The Teachings of a Three-Legged Dog
One of her lessons: Love and support can come from anywhere.
This story begins like a third-grade math problem: You enter a room and count 18 arms and 18 legs. Nine people are in the room, right? Wrong. The answer is 11 people and one dog. Two people in the room have all their appendages. Four people are missing one arm. Three people have one leg. Two people have no legs. To add to the count, there is a three-legged dog aptly named Lefty. These 12 individuals, with their combined 36 limbs, form an amputee support group.
The group addresses an array of topics—from mobility issues to cooking with one arm—pertaining to life as an amputee. The group meets monthly under the guidance of a social worker and a limb loss coordinator. The hospital where they meet recognized that the doctors’ and nurses’ jobs did not end on the operation table; life as an amputee begins when the anesthesia fades.
Similarity Among Differences
This is a diverse bunch formed by misfortune. The youngest of the group is also the newest. She is a hip 25-year-old former prom queen. Her blond ringlets extend down to the nub that was her elbow. A month prior, a drunk driver ran a red light and hit her car. The car door collapsed, pinning her arm against the steering wheel.
Next oldest is a 34-year-old police officer. While working the graveyard shift one night, he approached a man illegally parked in a handicap spot. The man’s excuse: “There aren’t any handicapped people out at this time of night.” The officer rolled up his right pant leg and both men stared at the titanium shaft. Then the officer asked, “Where should we be at this time of night?”
The oldest member, a 78-year-old man with diabetes, struggles with medical non-compliancy and has a missing leg to prove it. Every year he spends a few days after Christmas in the hospital getting his blood sugar corrected; the cookies and ham beat him every time.
The dog is certainly the most improbable member of the group. She was destined to be an amputee from birth; a deformed right leg gave Lefty a one-way ticket from her breeder’s house to an animal shelter. A surgeon removed the deformed leg and, as soon as the stitches came out, Lefty joined the group. The dog’s owner—a nurse with her appendages intact—brings her to the meetings.
A Dogged Devotion
When the social worker introduced Lefty, the group was immediately intrigued. A former Marine and fellow amputee voiced the group consensus saying, “I feel your pain, buddy.” But the group took the idea of allowing a dog to attend its meetings with caution. After all, this is a serious group, not a Saturday Night Live skit. Before Lefty joined, her owner trained her and the social worker cleared her attendance with the group. After the obligatory trial period, the group fully embraced Lefty.
Unwittingly and absent of words, Lefty is the best teacher for how to live as an amputee. Her lessons are wholly unintentional and entirely unforgettable. She has no idea whether she has three legs or 10. She does not ask why bad things happen to good people—and dogs. She just gets on with it. She is not miserly with compassion. If someone needs attention, she will gladly oblige.
When the former prom queen joined the group, she told the story of her amputation for the first time. Mid-way, she broke into tears. Before anyone could say anything, Lefty walked away from her owner. She hobbled across the room and sat in front of the crying girl. Then she heaved her one front paw onto the girl’s shoulder and gave her a kiss. The tense room melted into laughter. Lefty did what no one else could: A slobbery kiss always helps.