I was reading an article the other day about a dog who was born with no front legs. He hopped around like a little kangaroo. I looked at his sweet little happy face and realized that he had no idea he had a “disability”. He was just living his life to its fullest, having fun, bringing love and joy to the family that adores him. Have you seen the video of the Boxer at the beach that went viral on YouTube? The dog’s rear legs were amputated for a medical issue. They fitted him with a wheelchair but he decided he’d rather run on just his two front legs. And oh, how he can RUN!
Are dogs aware that they are impaired in any way?
Does a blind dog know that he is blind? Does a dog born without a limb know that he is “deficient” in any way? I don’t think so. I’m not sure of a dog’s ability to reason, but the dog who is missing a limb may somewhat understand that other dogs are “different”. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself though, nor does it hinder him from trying things – like running on only 2 legs. But a dog without sight could care less. Nor could a dog who is deaf. Dogs are not “defined” by their circumstances.
There are countless testimonies online of dogs who are blind and living life as if they actually have vision. If they once had sight and lost it, I’m sure there is a period of time where the dog is confused and frightened, but they adjust quite well. If a dog is born blind, he has no idea that anything is “different” about him. One thing we often forget is that “sight” is not a dog’s primary sense. Smell is a dog’s primary sense. If a bunch of dogs were playing together, some sighted, some blind, it would be hard to distinguish which was which. That’s how well they adapt.
Deafness is a very common disability in a dog. More than 50 dog breeds have reported congenital deafness. Deafness can affect any breed, but especially those with white pigmentation in the hair and skin. Unlike congenital deafness, “acquired” deafness comes on gradually, generally with age. Dogs born deaf dogs do not know they are deaf. They are able to live life every bit as full as a dog with normal hearing. Deaf dogs are great at scent and sight tracking, agility, therapy work and pretty much whatever any dog can do.
Should you “put down” a dog with a disability?
Unfortunately, many, many people think that if their dog suddenly has a physical issue limiting him from activities, it would be best to “put him down”. Bear with me for a moment, but in some cases that may be true. If your 14-year-old lab needed his leg amputated, the pain and distress would probably be too hard on him. At his age, adjusting to life without a limb would be very difficult, if not impossible. If your lab was a healthy 3-year-old, then there is no reason to have him “put down”. He can life a happy, normal life without a leg. On the other hand, if your 14-year-old lab is diagnosed as “blind”, please don’t even consider putting him down. He will, and probably already has, adjusted to relying on his other senses. His inability to see is just a little nuisance to him.
We find different ways to extract joy from life. A dog who isn’t able to walk or run finds pleasure in laying on a blanket in the sunshine, or sniffing the sweetness of a flower. They enjoy belly rubs, good food, the pleasure of our company. We once had a regular guest at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts who didn’t have use of her rear legs. I’ll never forget her… she was a Dalmatian and we all loved caring for her. On pretty days, we would carry her outside to lay in the grass. She was so happy. Her life was full. She was dearly loved, and didn’t have a care in the world.
While doing research for this blog, I watched several videos of dogs without limbs, blind dogs, and dogs with other physical ailments. I felt sad inside. It must be confusing for a dog with a physical issue to read our negative energy. Dogs are so in-tune to our emotions. The dog would probably wonder why I am emitting such sadness in his presence… Just a thought. So it makes sense that if you have a dog who suddenly has to have an amputation, or who loses his sight, the worst thing you can do is emit sadness. You wouldn’t want your dog to pick up on that. Be hopeful, be encouraging, turn-up the love, but don’t feel sorry for him. He wouldn’t want that.
When I began this blog, I had titled it “Dogs with Disabilities”. As I continued to write, I realized these dogs are not “disabled” at all. A “disability” would imply that they are incapable of living a “normal” life. These dogs are living their “normal”. They don’t care nor do they really comprehend what the issue is, they’re making the best of it. They’re not disabled…they’re special…VERY special!
Whether dogs acquire their “condition” by birth, accident, or the aging process, they have so much to teach us about resilience, acceptance, selflessness, and the gift of life.