2013-09-20 / Front Page

Determined dog is an ‘inspiration’


Two summers ago Junior, a 7-year-old yellow Labrador retriever lost the use of his hind legs due to a stroke. Last week a crew from ABC’s “Born to Explore with Richard Wiese” was in Scarborough to film a story on Junior. (Michael Kelley photo) Two summers ago Junior, a 7-year-old yellow Labrador retriever lost the use of his hind legs due to a stroke. Last week a crew from ABC’s “Born to Explore with Richard Wiese” was in Scarborough to film a story on Junior. (Michael Kelley photo) What started as a normal morning trip to Pine Point Beach two years ago turned into a life-changing event for Junior, a 5-year-old yellow Labrador retriever and his owners, Laura and Jim Pendergast, of Pillsbury Drive.

Shortly after spending part of the morning on the beach, Jim Pendergast said he and his family took Junior to Salty Bay, a seafood take-out restaurant located nearby on Jones Creek Drive. Jim Pendergast said Junior was lagging behind on the short walk and collapsed on King Street and couldn’t get up.

The Pendergasts, who live part time in Pine Point, soon found out that Junior had suffered fibrocartilaginous embolism, a stroke in the spinal column that prevents blood flow. The injury left Junior unable to use his rear legs. Laura Pendergast said fibrocartilaginous embolism, or FCE, typically affects dogs 5 years old and younger. Nearly 70 percent, she said, recover within three months. Others, like Junior, aren’t that lucky.


Charlotte Pendergast, 3, and her mother, Laura, give their dog Junior a hug while on Pine Point Beach Sept. 13. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Junior loves to run on the beach and take dips into the ocean. For more photos, visit the Leader Facebook page. (Michael Kelley photo) Charlotte Pendergast, 3, and her mother, Laura, give their dog Junior a hug while on Pine Point Beach Sept. 13. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Junior loves to run on the beach and take dips into the ocean. For more photos, visit the Leader Facebook page. (Michael Kelley photo) “Most people don’t have the heart to wait it out. It is really overwhelming,” she said.

Laura Pendergast said she and her husband were committed to doing all they could to heal Junior, including water therapy, physical therapy and acupuncture twice a week.

Despite this, Junior was showing no signs of recovery, and a wheelchair for his hind legs was determined to be his best option.

Laura Pendergast said at first getting Junior accustomed to the wheelchair was no easy task.

“We trained him little by little. He really fought us at first and would cry and cry and cry, but with treats and sheer determination, we got him to be able to walk with it,” Laura Pendergast recalled.

Now, after three summers with the wheels, Junior is living the life a dog should. Laura Pendergast said he runs on Pine Point Beach, plays with other dogs and even takes dips in the ocean.

“It’s really an inspirational story about him not giving up on himself. He really didn’t want to give up on himself and got himself in a situation where he can live a happy and free life,” Laura Pendergast said.

The inspiring story of Junior’s recovery caught the attention of producers from “Born to Explore with Richard Wiese,” a nationally syndicated nature and adventure show seen locally at 10 a.m. Saturdays on ABC.

A crew from the show was in town last week filming Junior for part of an episode that will run in January or February.

“He has an extreme will to live and an extreme will to be a normal dog,” said Louie Rousso, an associate producer for the show. “His family built him a wheelchair for his legs. He still runs around the beach. He plays with other dogs. He plays with people and is there at the waterfront to welcome boats in. He is really an inspiration to a lot of people.”

Jim Pendergast, who grew up in Scarborough, said Richard Wiese, the show’s host and executive producer, is a friend of his wife’s.

The two were reconnected when Wiese bought a home in the town next to where the Pendergasts and their 3-year-old daughter, Charlotte, live in Connecticut.

“It was only by coincidence that they reconnected,” Jim Pendergast said.

This reconnection led Wiese to rent the home across from the Pendergasts for a week in August. It was then that Wiese met Junior.

“Richard fell in love with the dog and wanted to do a piece on him,” Jim Pendergast said.

Wiese said he also fell in love with Scarborough and thought it would be a perfect place to shoot an episode of his show, which has traveled to locales such as Chile, South Africa, India, Scotland, Australia and across the United States since launching in September 2011.

“Not only did I return, I brought my crew to shoot an episode,” Wiese said Sept. 13 during a break in filming.

Jim Pendergast said even before the television crew came to Scarborough Junior was somewhat of a celebrity around the Pine Point neighborhood.

“A lot of people who regularly walk their dogs know Junior, but it seems like we always run into someone who doesn’t know him and who want to ask questions and meet him. He is a real rock star down here,” he said.

While Junior cannot walk without the assistance of the wheel chair, Jim Pendergast said his dog doesn’t let the disability get in the way.

“He’s got a lot of energy. When he is in his cart, people’s first reaction is, ‘Oh, that poor thing,’ but they immediately realize he is the same dog he was before all this happened,” Jim Pendergast said.

Laura Pendergast said she hopes Junior’s national exposure will help raise awareness of fibrocartilaginous embolism and make dog owners realize it is something that can be managed.

“Once you get used to this, it becomes second nature,” she said.

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