Gayle Ellias shares Ichabod’s story with some children at Friendship Circle. (Jerry Zolynsky)
Gayle Ellias shares Ichabod’s story with some children at Friendship Circle. (Jerry Zolynsky)

Meet Ichabod, an Alaskan Malamute therapy dog with a disability, who teaches everyone there’s more to life.

Gayle Ellias, 55, of White Lake was looking to rescue a new dog to bring home to complete her pack of dogs. “When I first saw pictures and videos of Ichabod, I paused and looked at him and thought, ‘he’s probably already adopted.’”

Even at the first glance of Ichabod, an Alaskan Malamute, Ellias knew there was something about him. She didn’t want just any dog; she had her heart set on saving a life. Little did she know how much he would change hers. 

Gail Ellias and Ichabod
Gail Ellias and Ichabod Jerry Zolynsky

Growing up, Ellias always had a love for animals. She was raised in a Conservative Jewish home in Trenton.

“The identity of being Jewish was strong to my parents, especially my dad. We were one of the few Jewish families from the Downriver area. My family even founded the Beth Isaac Synagogue in Trenton,” Ellias said. 

After moving out of Trenton to the White Lake area, Ellias continued to hold her Jewish faith close to her heart. She shared her religious practices with her children, now grown, Jacob, Sara and Jarid. 

“My youngest is leaving for MSU next month, so I will be an ‘empty nester,’” Ellias said. 

Ellias has more than 32 years of diverse experience in clinical social work. She works with all ages and specializes in children (and their parents) with autism spectrum disorder issues and developmental issues. 

Now she works part-time virtually as a therapist with Counseling Associates in West Bloomfield. 

The Rescue 

Throughout Ellias’s career she knew she wanted to have a therapy dog.

“I have five other dogs,” she said. “Being a therapy dog is innate; it’s not something you can train.”

She had her heart set on rescuing a golden retriever. She began her search. Ellias knew about the Humane Society and read about how golden retrievers were coming to the states from China, rescued from the dog meat trade. 

“When I learned about the dog meat trade in China, I didn’t know it was real. I started to do more research and learned about No Dogs Left Behind (NDLB) founded by Jeff Beri,” Ellias explained. 

NDLB is a nonprofit animal rescue based in New York, that uses international and local resources to rescue and find new homes for dogs. 

“NDLB was the first organization that really jumped out at me,” she said.

The nonprofit has sanctuaries in Asia and has nearly 500 survivors in their care. It works on the ground with local activists “through emergency response, pulling dogs directly from slaughterhouses, dog meat trucks, wet markets and traffickers,” NDLB states.

“Our mission extends beyond borders worldwide, advocating for the creation and enforcement of animal welfare laws, and raising awareness for a cruelty-free, sustainable world in which no animal is violated, exploited, tortured or slaughtered for commercial goods or profit.”

As Ellias learned more about the nonprofit’s platform, she knew this was the place she would find her next dog. 

She scrolled through the site, looking at all the pictures and videos of the dogs available for adoption. 

Then this big fluffy red and white colored dog named Ichabod caught her eye.

 “I saw Ichabod surrounded by all these other dogs, and he was playing so nicely. Then I saw him interact with the people and everybody seemed to love him!”

Ellias called up the organization’s adoption coordinator to inquire more about some of the dogs available and found herself asking about Ichabod. 

Ellias laughed as she recalled seeing a video of the 90-pound dog taking a volunteer’s notepad and tearing it up because he wasn’t getting the attention that he wanted. 

“For some reason, I thought that was hilarious,” she said. 

Ichabod was rescued in East Asia along with about 100 other dogs from the back of a truck that was on its way to a slaughterhouse. 

Once rescued, the dogs stayed in the care of one of the NDLB sanctuaries in Asia. 

The coordinator explained to Ellias how difficult it was to find a forever home for Ichabod, not only because of his large size and the fact that he sheds. But, he also has a disability.  

Ichabod suffers from displaced patellas, meaning his kneecaps are not where they should be, putting him in a permanent squat position where he can’t straighten his back legs. 

“Through videos and pictures NDLB sent me, he acted as if he didn’t even have a disability or suffer any pain from it,” Ellias said. “He just seemed happy.” 

That’s when Ellias realized it wasn’t about adopting a specific breed. 

“It was about being a really small part in a big movement.”

Coming to America 

After almost a year of waiting through the pandemic, Ichabod was set to fly from China to the United States. 

The organization kept Ellias updated throughout the adoption and travel process. They talked with Ellias about getting Ichabod to an orthopedic specialist to get his back legs fixed when he got to Michigan. 

But there was a chance that that he wouldn’t even make it to his new home. 

“The night before Ichabod flew, Beri called and said, ‘There’s a chance that the government may fail him because of his disability. They didn’t see him as being physically fit.’” 

Ellias says it was all a waiting game, and there was really nothing she or the organization could do. 

“Before flying, the dogs had to wait in quarantine in China until they got the approval to leave the country.”

Ellias says during this time, she had no idea what would happen. Thankfully, they let him through. 

“It was a process where we just went through it. We didn’t ask many questions. I just held my breath until I knew he was on the plane.” 

After about four days of traveling on multiple airplanes, Ichabod arrived at JFK airport in New York, where Ellias met him for the first time. 

“It was surreal. I’ve been watching him through videos NDLB sent us from China while he was there,” she said. “And then here he was, right in front of me in the United States.”

About 20 other dogs traveled alongside Ichabod. “I was seeing all these dogs arrive in the states free and safe, and all these people, including myself, joined together to adopt a dog, but it was bigger than that. We are part of a movement,” she said. 

Home Sweet Home 

On Feb. 15, Ichabod finally made it to White Lake with his new family. 

“When we brought him home, it’s like he had been here forever. He instantly completed our six pack along with Ace, Ixy, Fanny, Zuri and Hoobly.” 

Ellias and her “six-pack” of dogs.
Ellias and her “six-pack” of dogs.

Ellias says she knows nothing about Ichabod’s past history or trauma, but, she said, “He’s happy! With his personality and his disability, he has a zest for life that is contagious and inspiring.”

As Ichabod adjusted to his new home, Ellias worked with NDLB in getting his back legs fixed with surgery. However, after evaluation from orthopedic specialists, they determined he wasn’t a surgical candidate. 

“He has mobility with his disability, and if we went through the surgery, there would be a risk of him completely losing his mobility,” Ellias explained. 

To make sure he isn’t in any pain, Ichabod has a supplement regimen for joint and immune support and visits the veterinarian regularly. 

He also sees an integrative veterinarian for chiropractic adjustments about every four to six weeks.

More Than Just a Dog 

Ellias says Ichabod, even with his disability, is truly a role model for people.

“I just watch him as I take him out to public places like Home Depot. He is so good with people and loves kids, which was really quite a surprise,” Ellias said.

Ichabod at Home Depot stops to smell the flowers.
Ichabod at Home Depot stops to smell the flowers.

Whenever Ichabod is around kids, Ellias says he wants to meet them and interact with them.

“He is patient and engaging, moving from one child to the next rather methodically after they pet him,” she said. “He has a sense of when kids are nervous, and he stays back, yet seems to know when to engage with those wanting to touch him.”

Ellias knew Ichabod would be the perfect candidate to be a therapy dog. “I got him certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD), and he didn’t have any issues going through that process.” 

By November it was official, Ichabod was certified. Quickly after the certification, ATD started to send Ellias opportunities of where she could take Ichabod. She fell in love with visiting the Friendship Circle for story time. 

“One of the foundations of Friendship Circle’s mission is to provide acceptance and acknowledgement of each individual’s inherent value regardless of our exterior differences,” said Bassie Shemtov, director and co-founder of Friendship Circle. “Gayle and Ichabod provide the perfect opportunity to continue this conversation with the students that come to visit the Weinberg Village.” 

Then Ellias heard that Oxford Schools was looking for therapy dogs following the tragic shooting that left four students dead and seven others, including a teacher, injured on Nov. 30, 2021.

During the visit, Ellias said people would ask about his disability, where he came from and the bad things that happened to him in life.

“Ichabod teaches me and others how to integrate what we’ve been through into who we are and how to carry it with us, but that it doesn’t have to define us,” Ellias explained.

Inspired by Ichabod’s story Ellias decided to publish a children’s book about his journey titled Ichabod — Where is the Glory? All proceeds benefit NDLB.

Since publishing the book in April, Ellias and Ichabod have traveled throughout Michigan reading his story at places like the Friendship Circle and at local schools. 

“Students gather at the Friendship Circle for a read-along with Gayle and Ichabod,” Shemtov said. “They hear Ichabod’s story of perseverance while getting to be in his presence. It’s a powerful time of reinforcing the values we stand by: that everyone is so valued and can make the world a better place.”

During their visits, Ellias reads Ichabod’s story and then talks to the class about animal safety. They get a chance to learn how to approach animals and meet Ichabod.

“I wanted to combine my career with my love for animals. Ichabod’s story encapsulates rescue, disability, animal welfare laws and being empathetic to animals,” Ellias said.

“I wrote this book as a tool for parents, teachers and therapists. It’s a great way to teach empathy to kids.”

Recently, they visited Anderson Elementary School in Trenton and after the visit the students wrote notes to Ellias and Ichabod.

Ichabod interacts with a fifth-grade class at Anderson Elementary.
Ichabod interacts with a fifth-grade class at Anderson Elementary.

“One child in the classroom wrote that Ichabod shows us all that there’s always hope. That really touched me. It made me think, okay, he did his job.”

Mrs. Kellie Teska’s fifth-grade class at Anderson Elementary with Ichabod and Gayle Ellias.
Mrs. Kellie Teska’s fifth-grade class at Anderson Elementary with Ichabod and Gayle Ellias.

Ichabod is now a working dog and has plans to have regular visits in the fall with Beaumont Elementary School in Waterford.

Ellias says this is just the beginning and hopes she and Ichabod can visit more places and show everyone that a traumatic experience or a disability doesn’t have to define who you are. 

Ichabod enjoys his new life!
Ichabod enjoys his new life!

Ichabod’s story is available on Amazon. You can also continue to follow Ichabod’s journey on his Instagram page @Ichabodndlb

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