On a mission... a boy his dog

Caleb Griswold may have special needs, but that doesn’t deter him from faithfully meeting the needs of dogs and their owners at Grafton’s dog park

One of Caleb Griswold’s passions is to take care of Muttland Meadows dog park in Grafton. He and his yellow Lab mix Xander can often be seen walking the seven-acre park with a red wagon full of water and plastic bags. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

It turns out the two things Caleb Griswold wasn’t expected to do have become two of the biggest components of his life.

The Cedarburg High School junior born with an underdeveloped brain was not going to be able to walk, and even talking was to be difficult, doctors said.

But Caleb does both, sometimes for hours on end, at his favorite place, Muttland Meadows dog park in Grafton.

It started simply enough. Knowing he loved dogs, Griswold’s nanny Kiki Harvey took him to the park for something to do. She could sit in the car and keep an eye on him.

Griswold loved playing with the dogs and meeting new people — “He has always been super social,” his mother Laura said — but it wasn’t long before he noticed something. The dogs didn’t have any water.

He brought a few gallons the next day, but that was only the start.

“Because he’s so obsessive, it grew,” Laura said.

Caleb kept collecting milk jugs from his family’s recycling bin and filling them with garden hose.

“We filled the car. It’s crazy,” Laura said.

Now, he’s got so many jugs in rotation — 44 — that he uses a red wagon he keeps inside at Muttland Meadows to transport supply to the 15 bowls throughout the seven-acre park.

“It’s a big park,” Caleb said.

He always brings his trusted friend Xander, a 4-year-old yellow Lab mix with a incredibly mellow and sweet disposition the family adopted from Tailwaggers 911, an organization that allows families to keep dogs for a few days to see if they’re a good fit.

There was no question with Xander and Caleb. The pair instantly hit it off. Xander often acts as Caleb’s shadow, but he likes to run and play with the other dogs at the park.

“Xander kind of goes into work mode when he’s there. They have a really special bond,” Laura said. “It was God’s grace that we got such a good dog.”

Refilling water has expanded to other tasks at the dog park.

“He called the Pick ’n Save manager and asked to get bags from recyclables,” Laura said.

Caleb fills several of the park’s boxes with grocery bags and often uses them to clean up after the dogs.

Caleb has a tool belt to help carry a leash, bags, balls, suntan lotion, bug spray and treats.

“These are all Caleb’s ideas, and he just keeps adding to it,” Laura said.

Caleb has a simple yet all-encompassing answer to what he likes about dogs.

“Everything,” he said.

Dubbed the Mayor of Muttland Meadows, Caleb knows nearly everyone who visits the park — two and four-legged — and created a sign-up sheet with dogs’ names. He sends sympathy cards for dogs who have passed, “even if it’s been 10 years,” Laura said.

“He really builds relationships with all these people.”

In summer, tending to the park is a full--time job. With a laserlike focus, Caleb goes to work the instant he arrives at the park.

“When it’s nice out, he’ll spend eight hours a day there,” Laura said.

“He doesn’t want to take a break for an hour or two,” his father Andy said.

Xander, however, comes home exhausted.

His parents are comfortable enough for Caleb at the park alone with the dogs and their owners. It’s an outlet they had been looking for.

“We were always trying to find places where Caleb could be independent but still watched,” Laura said. “It’s taking this obsessiveness and giving it a focus.”

“We needed a break from him,” Andy said, “and he needed to socialize with other people.”

Caleb has found other ways to help care for animals. On Saturdays, he volunteers at the Wisconsin Humane Society’s Ozaukee Campus in Saukville, doing laundry, cleaning dog crates, taking out garbage and other tasks. He collects donations the society isn’t able to use, piles them into the Shared Ride Taxi and takes them to Goodwill.

Once, after a cat choked on a frayed edge of a blanket, Caleb cut off the edges and sewed the holes back together.

“He sees a need and he will take it upon himself,” Laura said.

One of Caleb’s latest passions is volunteering at Lasata Senior Living Campus in Cedarburg.

Xander passed the 10-step Canine Good Citizen test through Knowles Dog Training Center in Grafton, and he comes along to spread joy to the residents.

Caleb keeps a list of people’s names and room numbers and if they want a visit from his best friend.

The family recently took a call from the Grafton Police Department but Caleb wasn’t in trouble. A woman whose daughter loved animals but died of brain cancer sent Caleb a check for his efforts, after reading about him in this month’s issue of Guideposts magazine written by Laura’s mom.

After graduating next year, Caleb plans to do an internship with the Milwaukee County Zoo through Project SEARCH, a program that provides employment to young adults with disabilities through job training.

Until then, Caleb will continue his dedication to the Humane Society, Lasata and Muttland Meadows. This summer, Laura said, he may even start mowing the grass at the dog park.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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