At 6 years old, Shakes the dog is completely deaf and has struggled with a neurological disorder that has hindered his ability to walk his whole life.
But the 35-pound mixed breed, with a cartoonish underbite and deep, steady gaze, has long been a source of inspiration for the humans around him as he exudes a life-is-what-you-make-of-it philosophy.
Shakes neither sulks nor hides. He cherishes naps, licking the carpet, Jeep rides and other dogs’ chew bones despite his perceived limitations, and is adored by his owner, Jenna Moeller, 28, a Key West native.
One of the dog’s signature moves: Leaning his head out of a moving truck’s window and then promptly falling asleep.
“He’s kind of a local celebrity,” said Moeller, a boat captain turned road deputy sheriff. “The more people he met, the more fans he got.”
With the help of the Florida Keys SPCA and Moeller, Shakes went from an unwanted, disabled pet to celebrity spokesdog and, as of this month, an honorary K-9 officer with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
“You can’t be around Shakes and not be happy or affected by his personality and his way of being,” said Tammy Fox, the nonprofit’s executive director. “You feel it in the moment you’re in his presence. He’s a special dog and he deserves that award and that badge. He wears it well.”
When he lived at the Florida Keys SPCA years back, volunteers and staff members would come in on their days off to visit Shakes, Fox said.
The K-9 honor, approved by Sheriff Rick Ramsay and awarded March 25 at an SPCA fundraiser in Key West, comes with a real badge, uniform patch and a black wallet.
Shakes, who lives with two larger lab-mixes, is also the alpha dog of the home Moeller shares with boyfriend C.J. Carli. Moeller’s days lately are filled with bittersweet moments as she knows Shakes will likely die this year.
Earlier this year, Shakes was diagnosed with incurable non-Hodgkins lymphoma cancer. Chemotherapy may have given him an extra year, while without treatment he is looking at three months.
“I opted to not treat with chemo and just give him the best possible life I can for the last few months,” Moeller said on Facebook Feb. 20.
Moeller said her decision to let Shakes go out eating Dairy Queen pup cups and whatever else he desires was made after painstaking consideration.
“I did a lot of research, talked to a lot of people,” she said. “I didn’t take it lightly.”
Shakes on Monday afternoon appeared healthy and happy, just like always, at his Lower Keys home. But earlier, Moeller burst into tears when he refused to eat his breakfast.
“It just hits in stages,” she said of knowing Shakes is dying. “But then he ate two bowls of food.”
Fox said the grief people go through when losing pets is singular in its devastation.
“There’s unconditional love there and that is very hard to replace,” Fox said. “Once that’s gone, it’s hard to get past it. The connection you have with an animal like that, and a special animal, is very deep. That’s why it hurts.”
Moeller gave Shakes a life second to none for a special needs dog, Fox said.
“Jenna has done amazing things for that dog,” Fox said. “He had a difficult time getting around. Through the work she’s done with him, he gets along like a normal dog most days. She was what he needed and vice versa.”
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen