Quite often you don’t even notice. You have probably walked right past a three-legged dog whose confident pace concealed his lack of a fourth limb.
“I don’t need four feet,” says the fluffy tripod rescue from Lake Charles through her human ghost-writer and dog-mom Lydia Crochet. That’s the title of the book about this canine’s life on three legs. The 8-year-old dog Jeanie not only has a children’s book, but also a Facebook video with her tripod sibling that has gone viral. In the video, 2-year-old Pippin, a rescue from a New Orleans shelter, races back and forth across the room while her older sister tries to eat breakfast. Were it not for the caption, viewers would never know each of the co-stars in the video is minus a limb.
A dog with three legs, whatever the reason for absence of the fourth, is seldom seen by his owner as a dog with a disability. Tripod status becomes more of, well, a personality trait.
“I may be different. But I am complete. I can do most things, like dogs with four feet,” Jeanie boasts in her book of rhymes with Crochet. The duo was here recently at Octavia Books for a Saturday morning story time with local children, an activity during which questions often go like this:
“Can she swim?”
“Can she run?”
“Does it hurt?”
The “Pomayorkapoopillion” (the name Crochet coined to describe Jeanie as the “perfect mixture of cutest dog breeds”) was a stray roaming a neighborhood just outside Lake Charles. She had an atrophied leg, apparently due to a birth defect, and when Crochet visited her in the shelter to which she had been brought, Jeanie’s leg had just been amputated. Crochet had fallen in love with the pup’s wide eyes and expressive face, but there was more to the connection.
“I had just had a hysterectomy, and I was missing body parts,” said Crochet, who felt a bond beyond the love of a dog. When Crochet got in her car to head home and confess to her husband that a new dog had caught her eye, Elton John’s “Little Jeannie” was playing on the radio. Thus, the name (but with one “n”) of the new canine addition to the Crochet family.
As a registered therapy dog, Jeanie now visits nursing homes, hospitals, schools and libraries. She is a member of the Southwest Louisiana Dr. Dogs Pet Therapy Team, a volunteer group providing its own certified dogs for comfort to people in stressful situations.
Jeanie is also one of several dogs on the staff of the Children’s Advocacy Center, a support agency for children who have been abused and/or witnessed traumatic events. Therapy dogs sit in with children as they undergo forensic interviews, and more often than not, the child talks to the dog as the interrogators listen.
Such was the domestic-violence case of a murder/suicide during which a 5-year-old girl witnessed her father shoot her mother and then turn the gun on himself. The little girl was unable to speak until she told the story to Jeanie.
This past August, Crochet adopted tripod Pippin from Southern Animal Foundation. The dog, after being hit by a car, had been surrendered by its owner after the initial medical care she had received had been inadequate and severe infection had set in. When the dog arrived at SAF, amputation was the only option. And there were abdominal injuries that also had to be addressed.
Crochet had heard about the dog and stopped in while she and Jeanie were in New Orleans signing books earlier in the summer. When the 2-year-old canine was well enough to be adopted, she headed home to Lake Charles to live with Jeanie.
In this case, there was a triangle involved in the tripod connection.
Elizabeth Sprang, who supervised Pippin’s recovery and her adoption at SAF, knows not only about three-legged dogs from her work as a rescuer, but also as the owner of her own tripod dog, Nee Nee, who was Queen of the Krewe of Barkus last year.
The 5-pound chihuahua mix’s amputation came late in life, when she was around 10 years old, after Sprang pulled her from a municipal shelter in another parish. The senior dog’s tiny leg had been broken by unsupervised children who drop-kicked her too many times.
As a senior dog, Nee Nee took a little longer to adjust than dogs who lose a leg earlier in life. Sprang was recuperating from a complicated knee surgery at the same time Nee Nee was recovering from her amputation. Nee Nee shared Sprang’s bed as the two convalesced together. The tiny chihuahua’s first steps were tedious and a bit treacherous.
But once Sprang placed rugs over the slippery hardwood floors in her home, traction was on Nee Nee’s side as she embraced a life with three legs.
“I Don’t Need Four Feet” is dedicated to animals with special needs. More and more dogs and cats with disabilities are embraced as family pets. Although advanced veterinary medicine has supplied many animals the resources once reserved exclusively for humans, such as physical therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and regenerative procedures, amputation is the most common course of treatment for faulty limbs for the following reasons:
“Sometimes too much time has passed since the injury occurred for any reconstructive work to restore the leg,” says Dr. Jayme Lauderdale, Louisiana SPCA veterinarian who has been on staff for the last 10 years and has seen more than her share of dogs requiring amputations.
Other causes for amputations are multiple injuries to or abnormalities in the same leg, irreparable damage to a limb, bone cancer or soft-tissue cancer. Finances play a major role in whether or not a dog’s leg can be saved or must be amputated. And medical facilities with the necessary equipment for more advanced options may not be available.
As amazing as tripod dogs can be, anyone thinking of adopting one should be informed about the needs and personalities of a dog that runs on love and three legs.
“A dog with three legs can be just as active as a dog with four,” says Lauderdale. “Many people come into the shelter looking for a docile, laid-back dog. They think a dog with one less limb will fall into that category. Three-legged dogs can be more rambunctious than one with four legs. In many cases, some dogs are in so much pain prior to an amputation that they seem laid back. But once the pain is removed along with the faulty leg, the dog can have a completely different personality.”
Such fortitude and adaptability, however, may cause those who adopt tripod dogs to overlook some preventative care that ensures a good life.
“The dog’s weight should stay appropriate for his body type. There should be no extra weight on their bones,” says Lauderdale. A tripod dog’s joints are under more stress than those of a dog with the usual four legs, and the risk of injury to the opposite leg is higher. Incorporating exercise that keeps your dog’s muscles toned is best for the joints, but all activities must be tailored to the dog’s needs. Supplements such as glucosamine/chondroitin also contribute to healthy joints.
“Have a discussion with your vet about the best preventative measures for keeping your dog active and healthy,” says Lauderdale.
A tripod dog, no matter how awesome, may tire out from play a little quicker due to the extra energy required to play on three legs. Pay attention to your dog’s needs and limitations.
Even tripods with a little star power can tire out from a day of book signings and appearances. Jeanie sometimes retreats to a pink baby stroller. But she takes it in stride and speaks through her book:
“I don’t complain. It could be worse. Some dogs are carried around in a purse.”