"Aw, but wait. He only has three legs!"
"Aww. Poor guy."
"Look, look at this one over here!"
This was a conversation I heard all too often when working in a shelter. During my time there, there were several dogs with missing limbs...and they had another thing in common besides that: They were all amazing dogs. Unfortunately, potential adopters seem to think that rescuing a dog with a missing limb will be a huge undertaking, that it will require many lifestyle changes. So they pass the dog by for another one with all four legs. What they don't realize is that for most dogs, it only takes days for them to become used to having one leg less; it really isn't much different from owning a four-legged dog.
Three-legged dogs (tripawds, as they are sometimes lovingly referred to) can be missing a limb for many reasons. Perhaps it had to be amputated due to a car accident, or maybe the leg had to be taken because of bone cancer. Whatever the reason, dogs are all about living in the moment, so the loss of the limb usually doesn't faze them for too long. This energetic, young dog was running and jumping only minutes after the anesthesia wore off! Lots of dogs tend to make up for the loss of a leg by using the other three differently when walking, running, or going to the bathroom...
Take Judah, for example. Judah was a miniature pinscher with a missing back leg who was at the shelter for far too long before (finally!) being adopted. He had lost the leg in an accident, but to watch him walk, you would hardly know it was missing at all. Until he went to go potty, that is. He would shift all his weight forward onto both front legs, lift his back leg off the ground, and pee like a circus dog, standing on his front paws! Sometimes he staggered forward in his handstand, creating a sort of sprinkler effect that you had to watch out for if you were standing close :)
This is not Judah, but the technique is definitely the same! :)
I often kenneled Judah, cleaning up his kennel and taking him outside - the first few times I did so, I had no idea he was missing a leg. Seriously, no idea. A coworker later mentioned something about the "three-legged min-pin," and I had to ask which dog they were talking about. Judah always distracted me by giving me little licks on the chin when I'd scoop him up to take him outside! I was once cleaning up a nearby cage when a woman returned from a walk to return Judah to his kennel (he was always a customer favorite for taking on walks!); the woman did not fully latch his kennel and left without realizing. I hurried over to the little dog, sure he would take off running for the exit. But he simply nosed his way out of the kennel and calmly walked over to the inside door, waiting to be taken outside like he is every morning. Seeing this, my heart broke a little for Judah. So used to the routine of shelter life. I can't really explain why it made me so sad. But it did.
Thankfully, Judah was eventually adopted, and as far as I know, he has a wonderful life in his new forever home. Dogs aren't always so lucky. When given the news that a vet may have to amputate, some owners will choose to have their dog euthanized instead, sure that having one fewer limb will somehow keep the dog from having a happy life. This is not so! The dog will forget that he has only three legs. He will not be comparing himself to other, four-limbed dogs, crying himself to sleep at night with jealousy and body-image issues. If you adopted a tripawd, chances are that you'd forget, too - only when people ask, "How did he lose his leg?" will you remember that others consider your pet to be "special needs."
(Photo courtesy of Love & Luck)
Take Dan, for example...short for Lieutenant Dan. Dan came in as a stray, so we had no idea how he lost a leg. He seemed to be an American Bulldog mix, which are commonly confused with pit bull breeds. I got asked - on TWO separate occasions - if he lost his leg "in a fight." Sigh. Anyway, as you can see from the photo above, Dan was far from hindered from his missing back leg. Quite the opposite, in fact. Not only did he walk in a parade, he was probably the happiest and FASTEST dog I had ever met at the shelter. If you threw a ball across the outside dog run, Dan would have it in his mouth seconds later. Quite an amazing dog and a staff favorite...so it was no surprise that he got adopted pretty quickly. Just goes to show how wonderfully adaptive dogs can be!
Capable as tripawds may be, they still may need a little help sometimes. Their remaining joints are more fragile than dogs with four limbs, so owners need to be careful they don't injure a leg. Exercising is hugely important, to keep the joints flexible and strong. Being overweight is a definite no-no, with all dogs but especially those with a missing leg. You can also help them to stretch their legs, and they may need help at first maneuvering around new things, like stairs, or swimming. There are even special harnesses made specifically for dogs missing limbs!
My last tripawd story is that of Bella, an incredibly sweet puggle who was released to the shelter by a previous owner. She, unlike Judah or Dan, was missing a front leg, which tends to be more difficult. Bella did have some issues walking on a leash, and I was definitely always aware of her needs. But oh, she was a great dog. Very calm and sweet, just a super-loving dog. A middle-aged man stopped in front of her kennel one day and asked me about her. "She's very cute," he said, "My wife would love her. But I just don't know about that missing leg..."
"Do you want to spend some time with Bella in the multipurpose room?"
"Well...sure, I s'pose I'll do that. And then I'd like to take that dog over there in the room too, if that's okay." He pointed to an energetic terrier in another kennel. We brought Bella into the room, and he asked me a few questions about how I thought she'd get around, going up stairs, and so on. I answered honestly, that I thought she might have some trouble at first, but she'd get used to it quickly. The man tried to toss some toys, but Bella didn't seem interested - all she wanted to do was lay at his feet while he scratched her ears. Uh oh...I thought...this doesn't seem to be going too well. Then Bella stood up on her hind legs, placed her single front paw on the man's shoulder, and licked his nose - just once - then curled up in his lap.
He didn't end up needing to see the terrier, after all. His wife came back with him the following week to meet Bella and speak with the shelter manager, and it was a done deal - Bella was going home! And this man and his wife were going to learn just how rewarding rescuing a tripawd can be. If you're a tripawd parent (or own other "special needs" pets), there really should be more people like you out there. (And did you know there is even a website made just for you?) You're in good company, too - Sandra Bullock has a three-legged dog that she often walks while carrying her two-legged dog! I love the idea of not only rescuing a dog, but rescuing one that others might overlook - a senior dog, a pit bull or black lab (which, for whatever reason, are the breeds most often in shelters), or a dog who has "special needs." It makes the rescuing experience that much more meaningful.
(Photo from here)
Thank you, as always, for reading!