(Posted Jan. 31, 2023)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
Cleo, an English mastiff, was in bad shape.
Her body kept shaking, she had stopped eating, and she seldom let anyone get near her.
A concerned neighbor was sad to see this once strong and playful pooch become an emaciated shell of herself. She knew she needed to take action.
Without judgement, she reached out to Cleo’s human companion, a single mother who had fallen on hard financial times. The woman said she wanted to do something for her sick dog but knew she could not afford the veterinary bills that would come with diagnosis and treatment.
Working together, the neighbors found a small, non-profit organization that offered one-time grants to help animal guardians offset some, if not all, of the cost of veterinary treatments to help keep humans and their pets together and prevent unnecessary euthanasia.
They filled out an application with Bo Paws-It-Forward and hoped for the best. At the time the application went through, the non-profit had only been active for a few weeks, but the small volunteer staff worked quickly to make veterinary care accommodations for Cleo.
X-rays revealed a massive blockage caused by Cleo’s consumption of plastic bags and diapers. After the obstructions were removed, Cleo’s guardian allowed her neighbor to adopt the dog. The neighbor changed the dog’s name to “Halo” because she had so many angels looking out for her.
One of the heavenly creatures who played a role in Halo’s second chance at life was a fellow English mastiff named Bo Ogopogo Travis. Although Bo was not alive when Halo had her brush with death, his kind soul is what prompted his guardians to establish the non-profit in his name.
“I thought, just because he is no longer living does not mean he cannot continue to make an impact on this world,” said Amanda (Russell) Travis, co-founder and executive director of Bo Paws-It-Forward. Amanda and her husband, Buddy, also a co-founder of the organization, are former Madison County residents.
When Bo came into Amanda’s life nearly seven years ago, she was not looking to bring another animal into her household.
Amanda was still reeling from a series of losses that included cats she had had since childhood, a goofy 14-year-old English mastiff named Sequoia, and several hospice pets she cared for as a volunteer at a local rescue organization. She did not feel ready for the prospect of having to say goodbye to another beloved member of her family.
“I just didn’t think I had it in me to do it again,” she explained.
When Buddy started to toss around the idea of adding a new dog to their small pack, Amanda tried her best to rid him of the thought. In hindsight, she said his refusal to listen allowed her to open her heart in ways she never could have imagined.
“Sometimes your spouse knows what is best for you,” she said, laughing.
In October 2016, Amanda met Bo for the first time and immediately fell in love.
At six weeks old, Bo was already a “gangly” boy with unique features. He had a long ski-slope nose, a protruding lip, and an underbite so big you could stick your fingers between his top and bottom teeth.
When Amanda held him in her arms, however, she said she was overcome with a strange sensation.
“Something told me that we wouldn’t be together long,” she said.
Over the course of her life, Amanda has held hundreds of animals in her arms. Growing up just outside of London, her family had cats, dogs, guinea pigs, a pot-bellied pig, mice, and a mini-horse courtesy of her sister’s involvement in 4-H. Amanda graduated from Madison-Plains in 1994; Buddy graduated from Jonathan Alder in 1997. When they moved to Columbus, they raised animals in their apartment and later at their current home in Pickerington. Through all of those connections with animals, Amanda said she never had a feeling similar to the one she had when she held Bo.
“It was surreal, and I thought I was going crazy, but I trusted it,” she said. “I swore that we would love him as hard as we could for as long as we could.”
And that is what she and Buddy did.
For nearly three-and-a-half years, they provided Bo with as much love as they could give. In turn, he gave them as much love as he could by reminding them of the simple joys in life and the need to reach out and make connections. His friendly and caring spirit extended to every other human and animal he met, including other dogs in his daycare class.
Amanda said she and Buddy were lucky to have this “gentle giant” in their lives and extremely fortunate they could afford to pay for his care.
As happens with many large dog breeds, Bo was diagnosed with Wobbler Syndrome, a neurological disease that affects the spine in the neck area. The muscles Bo developed through play at daycare masked his condition until it was too advanced to be treated surgically. Amanda estimates she and Buddy spent more than $15,000 paying for hydrotherapy, laser therapy, acupuncture, and anti-inflammatory drugs to keep the disease from progressing further.
“And that was with pet insurance,” she stated.
Despite his disease, Bo never gave any indication he was in pain or that anything else was amiss. But when Amanda and Buddy found Bo hiding in the hallway in July 2020 unable to move freely, they knew something was seriously wrong.
An $8,000 exploratory procedure at an emergency animal hospital revealed that Bo had a rupture in his stomach lining and small nodules that were potentially cancerous. The doctors said even if they could repair the stomach lining and administer cancer treatments, Bo’s chances of recovery were less than 10 percent.
“We didn’t want that for him, for him to go through that and to be in pain all of the time,” Amanda said. “So, we had to make the hardest decision of our lives.”
Even though pandemic restrictions were in place, they were able to go inside the hospital to tell Bo how much he touched their lives and to kiss his sweet, slobbery face one last time.
In the midst of her grief, Amanda latched on to an idea to start a non-profit organization to honor Bo’s memory. She said his gentle spirit had always been so inspiring to her and Buddy. They wanted to do something to ensure his kindness lived on even after his death.
By the end of 2020, Bo Paws-It-Forward was granted tax exempt non-profit status. At first, the organization’s mission was to offset the cost of basic needs and surgeries for large breed dogs owned by lower-income families in the Pickerington area. The idea then expanded to most dogs in the Columbus area and then cats throughout the state. Then came an application from a pet parent in Florida who needed assistance after the pandemic threw a wrench in her financial situation.
“Bo Paws-It-Forward has evolved and gone far beyond what I ever imagined,” Amanda said. “I couldn’t be happier with this turn of events, and I hope we are able to continue evolving and serving.”
Thanks to the generosity of animal care groups, care clinics, and animal lovers across the country, along with fundraising drives from businesses such as Germain Toyota of Columbus, Bo Paws-It-Forward has been able to help dozens of dogs and cats with medicine or surgeries and saved their owners hundreds of dollars in medical costs. These efforts also have prevented unnecessary euthanasia and pet-guardian separation, a primary goal of the organization.
At this time, Bo Paws-It-Forward offers three one-time grants for pet guardians facing hardship:
• The Giselle Grant–The maximum award of $200 covers the cost of vaccines, heartworm testing, spay/neuter, microchip and dental procedures;
• The Bo Grant–The maximum award of $500 (determined on a case-by-case basis) covers non-basic medical costs, such as surgeries, physical therapies, and procedures;
• The Elwood Grant-The average award of $200 covers the cost of approved, professional veterinary behaviorist evaluation.
In addition to the grants, Bo Paws-It-Forward offers pet loss support services and is in the process of creating a service for veterinarians who are struggling with mental health issues.
“Our mission here is to offer support and resources to those who need it, and we will do so with empathy and without judgment,” Amanda said. “That is the way Bo loved, that is the way all dogs love, and that is what we will always strive to be.
“All we want to do is continue to be worthy of his kindness and to make him proud. I like to think that he would be.”
For more information on Bo Paws-It-Forward, including applications, eligibility requirements, or how to donate, visit bopawsitforward.org. The organization also can be found on Facebook and Instagram at Bo Paws-It-Forward.