'Man's best friend' is now in need of help

Wanda English Burnett

The saying “a dog is a man’s best friend” has proven true over and over for the Gauck family of Cross Plains. Now, it’s time for them to be his, or in this case her, best friend.

This is a story about Cuddles, an Australian Shepherd mix dog that is a service animal for George Gauck, who suffers not only from a work-related injury, but seven years ago was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

The couple, George and Mary, got Cuddles when she was just five weeks old. The puppy had gotten a rough start, according to the Gaucks, when her mother died in a house fire when Cuddles was just three days old. “She was raised by hand, that’s why I feel she is so good at her job and made it so my wife could train her to do the things for me that she does,” George noted.

Mr. Gauck noted that he has had to be transported to the hospital by ambulance and the EMT’s were impressed with Cuddles. She also took a trip with him to the hospital where she was right beside him in the bed with the doctors and nurses amazed at her performance.

While Mr. Gauck has had a bit of bad luck in his lifetime, he never dwells on it. He worked for 17 years for Hill-Rom in the press department. He was hurt on the job causing two disks in his neck to come out of place and eventually disable him. He said he didn’t ask for anything from the company, he knows things happen.

Then two years later, another bomb shell was dropped on him. He was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “He does everything he possibly can for himself,” his wife, Mary, noted. He agreed he even takes care of his own medications, and has to remember when to take each of the 21 pills a day. “Sometimes it’s a little confusing,” they both laughed.

Cuddles has brought joy and happiness and a sense of peace to Mary as she leaves for work each day. She also works at Hill-Rom in Batesville. She knows the dog will look out for her husband. But, what they didn’t know was that Cuddles was also able to sense medical needs of others.

Over the Memorial Day weekend their grandson was injured. He was taken to Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati where Cuddles kept going over to him and sniffing around his head. The couple noted that it was later discovered he had a fractured skull right where the dog was sniffing.

Another hurdle came this summer when Cuddles began to limp. She was taken to the veterinary clinic right away where she was simply diagnosed with arthritis. She continued to get worse and so the couple took her to the Waltz Animal Clinic in Madison when they could eventually get her an appointment. She was literally so bad at that point she couldn’t stand by herself.

Mary carried Cuddles into the clinic where it was immediately suggested they see a specialist in Cincinnati. They wound up at the Cincinnati Animal Referral and Emergency Center, and none too soon. The X-rays showed Cuddles had to have ligaments and tendons in both back legs replaced and soon.

Surgery was performed the next day which was August 25. The staff there told the Gaucks that they knew Cuddles was not used to being kept in a dog pen, so they allowed her to stay out with the nurses and other staff. They praised how well she worked with them and obeyed them.

Mary explained that Cuddles is trained to “voice-command,” which was displayed during the interview with the newspaper.

The surgery was expensive within itself, not to mention follow-up treatment, physical therapy, medication and special food.

“We opted to do the physical therapy ourselves and save some money,” Mary noted. And, since she has personally trained Cuddles, it has worked out well. She just came through her check up on Monday, October 5 with flying colors.

Mary was close to tears when she noted that they do everything they can for themselves. “We’ve cut out everything extra, we don’t go out to eat, except to get a hamburger once in a while,” she noted, saying they have done everything in their power to cut expenses and pay for taking care of Cuddles themselves.

But, this week, Mary is on shut-down from Hill-Rom, and worries about her job as well. “It’s too much if you think about it very long,” she shared.

The Gaucks have six months since the surgery to get the bill paid off without interest beginning to accrue. When the interest kicks in, Mr. Gauck said it will be close to 30%.

Donation cans have been placed in various businesses throughout the area for people to help share this burden. But, even at that, there is the good, the bad and sometimes the very ugly. Mary held up a plastic bag with a spent shell casing of a 22 caliber gun in it that someone placed inside one of the donation jars. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said with tears streaming down her face.

The newspaper was contacted by Tails of Hope Foundation, Inc. a group that promotes critical challenges people face with service animals such as Cuddles.

The Gaucks say after their bills are paid they will give any left over money to the Waltz Animal Clinic and the Emergency Care Center in Cincinnati for others who are in similar situations. “We don’t want anything for ourselves, we’re not trying to get rich off of this,” noted Mary, as she looked lovingly at Cuddles, the one animal she can depend on to help when her husband is down.

Those interested in giving to this cause can send a check to the Gaucks at 5671 E. County Road 900 South, Cross Plains, IN 47017 or give them a call at 812-667-6923 if you want to contribute directly to the financial institution where they owe the money.

Even though they’ve had some ups and a lot of downs, the couple were in good spirits, saying, “People really are good.” They noted that a couple of churches in the area, St. Paul, Dewberry, and the Cross Plains United Methodist Church had sent money for their cause and it was greatly appreciated. “It’s all appreciated, whether you put a quarter in a can, or send a check for $100,” they concluded.

George Gauck has a close moment with Cuddles. Actually, Cuddles just took a cough drop, one of his favorite treats, from George's mouth without ever touching his skin. Cuddles is very gentle with George and takes care of him when he is in need. George is disabled from a work-related accident and has been diagnosed with Multiple Schlerosis. Now Cuddles is in need and George is asking for help for his beloved service dog, companion and friend.