New Home For Handicapped Pets

(Photo Credit: DARWIN WEIGEL – Staff photographer for Southern Maryland Newspapers Online) Kiri, a disabled border collie, plays in the snow at Pets with Disabilities in Prince Frederick.

Frederick, MD – It wasn’t long after Joyce Darrell and husband Michael Dickerson adopted Duke, a 6-month-old white shepherd mix, from the local shelter that Duke broke his back and became paralyzed while playing. It was then that the couple realized that Duke would not be able to walk on four legs again. Rather than taking the Veterinarian’s advice and have Duke euthanized, the couple decided to seek other options.

Darrell was so inspired by Duke that she began a rescue called Pets with Disabilities for disabled pets that don’t often get another chance. Darrell began by locating shelters that would take the disabled pets while looking for people to adopt them. Darrell said she wanted to change attitudes about disabled pets, not just for owners, who she said should make a commitment when they get a pet despite the pet’s health issues, but also of veterinarians, who might think a paralyzed dog should be euthanized.

Some veterinarians see dogs using a wheelchair as extreme measures, she said, but she contended that the dogs still have a lot of spunk and can have quality of life using a wheelchair. Before making a decision about what to do with a disabled pet, Darrell said the owners should look into their dog’s eyes. “You know your dog better than anyone else,” she said, adding that they handle “their disability a lot better than you and I would. My philosophy is every living creature has a purpose in life.”

The rescue organization, Pets with Disabilities now assists in the adoption of between 50 and 60 disabled dogs annually. Darrell has mediated adoptions with people all over the East Coast but said, “I’d like to have more local adoptions.” “It’s quite challenging for me,” said Darrell, who has run the nonprofit full time since 2007, taking care of the dogs, managing public relations, fundraising and assisting with adoptions. “I’ve learned a lot in the last 10 years.”

Kim Pinkas of Hughesville, who has adopted three dogs from Darrell, said she was looking at the Petfinder website when she learned about PWD. “What Joyce and Mike do is incredible because it’s a lot of work. They’re my heroes,” Pinkas said. After looking at its website about 2 years ago, she went to the rescue and met all of the dogs, and when she saw Macie, a blind dachshund mix, something made Pinkas return to adopt the dog. Her daughter, Paige, 15, also fell for 6-month-old Macie and she wanted to pay for her herself, Pinkas said. The dog was not that playful when they first got her, but Pinkas said that it takes time for them to get adjusted and “now she’s a love bug.”

“We take it very serious when we adopt a dog,” Darrell said. That was about 10 years ago. This past June, Duke died of bone cancer after living a full life traveling with his hind legs in a wheelchair in the backyard that became a sanctuary for other disabled pets. “He lived a good life. He died right in our arms,” she said.

The Pets with Disabilities memorial fund was established last June in honor of Duke and a corgi mix named Misty, who had hind leg problems, that was also adopted by Darrell and Dickerson a few months after Duke was paralyzed. Misty needed a wheel chair to get around and passed away in 2008. The memorial fund hopes to provide assistance to dogs that need wheelchairs by raising funds and finding them homes. Donations can be made at