, as long as he was on the medication.

Over these past months as he continued on the medication, he has grown in size and weight with no signs of the condition returning. There have been some side affects to the medications, but we have that under control now, too. All in all, he is a very normal, happy, intelligent 16-month-old pup. The question remains as to whether his recovery will be permanent, as he continues with medications. Our hope is that by fall, the medication will be reduced significantly, followed by full recovery. Such a recovery would give Paw Pals the green light to continue with advanced training and placement.

So what is Cam’O’s reality?

“He’s a bit of a silly Golden Retriever full of love for life and great potential, even as he shows some immaturity, but he is still young.”

Cam'O watches the new "robot" vacuum

Cam’O watches the new “robot” vacuum as it maneuvers around him. He seems to be asking, “what is it?”.

While Cam’O looks and behaves normally for a dog of his age and maturity level, his health condition is hidden by the medication. Will his condition be considered cured in the months ahead? The final analysis is still months away. He may never recover 100% without ongoing medication. It is still possible that he will need medication for his entire life in order to maintain the health he now enjoys. He could also come completely off the medication in time. Of course, a lifetime of medication would disqualify him from work as a service dog.

Cam'O tries to sniff the music from a saxophone.

Cam’O tries to sniff the music from a saxophone, up close.

At this time, no final decision has been made regarding a time frame on Cam’O’s future in training. He currently maintains a daily routine with medication and continues to mature physically and emotionally. We continue to move forward with Cam’O’s training and socializing with a positive attitude and the hope that by fall there will be significant changes in the outlook for a medication-free life. That is what he needs to ultimately succeed as a service dog.

“…PPAD has been faced with unusual and costly major medical expenses for a few of the puppies and graduates, in addition to Cam’O. These unexpected expenses have put a serious strain on this all-volunteer organization’s budget.”

Unanswered questions and unknown facts are a part of his daily life. While there may be more questions than answers today, it is not yet time to shut the door on Cam’O’s training and future in service. Cam’O still has the potential to complete his puppy training and move on to advance training, in time. A little more training, socializing and maturity will help.

Cam'O with his best buddy, Pat

Cam’O with his best buddy, Pat, a darker colored golden retriever, seemingly asking, “isn’t it time for dinner yet?”.

There are still long-range health questions. There were setbacks in his training and socializing last fall and into the winter due to his initial bout with this rare condition. First, there was the struggle in identifying the affliction and then the extended recovery period from the first signs of a problem that included a long hospital stay. Side effects of the medicine set him back in training for several months too. He’s a bit of a silly Golden Retriever full of love for life and great potential, even as he shows some immaturity, but he is still young.

Cam'O into a container with dozens of empty water bottles searching for treats.

Cam’O buries his nose into a large container with dozens of empty water bottles as he searches for kibble treats.

Cam'O as a perfect student in puppy class.

Cam’O displays how to be a perfect student in puppy class, as he remains in the down command.

Cam'O "keeping watch" over papa's tennis shoe.

Cam’O “keeping watch” over papa’s tennis shoe (so Pat won’t chew it), yet with a look of guilt on his face.

Puppy raisers do all we can to prepare the pups in our care for life in service of one type or another. Sometimes service work is not meant to be the life work of these puppies. Of course there are many other options for service dog pups, not the least being a much-needed family pet and companion. Only time will tell what Cam’O’s final destination will be, but we are continuing to work towards his preparation for placement in a service that is best suited for him.

Paw Pals Assistance Dogs (PPAD), with whom Cam’O and I are affiliated, is a small fully volunteer non-profit organization that has been providing assistance dogs across the country for many, many years. This past year PPAD has been faced with unusual and costly major medical expenses for a few of the puppies and graduates, in addition to Cam’O. These unexpected expenses have put a serious strain on this all-volunteer organization’s budget. We, as others, are fortunate that PPAD makes every effort to provide the funds necessary for these dogs extraordinary medical needs. We are very grateful for that help so that we can continue our daily job of raising Cam’O through his health challenges.