More than a canine companion

Photo by Kathe Malouf / Kern Valley Sun – Sisters Janice Swinney (left) and Janet Simpson (right) share their home in Wofford Heights with Charlie, a Cocker Spaniel mix, and Chance, a German Shepherd, who Simpson adopted last year from the Kern County animal shelter. Chance reminds Simpson when she needs to take her medicine and alerts her if there is a problem with the medication pump that she wears.

By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun

Shelter dogs are special. They seem to understand and appreciate the fact that they have been rescued by adoption. In return, they often do some amazing things to “repay” that kindness.

Such is the case with Chance, a 6-year old German Shepherd who has become more than a canine companion for the Wofford Heights woman who adopted him last year.

Janet Simpson has Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension, or PAH, a rare pulmonary illness that creates dangerously high pressure in her lungs. There is no cure other than a lung transplant; so, Simpson manages her PAH with around-the-clock medication. Along with taking pills several times a day, Simpson wears a small device that pumps medication directly into her body.

Simpson and her sister, Janice Swinney, share their home and love for animals. Pets have been part of their family for as long as they can remember, with most of them being adopted from animal shelters.

When Simpson lost her beloved Rocky, an 18-year-old Rottweiler/Shepherd mix, she was heartbroken and made a decision that she wouldn’t get another dog and risk the pain of another loss.

“I was so, so depressed and decided that I wasn’t going to get another dog.” Simpson said. But last May, that changed when she saw a German Shepherd puppy that was available for adoption in Camarillo. She was so moved by the pup that she drove to Camarillo intending to bring the puppy home. But there were many others who felt the same way, and Simpson returned home without the puppy.

“As soon as I got home, I went online looking at the dogs at the Kern County animal shelter,” the 54-year-old Simpson said. And it was there that she made her “Chance” encounter.

“I saw a photo of him online, and he looked so sweet, so I went to the shelter in Bakersfield,” Simpson said. It didn’t take long for Simpson to realize that this was the dog she wanted. “It was meant to be,” Simpson said.

The large Shepherd was quickly welcomed into his new home by the other rescued pets, including “Charlie,” a Cocker Spaniel mix, and a cat named “Cat-Cat.”

Simpson changed her dog’s name from “Ajax” to “Chance.” After learning about his history at the shelter, Simpson felt that he needed another chance.

Nick Cullen, Director of Kern County Animal Services, said that Ajax had a long history at the shelter. He was picked up as a stray in Shafter back in October 2014. He was adopted out, but the person could not keep him contained in the yard, and Ajax kept getting out.

“Ajax came back to us three times in one year,” Cullen said before the owner gave him up because he couldn’t manage to keep the dog on his property.

While Chance quickly proved to be a great addition to Simpson’s house of rescues; several months ago, the large, sweet-tempered dog demonstrated his gratitude in a big way.

“I have to take medication every morning, but the medication makes me sleepy, and I sometimes sleep late. One morning Chance came into my bedroom, and I was still asleep. He started barking and he wouldn’t stop until I got up and took my pill,” Simpson said. “He has done that every morning since then and at the same time.”

His bark is loud, and he won’t stop until Simpson gets up, Swinney said.

In the afternoon, Chance will sit and stare at Simpson, again as a reminder to take her medication.

“He is so in tune with me. He has to know where I am and my every move. But he also seems to know when I need to take my medicine,” she said.

It’s not just the pills that Chance keeps track of; he also monitors the pump device that Simpson wears. If there is a kink in the hose, or if medication is running low, the machine will make a high-pitched beep. But the beep is quiet, and often, Simpson doesn’t hear it.

But Chance does.

“One day, he was just sitting and staring at me. He was tilting his head from side to side. I kept saying ‘what is it?’ and finally I checked my pump,” Simpson said. “That’s when I realized that there was a kink in the hose and the alarm was beeping.”

Chance has alerted Simpson several times when the hose on the device gets clogged. “Now when he just sits and looks at me, I check to see what is wrong,” she said.

Some of the side effects of the medication that Simpson takes includes forgetfulness and anxiety. But because of Chance’s keen sense of hearing and timing, things have changed.

“He has taken care of all of the side effects,” Simpson said. “He keeps me on track with my meds because otherwise, I would forget to take them. I do feel more confident now,” Simpson said.

Simpson said Chance is her therapy dog, and she takes him wherever she goes with the confidence that he will keep a watchful eye and ear out in order to keep her safe. “He is amazing and the sweetest dog I have ever had,” she said. “He is a blessing.”

“This is another good story about what can come out of the animal shelter,” Swinney said, while petting Chance who was stretched across her lap.

Cullen agrees, saying that as Director of Animal Services, he and his staff don’t often hear about the animals after they leave the shelter. But Cullen said they love to hear success stories about the animals that have come through their facility and how those animals have changed the lives of their adopted mom and dad.

Now bonded, Simpson and Chance are a team. Simpson is no longer worried about forgetting to take her medication, and Chance has no desire to wander away from his forever home.

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