Columbo is one lucky dog.
No, scratch that.
“He’s is literally the luckiest dog alive,” said Chris Dixon, a Eufaula cyclist who started a human chain reaction that saved the puppy.
This story starts before Columbo had a name — and little hope of survival.
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A 5-month-old Great Dane mix, Columbo was living the hard life on the streets in Columbus. He appears to have been struck by a vehicle a couple of weeks ago. He had a broken hind leg, a broken toe on his front paw and tons of road rash.
Tuesday night, Dixon and Jarrett Little were participating in a group bicycle ride when they encountered the dog at the roundabout near South Lumpkin Road and the entrance to the Columbus Water Works sewage treatment facility.
They had stopped to wait on some of the others to catch up.
Little, who normally rides with a faster group that usually blows right through that spot, was on his mountain bike instead of his road bike, and when Dixon pulled up, he thought, “Why are we stopping here?”
It was the first of many events that depended on exact timing.
Dixon saw an animal near the treeline in the distance.
“At first, I thought it was a fox,” Dixon said. “Then this dog started running across the road toward us. He looked terrible. He was hungry. He was in bad shape, but he seemed happy to see us.”
Even a dog instinctively knows salvation when he sees it.
Despite the dire condition, the dog was friendly and embraced the cyclists. Dixon dumped out a pouch of energy chews — basically super-charged gummies. The dog, malnourished and his ribs showing through his brown coat, consumed it all.
“Normally, dogs don’t want anything to do with something like that, but he gobbled them up instantly,” Little said.
The first part of what Dixon calls “a miracle” was almost complete. The dog trusted his new human friends. A quick decision was made not to leave the puppy behind.
“We couldn’t leave him,” LIttle said. “Out there where he was next to Oxbow, he was going to end up alligator food. ... In my head, it was, ‘We’re saving you from that now, we will figure out the rest later.’”
The problem was they were more than 7 miles from downtown. One option was for someone to stay with the dog and another person to ride back into town to get a vehicle. They chose the next option. Dixon, a relatively new cyclist, tried to carry the dog on her handlebars, but that didn’t work well.
Little then took over transport of the dog he was now calling “Sprocket.”
He, too, tried the handlebar method, but it was difficult.
Little, wearing a cycling jersey with pockets in the back, put the dogs hind legs in those pockets.
“I just picked him up like I would my little girl when I put her on my shoulders,” Little said. “He was injured, so he wasn’t trying to fight a lot. He was also happy that we were there, touching him and hadn’t taken off on him.”
With the dog now piggy-back, Little used one of his hands to brace Sprocket — and took off toward town.
I am sure people did a double take as Little, dog in tow, passed them on the Chattahoochee RiverWalk.
“People were amazed, more or less,” Little said. “I think everyone assumed he was my dog. People would wave, and I was thinking in my head, ‘Do you want him?”
Little, who owns a small brick and concrete business and lives in Phenix City, had four rescue dogs at home.
“Worst-case scenario, he was going home with me,” he said.
Dixon, who lives on a farm in Eufaula, was preparing for the possibility she would have to take the dog home.
“It was going to be like a rock-paper-scissors thing,” Little said. “One way or another he was going to have someplace to go that night.”
Toward the end of the ride, Little was forced to throw the dog around his neck and ride the final 2 miles with no hands as he held the dog.
The fact that the injured, hungry, stray dog hung on for a nearly half-hour ride is amazing, but it’s far from the most amazing part of this story.
“Bringing him back on the bike was just the beginning of his journey,” Little said.
The really good part started when the riders and the dog got downtown, where the more than 200 riders on the organized ride congregate for food and drink.
Andrea Shaw, a corporate attorney who lives in Maine and was in Columbus on business, had been eating at Smoke Bourbon & BBQ restaurant when she and a colleague decided to walk around downtown. Little, Dixon and their buddies had finished the ride and were outside of Ride On Bikes with the dog when Shaw walked by.
“She walked by the instant we pulled up,” Little said. “Had I been 5 minutes later or 5 minutes earlier they might now have crossed paths.”
“Sprocket” went straight to her, Dixon said. “He started licking her, loving on her.”
This dog had a nose for salvation.
“I saw this puppy and he just came up to me,” Shaw said.
She hugged the dog and realized that it was injured when she looked down and saw blood on her shirt.
“He was going home with me,” Shaw said.
It happened that fast, Dixon said.
“It was immediate,” Dixon said. “She said, ‘I am keeping this dog.’”
Before Little could get back with a bowl of water, the dog was on a leash next to Shaw. He was nosing around in her purse, looking for food.
“He was home,” Little said.
Shaw called her husband, Joel, back home in Gorham, Maine, just west of Portland. She told him she couldn’t leave this dog in Columbus.
He must be used to this kind of behavior from his wife, because his main question was: “Is your hotel dog friendly?”
But before Shaw could take him home, she had to get the dog’s injuries treated. And the injuries were significant. The first stop Tuesday night was the Animal Emergency Center on Manchester Expressway. Shaw was told the dog needed surgery before he could travel to his new home.
Wednesday morning, Dr. Wayne Waguespack at the Southeastern Veterinary Surgery Center on Macon Road agreed to work the dog into his schedule.
“He said he had probably had the injuries for 14 days,” Shaw said. “He put four pins in his leg.”
Shaw also gave the dog a new name, one that will last longer that Sproket.
“We named him Columbo, for obvious reasons,” Shaw said. “We’re going to call him Bo.”
The surgery center kept Columbo until Friday morning, when Shaw was scheduled to leave. She had to try and figure out how she was going to get him the more than 1,100 miles back to Maine.
Enter Grateful Doggies, an organization that moves rescue dogs up and down the East Coast. Friday around noon, Shaw dropped Columbo off in Atlanta with Grateful Doggies by late Saturday night, Columbo will be in Kittery, Maine, about an hour from Gorham.
The transport of Columbo to Maine, like every other part of this story, has an fateful twist. Just read the purpose of Grateful Doggies: “Our mission is to safely transport as many dogs as we possibly can in a safe and comfortable manner from undesirable lives to forever homes.”
If ever a dog was going from an undesirable life to a forever home, it’s Columbo.
His new home is a small horse farm in Maine. He will have a 5-year-old boy, Christopher, two black and tan coon hounds, a horse and pony waiting for him to arrive this weekend.
That’s a long way from living wounded and battered in the woods along South Lumpkin Road.
What kind of person takes in an injured stray multiple states from home and adopts the dog?
“What can I say?” Shaw said. “I am obviously not playing with a full deck.”
Yeah, you are. Just your deck is all hearts.
“He saw her and he knew,” Little said. “He ran right up to her. This is where I am supposed to be going. It stopped her in her tracks. She was like, ‘He is broken and bleeding, and I have to keep him.’”
Shaw has started a Facebook page, The Adventures of Columbo, for those who want to keep up with the dog’s journey from Georgia to the northeast.
Shaw knew the puppy was special the moment he approached her.
“Any little dog that’s going to fight that hard to live, I am going to help him,” she said. “I have the means to give him a shot, and that’s what I did.”