You may know Dr. Travis Stork from his 12-year run as a co-host on The Doctors or his stint a the bachelor on season eight of The Bachelor. What you may not know is that Dr. Travis and his wife Parris are avid dog lovers and have adopted two shelter pets over the years. They also welcomed their first child, Grayson, in June 2020.
We caught up with Dr. Travis to discuss pet adoption and to dispel some common myths about shelter dogs. The New York Times best-selling author also chatted with us about Charlie and Grayson’s relationship and how his shelter dogs have helped him get through thick and thin.
It’s nice to speak with you, Dr. Travis! We at DJANGO have been following you on Instagram for a while and love all of your photos with your rescue dog Charlie. How old is Charlie, and where is she from?
Charlie is 6 ½ years old. Believe it or not, my wife adopted Charlie right before we met. She got Charlie from an animal shelter in Florida.
How has Charlie shaped your and your family's life?
Honestly, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my first shelter dog Nala because I got her my first year of medical school. She lived to be 17 and was there with me every single step of the way on my life journey. In so many ways, she was my partner in crime, my best friend. She was at my feet while I was studying. After long shifts, she would always be there. I can't even begin to tell you how much that dog meant to me and how incredible she was. She was so special, and I know they'll never be another Nala for me. It breaks my heart to even think about what could have happened to Nala if I hadn’t adopted her.
With Charlie, it's cool to see it now through the eyes of our son Grayson because he absolutely adores Charlie, probably more so than she adores him. No matter how Grayson feels when Charlie comes over, his face lights up. That's the beauty of adopting a dog from an animal shelter, not only the joy that we give them but the joy they give us as well.
That is really nicely said. One common misconception is that rescue dogs don't ever become attached to their owner because they've been abandoned before. Shelter dogs, like all dogs, have unique personalities. Some are friendly, loving, and outgoing; others are shy and timid at first. Most need time to get used to their forever family and their new home life.
How is your relationship with Charlie?
She's a daddy's girl. Charlie literally is my shadow. When we had Grayson, I think she was a little bit jealous. Charlie legitimately lives at home. She lives in my office. If I'm not home, she just sits there and waits.
Charlie sounds like our long-haired dachshund Django. He'd glue himself to my hip if he had the chance!
Another common myth is that rescue dogs are not trainable. Did you have any issues training Charlie when you brought her home?
Charlie is a very protective dog. I had to do a lot of work with her to get her out of the mindset that “I must protect dad and mom and all the time.” That took a lot of work, and it was very stressful. I'd be lying if I said otherwise. When she was younger, she also didn’t like anyone else coming into the house, so you had to be extra cautious. Charlie is just a very high-strung dog, so I try to meet her in the middle. When she's worked up, I’ll rub behind her ears. Then she’ll let out a big sigh and settle down. Charlie is a great dog now.
We also sent Charlie to a 4-week dog training school to try to work through some of those issues. I wanted to feel like I could travel for work and not have to worry about her. She’s completely done a 180 and now is just the most playful dog. At the same time, dogs will be dogs. If someone comes and knocks on our door, they're not going to come in uninvited.
Being protective comes naturally and instinctively to all dogs. Our dog Django is very calm and friendly, but he barks aggressively and even sometimes bares his teeth if someone knocks on our front door. It's wonderful that you were able to improve Charlie's behavior and quell her overly protective tendencies with training.
Have any of the dogs that you've adopted ever had health problems? A common myth about shelter dogs is that they all have medical issues or diseases.
Honestly, when I got Nala, I had issues early on with infections because she hadn’t been vaccinated. Nala was with me at 17, and that's a pretty solid age for a large dog. Charlie is six and a half. Other than some chronic ear infections, she's healthy as an ox. Based upon my friends who have purebred dogs, they seem to have more medical problems than the mixed breeds that I have raised.
How did Charlie behave when you brought home your son Grayson from the hospital? How are they together now?
Charlie didn't care about Grayson for the first 9 months. We never forced Charlie to be around the baby. Charlie slowly warmed up to Grayson over time and now every morning, she licks his face clean. After about 3-4 months, she realized this kid is in our family for the long term. I’m calling it adopt and adapt. She got adopted and now she’s adapting to sharing the home.
Most dogs would react to a new baby the same way. It is not uncommon for a dog (shelter pet or not) to show signs of indifference or even jealousy around a new human baby.
Django was extremely excited, curious, and jealous for the first 2-3 weeks after meeting his baby brother, William. Even to this day, Django sometimes gets jealous if William is getting all of our attention. Mike and I are always aware of Django's feelings and try to include him in family activities whenever we can.
How do you keep Grayson safe around Charlie?
When push comes to shove, you have to put your child first. I don’t take any chances. I don’t leave Charlie alone in a room when Grayson is on the floor. It’s not because I think she would hurt him intentionally. When I come home from work, she jumps around. One time her paws came down and sliced open my lower legs. As an ER doctor, the issues I've seen primarily with dogs are when they playfully react they can cause a laceration. Grayson is the king of the house right now. If he’s eating food and Charlie is too interested, I'll put her in the office and she waits until lunchtime is over. Though Charlie inevitably cleans up the floor for us.
I couldn't agree more. Django is only 14 lbs, and we also separate him and William if we are not present. We love and trust Django, but anything can happen when you mix a sporadic and grabby toddler with a boisterous dog.
What do you think dogs teach children as they grow up, and why is it beneficial for Grayson to have Charlie around?
Charlie has taught Grayson how to have fun. Whenever Charlie is around Grayson, it’s playtime. When Grayson is in meltdown mode, Charlie will walk over, and he’ll start laughing. Parents can provide security, and they laugh a lot with us. Obviously, when you're hanging out with your kids, they adore it. But the joy on a kid’s face when a dog comes over to say, “Hi,” is pretty priceless.
Is it hard to go on a walk with Charlie and Grayson at the same time?
No, I have an adjustable hands-free dog leash. I have it tied around my hips where my core strength is, and Charlie can just do whatever she wants to do. She has a lot of room to roam, and I can push Grayson (who’s getting closer to 30 lbs) around in the stroller. Because I have both hands free, I can also pick up Charlie’s poop. I didn't start using hands free dog leashes until last year. They’ve truly been a game-changer for us since we’ve gotten Grayson.
You’ve been dealing with chronic back pain and neck spasms. Dogs are usually credited with helping people deal with pain. Has Charlie personally affected this area in your life?
In reality, Charlie hasn’t helped my chronic pain from a cervical neck injury. She still has this wild streak. Sometimes she refuses to get in the car, and I have to give her a leg up. I’m like, “Charlie, can you help me out here? You’re 85-90 lbs, and I can't lift you up.” If I'm out walking her and she sees a squirrel, she'll just take off and almost rip my arm off. If you're truly dealing with chronic pain and it’s a physical ailment like back pain, it may be a good idea to adopt a smaller dog breed.
Though Charlie does make sure that we go for daily walks. If you have chronic pain, laying around is rarely the answer. For most people, going on walks can decrease long-term pain.
We noticed that you frequently hike and visit local beaches. Have you taken Charlie on any of these outings?
Charlie has been to the dog beach many times. She loves digging in the sand but hates the ocean. She won’t go beyond 3 inches of water. The waves absolutely terrify her.
You’re also an avid mountain biker. You’ve ridden through Vail Pass in the Rocky Mountains and the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge in Franklin, Tennessee. Do you ever take Charlie mountain biking with you?
With Nala, I had a leash attachment on the seat post of my bike. She would go mountain biking with me all the time where she could be off-leash, but we live near a trail where she could run alongside me. It didn't work with Charlie because she was too rambunctious. Now Charlie is at that age where she lies down after a couple of miles after mountain biking.
For anyone on the fence about pet adoption, what would you say to them?
Rescue dogs need a loving home, and it’s amazing how much they give back. Whether you’re having an argument with your spouse or your kids are upset with you, your dog will think you’re the best person in the world every single day.
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