A Ten-Karat Heart of Gold

By Alec Lee

Like most, Karen Burns had never heard of the Caucasian shepherd before her son adopted one. These little-known dogs are nothing short of enormous—bred to protect livestock in Eastern Europe’s Caucasus Mountains, they are big, fluffy, and (arguably) imposing.

But for her son, one was not enough.

On Valentine’s Day 2011, he adopted a second—a male previously named Karat and renamed George when he joined the family. Timid at first, George warmed up to his sister and new owner and grew to love his life in California, running on the beaches and chasing seabirds. But keeping large dogs can be difficult, especially when space is limited. So, when her son asked for some help, George and his sister came to live in Georgia with Karen. About a year later, when it was time for the dogs to move back home, Burns found that saying goodbye to George was not going to happen.

“He chose me as his person,” she explains. “He kept me safe.”

George proved himself to be a very special dog—he loved people, and he was incredibly smart. He was a little stubborn, but he was also very patient, making friends with neighborhood children and “singing” along while they played the family’s piano. He made friends with owls, squirrels, even a doe who wandered onto the property. But above all, he loved and protected his family, especially Karen.

In 2014, George started to experience issues caused by elbow dysplasia, and things were fine with treatment until 2016. It was then that orthopedists at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital discovered that George had an irregular heartbeat. “The specialists at UGA were so thorough,” explains Burns. “They immediately referred him over to cardiology.” That very day, George began treatments for his heart.

Burns was diligent in her care for George. He took his medication like clockwork every day, and despite a few medical scares in between and an understandable slowdown due to his condition, he was still George. He would still make visits to the Chattahoochee River, one of his favorite spots, and chase lightning during storms. “George did things on his terms,” Burns relates while describing a bed he secretly claimed.

But the family could tell his condition was starting to take its toll. The secret bed became a known retreat—one the family assured him was okay. In January 2020, George fainted, and by April, he had begun to cough—a sign of congestive heart failure. It was at this point that Karen knew it was time to let him go.

“George had so much dignity, we wanted to preserve it,” she says. “The doctors at the hospital gave me that extra time with George, and because of them, I think he was able to be the kind of dog he wanted to be. Over the years, I was able to leave the hospital hopeful—knowing that we were working to help George.”

In George’s memory, the family funded a scholarship. The Ten-Karat Heart of Gold Scholarship—named for George’s age, original name, and his general demeanor—is intended for veterinary students from northwest Georgia: a region the Burns family loves but feels could use more veterinarians. And especially veterinarians from the University of Georgia. “We hope to do more down the line, but we wanted to ensure that George’s life would continue in some way.”

George was a special dog to Karen—The Dog in many ways. It is her belief that because of the care the family received at UGA, she was able to spend more time with George. As for the purpose of their donation, Burns says it best, “I want future veterinarians to be for others what the Veterinary Teaching Hospital was for us.”

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