A friend in need: Davis Ward faithfully tends to elderly dog stricken with diabetes

Marci Gore • May 15, 2013 at 11:55 AM

Davis Ward is doing all he can to help his elderly dog, Rambo, continue to live a full and comfortable life, despite Rambo’s diabetes diagnosis several months ago.

“I didn’t even know dogs could get diabetes,” Ward said. “But Rambo kept having problems and I took him to the vet and they tested him and sure enough he had diabetes.”

Ward said he noticed Rambo, an Australian shepherd, was thirsty all the time and having to relieve himself much more frequently.

“And he just didn’t have any energy. He’d just drag along and want to sit down when we were walking. He’d always loved to run. He had always been a fast dog. I knew something was going on,” he said.

Ward learned from Rambo’s veterinarians at Andes-Straley Veterinary Hospital in Kingsport that Rambo’s diabetes could be controlled with insulin shots twice a day.

“The shots have made a big difference. I buy them over the counter. It’s about $24 a month, which is not a lot. I’ve given him so many now, Rambo’s come to expect them,” Ward said.

Ward and Rambo are well-known around Warriors Path State Park’s Duck Island. The two have walked the paved path together almost every single day for the past eight years.

“When Rambo was younger, we’d walk about three miles a day. During eight years, I estimate we’ve walked about 1,000 miles a year. We’ve probably walked a total of 7 or 8,000 miles around that place — probably a total of about 100,000 laps. Eight years adds up to a lot of time,” Ward said. “We’ve amassed a lot of friends over the past years at Duck Island. We have an array of friends that walk dogs and people that don’t walk dogs. Some people we’ve seen now for six or seven years.”

Even with diabetes, Rambo still looks forward to his daily walks with his master.

“He’s always waiting on me about the same time — 4:30 or 5 — everyday. He’s up and ready to go, waiting to go,” said Ward. The two travel from their home in Colonial Heights to Warriors Path in a car that has had the passenger’s seat removed. This way, Ward says, Rambo doesn’t have as far to jump, making it easier for him to get in and out of the vehicle.

Like a human with diabetes, Rambo’s blood sugar can drop too low sometimes, causing him to become confused or even collapse. So, just in case this happens, Ward carries a syrup-filled syringe in his pocket on their daily walks.

“When his blood sugar gets low, it really affects him. He gets disoriented and starts walking backwards or sideways. This always concerns me. But I just give him his syrup when this happens and he recovers pretty quickly. In about 10 or 15 minutes, he’s fine and goes right back to being normal,” Ward said.

Ward isn’t exactly sure how old Rambo is. He estimates around 13. He’s been Rambo’s “official” owner for about the last eight of those years.

Ward said Rambo’s original owners moved to Florida, leaving their dog behind and perhaps thinking he was going to live with another neighbor.

“But I don’t think he liked those people so he didn’t stay with them. He just sort of roamed the neighborhood on his own for a while,” Ward said.

Eventually, Rambo took up residence under a van in Ward’s driveway and ended up staying.

“He was a pretty nice dog anyway. So I didn’t mind. I decided just to keep him and we’ve been together, walking every day since,” said Ward.

Rambo’s a survivor. Ward says his dog has been hit by both a truck and a car, the latter incident breaking his pelvis, which led to a surprising discovery.

“When he got hit by the car, I took him to the emergency vet and they made an X-ray and found out he was full of [pellet] shot. Somebody had shot him, probably years before I got him. There was shot all in him everywhere. I didn’t even know until they made the x-ray to check his pelvis. The vet said there was nothing you could really do about those shot and that they probably didn’t bother him anymore,” Ward said. “And thankfully, he recovered from his broken pelvis pretty quickly. We didn’t walk during that time. He needed time to heal.”

Overall, though, other than moving a bit slowly — he has some arthritis in his right shoulder — Ward says Rambo’s doing really well for a dog his age and says he will continue taking care of him as long as he can.

“I guess a lot of people would just give up. Yeah, it’s a little more work than it used to be, but it’s not a lot of trouble to just give him a shot a couple of times a day. Every dog I’ve ever had, I kept them to the bitter end. It’s just what you do. It’s the right thing to do,” Ward said.

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