Maybe it’s not so far-fetched that a dog can teach us tricks.
That’s a lesson easily learned from Watson, a 4.5-year-old golden retriever and the 2017 Pet Parade pet of the year. To understand, you have to go back to the spring of 2016.
With the kids off school, Annamarie Mann was working from home when the doorbell rang repeatedly. "I went down and it was our neighbor from a couple of doors down who said 'Is your golden at home?' And I said 'Yeah, he's downstairs.'
“She's like 'Are you sure?' ”
Annamarie suddenly wasn’t.
"My heart just sank.”
Less than a block down the street, she found Watson covered with a sheet. A strong gust of wind had blown the backyard gate open so Watson went exploring. When he bolted across the street, a driver didn’t have enough time to stop.
Watson was hurried to a vet where Annamarie and her husband Geoff heard the bad news: their dog’s spine was severed. His back legs were paralyzed.
They were ultimately advised to do what no puppy parent wants to hear. After three days of veterinarian care, "almost 100 percent of the people we talked to said to euthanize," Geoff said. "We were crying all week.”
They did plenty of soul-searching, including deciding what was best for their two young boys — Jackson, now 13, and Ethan, 11. They called the clinic and said they wanted to end Watson’s suffering.
But it still felt wrong.
"As soon as I got off the phone with the vet, I called Anna and we just talked and cried some more, and didn't feel right about it at all,” Geoff said. “He had been an amazing dog for us."
So Watson’s owners followed their instincts. Still with some hesitation — "We had no idea what his quality of life was going to be," Annamarie said — they opted to give their dog a chance.
He hasn’t let them down since.
The road to recovery wasn't easy for Watson, who also suffered broken ribs in the accident. His family would lay him on a blanket, carrying it on either end to help get him outside. They took him for walks using a Radio Flyer wagon.
The paralysis affected Watson’s ability use the bathroom, so on top of greetings and belly rubs, the morning routine includes a manual process, which must be done four times a day, that has led to the question “did you poop the dog?” being asked regularly around the family’s Papillion home.
"It goes straight into a bag," Geoff said. "So the yard is as clean as ever."
One can imagine it wasn’t always so casual.
"The first few weeks were very stressful. We didn't know what we were going to do, we didn't know if he'd be happy,” Annamarie said. “We didn't know if we'd be able to take care of him."
With the kids in school and both parents working full time, the family needed help during the day.
The recovering retriever soon inspired one of his helpers to overcome a tragedy of her own.
"One of his caretakers, she moved here because her fiance was hit by a drunk driver and died,” Annamarie said. “She came to Omaha to try to heal.”
As Watson adapted to his new life, the woman helping Watson started making progress in her own painful recovery.
"He helped her heal, which is pretty remarkable," Annamarie said. "I know he's a dog, but you really can learn a lot from this situation."
"People, or animals, they don't have to be perfect to love them. I think we look for perfection in everything,” she said, looking now at Watson.
“I mean, he is perfect just the way he is."
Watson, just like any other dog would, ran up to his owner and smiled in agreement.