(C. Proxmire, June 28, 2012)
Sometimes big spirit comes in small packages. Even before the accident Zeus, a handsome blockhead chocolate lab, was a passionate and loyal dog who would compete in Ultimate Air Dog events. But when the wheels of a freighter train severed his right front leg, the Heideman family had no idea what would become of the family jumping champion.
It was August 11, 2010 when Joe Heideman was taking his two dogs, seven-year-old Zeus and four-year-old yellow lab Triton for a morning walk down E. Breckenridge near the train tracks.
“There was a train stopped on the tracks,” said the family matriarch Kim Ross. “Triton took off after a rabbit and ran right underneath the train. Following his brother, Zeus took off after him. Only Zeus got caught on something. I don’t know if it was his collar or what. So Joe went up and tried to pull him out. He crawled under the train to see where he was caught, but the train started to move.
“He had to get out, and he told Zeus just to lay still in the middle of the tracks and keep his head down. It was a long shot, but Zeus listened to him at first. But when the train blew its whistle he panicked and stuck his leg out to run and it got caught under the wheel. It cut it right off.
“Joe came home with Zeus wrapped up in his arms, all covered in blood. We sent Dustin, our son, back to the tracks to find the leg. He saw the spot with all the blood, but the leg had been carried down the track a ways. He brought it back and we put it on ice, but it was too far gone.”
Kim said that an emergency vet sent them out to a 24 hour animal hospital called Wilson’s in Roseville. They removed the entire leg up to the shoulder, because had they left a partial leg Zeus would continue to try and use it to walk.
The surgery and recovery were not difficult at all. Kim said that even before they made it to the hospital Zeus was calm and affectionate, and didn’t seem to notice his leg was gone or the fact he was bleeding. He stayed in the hospital overnight because he had lost so much blood, and while he healed they kept him in a pen so Triton would not disturb his brother’s wound.
Zeus healed up just fine. “The vet told us he would adapt a lot better than a human would, and they were right. He still runs and jumps like he used to. I can’t believe how much he compensates,” Kim said.
For the past six years Zeus has participated in Air Dogs, an event started in 2005 by former Detroit Tiger Pitcher Milt Wilcox, & his son Brian.
They found out about Air Dogs from a newspaper article. “When he read about it Joe said ‘I bet Zeus can do that!’ And we’ve been doing it ever since. It’s really fun and there are a lot of great people. We’ve become friends with the guy that runs it, and we’ve even gone on national tours with them.
The way it works is a pool is set up and dogs in a variety of categories run and jump into the pool to see how much air they can get. The contest is judged by how far the dog flies before landing in the pool. Before the accident, Zeus was really good. “His personal best is 21.3 feet. He’s got lots of medals and stuff,” Kim said. “He was even the poster-dog for a competition in Kalamazoo last year. He’s gone to Florida, Virginia, Ohio, New York – all over the place.” Some of the local events include Pet-a-Paloza in Taylor, Ultimate Air Games in Imaly City and Mutt Strutt in Dearborn Heights. Most recently he was spotted by photographer Ruth A. Malhalab of RAMM PHOTO and Event Marketing jumping fantastically at Owosso’s Curwood Festival’s Ultimate Air Dog Competition.
Though he now only jumps in the novice group, Zeus and his family love going to the competitions and mingling with other doggies and their families. Eighteen-year-old Dustin and 19-year-old Brandi still join their parents and the pooches at some of the competitions, though at this age its more something the parents do for their own fun and the sake of the dogs.
“They’re at that age where it’s boring for them, but they’re still really involved. They come with us and help set up. Dustin is one of the volunteers that gets in the water and helps the dogs out of the pool after they jump. We’re lucky to have such great kids, and such great dogs.”
To find out more about Air Dogs visit http://www.ultimateairdogs.com/.