By Noah Hale
Much like people, every dog is different. They have their own personalities, favorite foods and toys, and their very own set of pet peeves (although most dogs would agree that the vacuum cleaner might be the most dreadful of all). And, like humans, they want a place where they can be themselves and be cared for and loved.
For dogs with physical challenges, such as long-term illness or handicaps such as deafness, blindness, or missing limbs, a home and caregivers that can meet their special needs matters tremendously.
Pets With Disabilities is a nonprofit organization in Prince Frederick that helps find forever homes for dogs and cats who need special attention.
Joyce Darrell and Mike Dickerson founded their rescue facility in 2005 to answer these needs after their dog Duke injured his spinal cord. For the rest of his life Duke used a special wheelchair to help him move around and enjoy his life like any other dog. Darrell and Dickerson made sure of it.
“When we adopted Duke and took him home it was a commitment through sickness and health. He was part of our family,” says Darrell.
A few months after adopting Duke, the couple learned about a dog named Misty. One of her hind legs was impaired and, like Duke, she needed to use a wheelchair. Misty had been in a New York shelter for more than five years where hundreds of people had passed her over. They adopted her immediately.
It was the beginning of a grassroots movement that quickly became a source of heartwarming adoption stories and miraculous recoveries.
Kristy Anderson, operations manager, says the rescue facility offers multiple amenities for its guests. There’s the Barn, where dogs can hang out near the offices in a homey environment; the Annex Apartments, two climate controlled cottages reserved for the smaller dogs; and the more recent Regal Beagle House where the senior dogs stay. There’s also an adoption center where families can meet their next potential addition.
Great care is taken to ensure each dog’s comfort and unique needs across the whole facility.
“We’ve had dogs on the brink of death and brought them back to life,” said Anderson. “This place is small but mighty.”
Kim Sisco adopted Austen, her border-collie mix, by accident. Sisco and her husband visited the rescue facility because her husband was looking for a dog—and she was certain she was not. But after meeting Austen, she knew that he was “the one”. At the time, he was the first dog housed at the facility for missing a front leg. Sisco, an avid hiker, wanted to make sure that her active lifestyle wouldn’t mean leaving Austen behind.
“My biggest question was, ‘What will he be able to do?’” Soon she found a way that would allow Austen to join her on her treks: a special backpack to carry him with.
When he isn’t going on hikes, he serves as a poster pup for other dogs with disabilities. “He’s a normal dog,” Sisco said. “There’s really no difference.” Despite the missing leg, one of his favorite pastimes is playing with other dogs at the dog park.
Rob Amos of Bowie, emphasized how “normal” his dogs are despite their disabilities. “The dog doesn’t know it has a disability,” he said. “It doesn’t play or act any differently than a normal dog does.” One of his dogs, Chuck, is blind, but that didn’t stop him from learning how to navigate his new home in just an hour. Now, he knows where to jump if he wants to steal Amos’s favorite chair. “He also gives a really good stink-eye, too,” Amos said.
Adopters form a friendly network and often stay in touch with Darrell and Dickerson, attending events and fundraisers to further support the organization. “They feel like family,” Amos said.
For more information about PWD, call 443-624-9270 or email [email protected].