From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul


The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different.


A lot has beenwritten aboutwhat dogs can do for people. Dogs lead the blind, aid the deaf, sniff out illegal substances, give us therapeutic hope and joy,make us laughwith their idiosyncrasies, and give us companionship—to name just a few of their many talents. But what about our duty to dogs—what about their needs, wants, hopes and joys? And what about the ones most people do not want to adopt—the ones who aren’t completely healthy or cute? This is a story of just such a dog.

I first learned about Abacus while doing some Internet research on special-needs dogs. I had become interested in special-needs dogs after losing my brother Damon, who was left paraplegic after an accident in 1992 and committed suicide three years later. Damon loved exploring the outdoors and preferred the freedom of driving a truck to working behind a desk all day. Losing those options was difficult enough for him, but the thought that nobody would want him was more than he could deal with. His death made me more aware of the challenges that people—and animals—with disabilities must face.

I knew my husband and I couldn’t get a dog because of the no-pets policy at our rental, but I couldn’t keep myself from researching them. On www.petfinder.com, there was a listing for a very handsome fellow named Abacus who was staying at Animal Lifeline, a no-kill animal shelter located near Des Moines, Iowa. Abacus had originally been rescued as a stray puppy two years earlier by the kind staff at a veterinary hospital in Nebraska after being hit by a car and subsequently paralyzed. Normally, a stray dog with partial paralysis would have been euthanized because few people want to adopt a dog in that condition. But the veterinarian and his staff saw something special and endearing in Abacus. They took him under their wing and eventually entrusted the shelter in Iowa with his care.

The picture of Abacus on the shelter’sWeb site showed a largish black dog with a rubber ducky in a hydrotherapy tub, enjoying a workout to help improve the muscle tone in his paralyzed hind legs. Through his photograph alone, Abacus cast his spell on me and I was never the same.

I couldn’t get the image of Abacus out of my mind and felt compelled to visit him—even though I knew I couldn’t adopt him. My husband, John, supportive and understanding as always, drove with me on the nearly two-hour drive to the special-needs animal shelter. When I first saw Abacus in his quarters at the shelter, my breath stopped for a few seconds. It was a little disconcerting to see his atrophied hind legs, the result of his paralysis, but his exuberance and happy-go-lucky attitude quickly masked his physical challenges. I was struck by the sheer joy he radiated. His wide, loving eyes stayed in my mind and heart long after we drove away from the shelter.

Meeting Abacus inspired me to start looking for a house to buy instead of continuing to rent. Soon we found a nice rural home with acreage at an affordable price. I applied to adopt Abacus, and we were able to celebrate his third birthday by bringing him home with us a few weeks later.

Life with Abacus required a few adjustments. I learned daily therapeutic exercises for his hind legs, and how to get his strong, wiggly body into his wheelchair (called a K-9 cart) by myself. His castle, when I am not home, is a special padded room with a comfy mattress and lots of blankets and washable rugs. Often, I wrap his paralyzed legs in gauze bandages to help protect them from the abrasions he gets from dragging them on the floor or from the uncontrollable muscle spasms that occur in his hindquarters.

When Abacus is inside the house but out of his cart, he scoots around using his strong, muscular front legs. At times he can support his hind legs for a while, which looks a bit like a donkey kicking and occasionally causes him to knock things down as he maneuvers around the house. But when he is in his K-9 cart, Abacus can run like the wind. We have to supervise our canine Evel Knievel in his cart since he can tip it over and get stuck when taking curves too fast.

Even though he requires extra care, I have never thought of Abacus as a burden. Living with him is a privilege. Enthusiastic about everything, he treats strangers like long-lost friends. And as much as he loves food, he loves cuddles even more. His zest for life inspires me, as well as others who meet him. Some people who see him feel pity for his challenges, but I always point out that he is not depressed or daunted by his differentness. I am sure if Abacus could speak, he would say that special-needs dogs can live happy, full lives and can enrich the lives of their adopters as much as—if not more than—a “normal” dog can.

The main reason I adopted Abacus was because I wanted to give him the comfort and security of a forever home, but in addition to that, I felt that he could help me give encouragement to others. A principle I have always lived by was shaped by part of an Emily Dickinson poem I learned as a child:

If I can ease one life the aching
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

I only wish my brother could have known Abacus. For although animal-assisted therapy is not a cure-all, I believe a seed of hope can be planted in the heart of a physically, mentally or emotionally challenged child—or adult—when he sees a special-needs animal living a full and happy life in a loving home.

To spread this hope, I worked with Abacus to train him to become a certified therapy dog. After passing an evaluation this year, Abacus has begun visiting a school for special children. My employers at Farm Sanctuary—an organization that understands the mutual healing power that people and animals share—graciously grant me permission to take time off work for these twice-monthly weekday visits. Abacus looks forward to these excursions and always wows the kids (and teachers) with his bouncy “Tigger-like” personality. On occasion, his visiting attire includes his snazzy Super Dog cape that flies behind him as he zooms around in his wheelchair. Abacus always leaves happiness in his wake.

Living with a special-needs animal isn’t for everyone, but it is a rare treat for those who choose to take it on. In fact, my experience with Abacus has inspired me to adopt a number of other special-needs animals over the years. All of them have more than repaid my investment of time and energy by being constant positive reminders that life’s challenges need not be met with despair and negativity. Their love is healing, their appreciation rewarding, and their quirky personalities add priceless meaning to my life.

Meghan Beeby

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