Service dogs do their duty by offering physical and emotional support to people living with disabilities.
But what happens when it’s the service dog that is differently-abled?
Dr. Kent Bruner, the veterinarian for Canine Assistants, says that sometimes birth defects like Pirelli’s happen. “What we think happened is the umbilical cord got wrapped around his foot and caused that foot to not have a normal blood supply,” Dr. Bruner explained.
That lack of blood supply to Pirelli’s back leg meant that his back paw did not develop as it should. He was the only pup in his litter with this birth defect.
Sometimes, according to Canine Assistants founder Jennifer Arnold, birth defects like Pirelli’s are a death sentence. Some might have chosen to euthanize the little puppy, but not Arnold. She believes that, despite his differences, Pirelli is perfectly suited for a great life of service.
“If we were to say, ‘no, we reject this puppy based on a physical issue,’ we would be horrible hypocrites,” Arnold explains. Many of the people who are paired with one of the dogs from Canine Assistants have physical disabilities – just like little Pirelli.
Arnold believes that Pirelli will be able to teach the world about living well with physical limitations. “I think the fact that he has a disability of his own is going to be incredible in teaching people that it’s irrelevant, that life is now about what your body can do,” she says.
Arnold hopes that Pirelli might have a future visiting schools as a service dog. “I want Pirelli to go into schools and say when you judge whether or not you want someone to be your friend, don’t look at their bodies. That’s not where you need to look,” Arnold explains, knowing that her special has the chance to become a role model to hundreds of kids.
Pirelli, who currently dons a special boot to cushion his leg, will soon get the opportunity of a lifetime: when he turns seven months old, Pirelli will be fitted with a prosthetic paw, making it easier for him to walk, play, and perform the service work that he is being trained to do.