Jake prepares to go for a ride with his owner, Dan McGovern. (Submitted photo)
Jake prepares to go for a ride with his owner, Dan McGovern. (Submitted photo)

Inspiration can come in the unlikeliest of forms.

But for a group of Northeast Iowans, that inspiration has come from a good-natured black Labrador named Jake.

Those who know Jake and realize what he's been through, know he has every reason to mistrust people.

But he doesn't.

In fact, the intrepid pooch with the affable nature melts the hearts of all he meets, according to owner Dan McGovern of Harpers Ferry, and Brenda Flatjord of Waukon, who fostered Jake through his ordeal.

Contest winner

Jake's incredible journey recently helped the Humane Society of Northeast Iowa (HSNEI) win $10,000 in the Holiday Wishes Grant Campaign contest sponsored by Petco and the Ellen DeGeneres show. Out of 4,800 entries, Jake's story was one of 33 winners.

The award brings HSNEI to 85 percent ($509,000) of its $600,000 goal to build a new adoption center in the Decorah business park.

Kim Powell, HSNEI Board president, submitted the story for the contest.

Jake's story

In April of this year, Jake was found in rural Winneshiek County, wandering with a small Chihuahua, later named Vinnie.

The dogs were taken to the impound the county uses outside Waukon.

"The paperwork noted Jake was missing his upper lip and nose, and that his appearance looked like he was snarling, but that he was a sweet dog," said Flatjord.

"We learned Jake had lived much of his life outside all year round on a short chain, left without food and water for days and out of boredom and anxiety rubbed his lip and nose off," wrote Powell in the story submitted for the contest.

When no one claimed the dogs, Vinnie went to one foster home, where he was quickly adopted, and Flatjord took in Jake.

"Once I met Jake, I knew this dog had the sweetest temperament and was a loving dog and deserved a chance at a good life," said Flatjord.

She said Jake was in unbelievable condition and full of infections. He was missing his nose and his entire upper lip, his toenails were curled into the pads of his feet, he had trouble urinating, ear infections in both ears and was missing half his tail.

Flatjord immediately took Jake to the Postville Veterinary Clinic, where Dr. Sarah Franzen evaluated him, clipped his nails, started antibiotics and referred the dog to the Iowa State University (ISU) Veterinary Hospital in Ames.

Immediate surgery

On May 14, Flatjord and Pat Torkelson Snitker drove Jake to ISU's soft tissue surgery service and evaluation.

"The staff could not believe what they saw and asked us to leave Jake with them that day so they could do surgery immediately," remembered Flatjord.

Flatjord and Snitker quickly called Powell for approval of the expensive surgery. Powell received immediate approval from the HSNEI Board.

In addition, as word spread about Jake's incredible story through HSNEI's Facebook page and newsletter, more than 40 people stepped up to bat to cover the cost of the procedure.

"Through surgery, ISU was able to bring Jake's lip over his teeth and made an opening on the top of his muzzle for him to breathe out of. This was significant reconstructive surgery and ISU fell in love with Jake and really wanted to help him. He stayed there for a couple of days and was sent back to his foster home with a collar to stop him from licking or scratching sutures. He recovered well. There was a lot of dead tissue so it was awhile to see if the surgery worked...but it did," said Powell.

Flatjord said despite his challenges, Jake was the "perfect foster dog."

"He was loving, sweet, loyal and just an all-around great dog with half a tail that never stopped waging," said Flatjord.

A forever home

Jake got his lucky break one day when previous HSNEI adopters McGovern and his partner, Deb Gander, first met him at an HSNEI adoption day in Prairie du Chien, Wis.

"We had a spot for another dog, and our hearts just kind of wilted when we heard Jake's story," said McGovern.

"I think he knew there was something wrong with him, because he didn't want to look at you. He could just read your eyes," he said.

He was surprised when Flatjord, who McGovern referred to as "Jake's guardian angel," said no one had stepped forward to adopt him.

"Brenda knows our other dogs so well. So before we left that day, I reminded her we've got five acres in Harpers Ferry," said McGovern.

As luck would have it (for both Jake and his would-be adopters) no one else offered to take him. So in September of this year, Jake took his place in the McGovern/Gander family, among four other HSNEI adoptees.

McGovern said the first time Jake walked through the door, he seemed to know he was home.

"I have never seen a creature who is so mellow as Jake," said McGovern.

"We've got another old-timer, and those two stick pretty close together."

In addition, Jake enjoys runs on the five-acre parcel owned by McGovern and Gander and 200 acres of set-aside (CRP) owned by the neighbors, who gladly give permission for the dogs to run.

Jake also enjoys van rides with McGovern, who uses a wheelchair, and has figured out how to negotiate the wheelchair lift on the van.

"The only drawback we've noticed is because of the way he was caged when he was really young, the pads on his feet are soft, so he doesn't like to walk on gravel," he said.

Other than that, he is a daily reminder to be thankful for what you have.

"He just makes us feel like we shouldn't be complaining -- if old Jake can maintain that attitude through all he's been through," he said.

A great organization

McGovern said he feels lucky for his association with HSNEI and encourages anyone to become involved.

"They're really quite a bunch. I've never been around such a group of people, and all we have is this common bond that we love animals and care for them. We just enjoy being part of it," he concluded.

For more information, visit the Humane Society of Northeast Iowa on Facebook or hsnei.org.