Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Joys and Challenges of Dogs With Physical Limitations

Dogs come in all shapes, sizes and colors . . . and with all different physical capabilities. Some dogs can bound after a squirrel at velocities approaching hyperdrive, others are born with physical limitations that bring unique challenges and some dogs develop health issues that result in life-changing disabilities. Regardless of health or physical limitations, all dogs deserve love, proper care and respect.

When it comes to dogs with physical limitations, people sometimes exhibit unusual reactions. Some people are scared when they see a dog that looks different or they are uncomfortable because they don't know how to react. Other people automatically assume a disabled dog is unhappy or uncomfortable and (gasp) some even believe that a severe health issue means the end.

One of our goals in Happy Dog Land and with our book Happy Dog: Caring For Your Dog's Body, Mind and Spirit is to dispel dog care myths. By discussing the issues related to owning a special needs dog, we hope people will approach the topic with open minds and open hearts.

Today, we're sharing the stories of 5 special needs dogs and the generous people who love and care for them. Their insights will shed some much needed light on the associated challenges and joys, inspire you and make you smile. We also hope the information will open a dialogue and ultimately, help physically challenged pooches find loving and caring homes or keep the ones they already have.

Scrappy Jack is a 15 month old Pug from Kentucky. The poor guy certainly had a very rough start in life. He was physically abused and as a result, had one protruding eye, which had to be removed, and a broken jaw all before he was two months old. Luckily, he came under the care of RePets Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Bowling Green, Kentucky. (The photo on the left was taken when he arived at the rescue.)

A few months later, mom Karen adopted Jack. Karen says that people react differently to Jack when they see that he has one eye. "They tend to feel sorry for him, which I do not want." She explains, "I don't consider him 'disabled' and do not treat him any differently than my other pets."

According to Karen, who has other Pugs, Jack is leery of strangers, which is unusual since Pugs tend to be very friendly and welcoming. "Jack doesn't like being touched by strangers and barks at them." Karen attributes Jack's reaction to the abuse he endured before arriving at the rescue and not to his physical challenges.

Scrappy Jack is a happy guy now. Notice his smile and perky ears!

Some people have counseled Karen to coddle Jack, but she rejects this advice. "If I did that, then he would realize he has limitations. I don't want him to feel that way." Instead, Karen focuses on training Jack to ease his fear of strangers.

Under Karen's care, Jack has blossomed into a happy dog who loves to play. "He has challenges most certainly. Jack does not have good vision in the eye he has left, but he doesn't let that slow him down. He is a very happy, active little boy," Karen observes. She does takes a bit of extra care to safeguard Jack's remaining eye. Karen walks through her yard a few times a week to clear away sticks and other dangerous debris that Jack may not see when he runs.

In addition, Karen has adjusted their games of fetch to account for Jack's sight challenges. "If he doesn't see me throw the toy, he doesn't know to fetch it and I have to show him where it is." Occasionally Jack plays so hard that he runs into a table or chair on his blindside. We're sure that he gets lots of kisses and the tenacious little guy just keeps going.

Karen and Scrappy Jack visit area schools and clubs, like the Girl Scouts, above, to teach kids about pet care. Certainly, interacting with Jack also teaches these children to accept others who may look different or have special needs.

Tazi, is a 12 year old Jack Russel Terrier from Ontario, Canada who lost his sight from Diabetes in 2008. Tazi's mom Barbara-Ann was pleased to share his story because "it's important for people to know that they don't have to put their pets down if they develop an illness."

Barbara-Ann explains that a pet's illness changes the owner's role. "Your dog counts on you more, but the friendship just gets stronger. I believe the love and extra care is what makes a pet [successfully] overcome a limitation or illness like Tazi has." We think she's right! Barbara-Ann adds that Tazi is doing so well that, "I don't see or feel the disability in him any more. He's just a happy Jack Russell, that still plays, loves his walks, loves his toys and has a great appetite."

Tazi's nose helped him find his Christmas stocking last year.

"I don't even notice he's blind because he does all the same things as other dogs except run by himself in the park," Barbara-Ann explains. She has, however, made some minor adjustments to ensure Tazi's safety when he plays. "Tazi runs with me by his side on his leash. It was an adjustment for him, but he did it with flying colours. He loves his walks now and trusts me as his guide. He listens to commands when we're out and when I say 'up' his little legs lift up and reach because he knows he has to step up on a curb." When Tazi hears a 'down' command Barbara-Ann says, "he knows he's going to get down off a curb so he's careful."

Neither Diabetes nor age has slowed Tazi down. When it's time for his twice daily injections, "Tazi lays down on his side and lets me do it without a problem," says Barbara-Ann. In addition, Tazi still plays with his toys all the time and enjoys hiding them in his blanket. (See photo on above.)
Tazi and Barbara-Ann teach us how love, care and patience can transform the experience of a dog (or person) with an life-changing illness.

Beatnik is another inspiring pooch with a wonderful owner. He's a 15 month old Chihuahua mix from New York who was born without front legs. His mom Linda found him on Petfinder and knew instantly that he could live a full, happy life with love and a quality canine cart.

After bringing Beatnik home, Linda's first order of business was finding that cart. Before purchasing the cart, however, Beatnik had to stop growing. "It was heartbreaking to wait, Karen remarks, "but wait we did!" Beatnik's cart arrived when he was six months old. After a second growth spurt and some additional adjustments to the cart, Beatnik is unstoppable and "has been up and running ever since."

Linda compares Beatnik to a "trotter coming out of the gate." She reports, "he navigates perfectly – backwards, figure eights, you name it. Beatnik gets very excited when he sees the cart and jumps right in it." According to Linda, the cart has not only increased Beatnik's mobility, but it has made him a confident, joyous pooch too. "He’s become very independent and loves the freedom his cart gives him."

Linda carefully monitors Beatnik for any orthopedic problems that may develop from his physical condition. For example, walking upright on two legs can damage his spine. Beatnik's condition occasionally causes "aiming" problems when he relieves himself. Linda doesn't mind the misfires and she chocks them up to "a navigation issue where he can’t position himself exactly right."

Like four-legged canines, Beatnik is busy honing his manners, playing and exploring. His two missing legs haven't caused him to miss a beat. "He's otherwise just a normal, very happy lovable dog. Always kissing, full of energy and very healthy, thankfully," says Linda. Beatnik, like all dogs, brings immense joy and excitement to his dedicated owner.

Mr. McGoo, Trio and their carts make guest appearances in our book.

In Happy Dog: Caring For Your Dog's Body, Mind and Spirit, we feature two dogs in carts. Mr. McGoo, left, who passed away earlier this year, was blind and also paralyzed after a mid-life accident. These limitations notwithstanding, Gooey, was "the happiest dogs I ever met," says mom Nancy. "Gooey's" perseverance and joy inspired everyone he met and demonstrated first-hand that disabilities need not curtail a dog's happiness or spirit, unless you let them.

As a 4 week old puppy, this Pit Bull was used as bait in an illegal dog fight in Chicago. Her leg was bitten off during the fight and she was discarded. Thankfully, the pooch was rescued and received the medical treatment necessary for her recovery. Sue, a dedicated dog lover, adopted the puppy and named her Trio since she had only 3 legs. Sue's love and care have turned Trio into a happy dog.

According to Sue, caring for a large dog with physical limitations is challenging. "Trio is a big dog and weighs 65 pounds, so it can be physically exhausting to move her around," says Sue who assists Trio up the 4 flights of stairs to their walk up apartment several times a day. "I hold up her back end and help her up the stairs. I tried a harness, but it kept slipping off and Trio didn't like it."

The years of walking on 3 legs has taken its toll on Trio's body. "Her rear leg has bowed out and her back is painful," Sue says. Trio now takes daily pain killers and anti-inflammatories. Once walking became too taxing, Sue purchased a cart from Eddie's Wheels. "The cart has definitely helped Trio walk much more comfortably." Sue also takes Trio swimming for exercise. "Trio loves the freedom that the water gives her. She's so buoyant in the water." Sue opines, "the water allows Trio to move her body without excessive wear and tear or pain. She uses her tail like a rudder. She's so happy, she could swim for hours!"

Sue is always mindful of Trio's situation and limits the duration of walks, even with the cart. In addition, Sue never takes Trio to a dog park. "I'm worried that another dog might run into her and hurt one of her good legs." Trio doesn't mind and happily plays at home with her brother Gambit and enjoys short walks around the neighborhood.

Despite the challenges and expenses associated with caring for a disabled dog, Sue says it's well worth the extra effort. Sue explains "I just love her to death and she has inspired me to start a charity, the Trio Animal Foundation", which helps shelters, rescues and dog owners pay for medical care. "Generous people helped Trio when she was a puppy and I want to do the same for others," Sue adds.

Trio motivates and educates people she meets. "Everyone is moved when I explain why Trio has 3 legs and how she has thrived despite her traumatic beginning. I think Trio has helped many other animals by teaching people that dog fighting is a very real problem." Sue also finds that people are fascinated by Trio's cart. "Most people we meet have never seen a dog in a cart and have no idea they are even available."

The carts used by Beatnik, Mr. McGoo and Trio are made by Eddie's Wheels, a company highly recommended by Linda, Nancy and Sue. Linda explains, "Eddie and Leslie Grinnel are a goldmine of information about physically challenged pets and their website has a huge amount of information." Beatnik is featured in several inspiring videos on the website. Watch Beatnik in action here, here and here.

We hope reading these stories inspire and move you by showing just how fulfilling life with a special needs dog can be. Yes, these dogs have unique challenges, but love, patience and a generous heart is all they need to thrive. And, next time you see a special needs dog, don't hesitate to talk to the owner and meet the pooch.

Many shelters and rescues, such as
Angel's Gate, specialize in assisting special needs dogs. In addition, allows you to search for these dogs. Breed rescue groups are also good resources for information about adoptable dogs with physical limitations.


  1. I think they give a message to us " We should never leave the hand of hope in any situation". And saying that life is no so easy as it appears.
    Stop Dog Barking

  2. A great post full of information that I would think many of us had never considered. Thank you!

  3. Oh heavens what these dogs can perservere and surpass! Thank you for sharing their stories!It lets us know not to quit when things look bad.