Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Canine Pet Rescue volunteer Wanda Johnson gives some affection to German shepherd Lessie at the Big Sky Stables in Dacula on Tuesday. Lessie broke her leg when she was hit by a motorcycle in Savannah about three weeks ago. Pilot James Kleen with Pilots N' Paws flew Lessie to Lawrenceville to prevent her from being euthanized. Johnson and her husband Randy have five of their own German shepherds.
DACULA -- The dirtied yellow cast -- earned through traumatic experience and, later, the lifesaving partnership that brought her to Gwinnett -- does not slow Lessie down. She spins and bounces around her run at the kennel situated on Judge Carla Brown's sprawling Dacula farm, front paws splayed high against the chain-link fence to welcome visitors.
Even the "lampshade" collar she's sometimes forced to wear (she's clearly chosen to ignore the "do not chew" warnings printed across the aforementioned cast) doesn't seem to dampen the young German shepherd's spirits.
Much, at least.
"She's frustrated because she's a very high-energy dog and she wants to run and play and be with someone," Brown said on a recent afternoon at Big Sky Farm. "But she's cooped up and she's got a broken leg."
That said, "it does not stop her."
Lessie, about 18 months old and covered in the traditional shepherd coat of brown and tan, has a new (and hopefully temporary) home at Canine Pet Rescue's branch of Big Sky Farm, where Brown -- a State Court judge and animal enthusiast -- also breeds and raises show horses.
Officially formed in April 2009, CPR focuses primarily on German shepherds, a breed Brown and volunteer Wanda Johnson believe are misunderstood. Last year, it adopted out 85 shepherds, and helped with transfers for nearly as many.
"It's all in how they're raised and trained and treated," Johnson said.
Struck by a motorcycle near Savannah several weeks ago, Lessie was left in a roadside ditch to die. A passerby stumbled upon the dog, which was injured and scared. That person was bitten, and Lessie was taken to a nearby shelter to be placed in quarantine.
German shepherds are hard enough to adopt out, even without an "aggressive" past marking their file. Euthanasia was a foregone conclusion.
That was until Brown spotted the dog's info on a email list sent out to dozens of rescues across the state, and began making arrangements. Through an international, web-based network called Pilots N Paws, Savannah-based pilot James Kleen volunteered to fly Lessie to Gwinnett.
She arrived at Briscoe Field on April 14, saved and ready for the trip to Dacula.
"She's a very sweet dog," Brown said. "She's very affectionate."
Brown said she targeted German shepherds both because she loves the breed and, to put it bluntly, no one else was doing so. They're a tough breed to adopt out, she said, because they don't typically do well in shelters and take a lot of work.
"Not that any dog likes being in a shelter," Brown said, "but shepherds are very sensitive, and people misunderstand that."
And once they get home, "they have such drive and they want to work so bad and they want something to do so bad, that if you don't give them something to do, they're going to find something. These guys just thrive on learning."
Canine Pet Rescue opened its new kennel last November thanks primarily to donations, free labor and a lot of volunteers. The organization is currently housing 14 dogs and 18 puppies. For the most part, dogs are drawn from Gwinnett and the rest of metro Atlanta -- Lessie was more the exception than the rule.
"There's so many that we get out of DeKalb and Gwinnett and surrounding areas," said Johnson, who has five German shepherds at her home. "Even pure-bred. It's just so sad."
Medical bills for CPR last year were about $28,000, and are estimated to run closer to $40,000 in 2012. About $8,000 was raised at last weekend's "Bikes, Barks and Bar-B-Q" event -- and its main fundraiser, a poker tournament in the fall, is still to come. But help is always needed, in more ways than one.
There's about eight hours of volunteer work put in directly with the dogs each day, but assistance is always needed with data entry, media relations and more, Brown said.
Those interested can visit www.caninepetrescue.com for more information or to donate.