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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — March 26, 2004


Handicapped dogs find peace in the valley

Owners have no handicap in loving

Express Staff Writer

Ziggy, a curly haired, gray dog with a loving personality, is a mainstay in the daily life of downtown Ketchum, where Ziggy makes the rounds to stores with owner Peter Mowat.

Only one thing distinguishes Ziggy from other dogs: one leg has been amputated. For Ziggy, being an amputee seems to be no inconvenience to a normal life.

Handicapped dogs are not a rarity in the Wood River Valley.

Rae DeVito walks Frances, a deaf Dalmatian and Tommy, a blind shepherd along Trail Creek, accompanied by a foster dog named Jeremiah. Express photo by David N. Seelig

Although local veterinarians have no accurate head count of the number of handicapped canines in the area, there are probably hundreds, likely even more.

The term handicap can be misleading, however. It inaccurately suggests an animal that has lost a limb.

In fact, veterinarians consider a wide range of conditions to be technically a handicap.

For example, Nadia Novik, a veterinary technician at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, said that behavioral problems created by abuse and neglect also lead to a commonly seen handicap, separation anxiety.

"It’s like low esteem in dogs," she says.

Novik says that the shelter won’t allow a dog with separation anxiety or other manifestations of neglect to be adopted until a proper home is found where proper attention to the problem can be assured.

In addition to the new, caring attitude of pet owners toward needy animals, another reason for the presence of so many handicapped dogs in the Wood River Valley is the Animal Shelter’s no-kill policies.

In other communities, handicapped animals that are not adopted often are euthanized.

Examples abound here of successful and happy adoptions of canines handicapped by blindness, deafness, amputation and partial paralysis.

Lory Rainey, personal assistant to a wealthy heiress living in the valley, last year adopted a small terrier--"the sweetest little dog on earth," she called it—that was virtually walking death.

The dog, Maggie, had a broken leg that hadn’t mended properly; a bad spay job; was covered with lice; and weakened by a pernicious blood disease, she explained.

But Rainey provided costly treatment and today Maggie is an active, healthy 38-pounds scrambling up and down hills.

Dr. Jo-Anne Dixon, of the Sun Valley Animal Center, believes handicapped dogs make excellent pets.

"Dogs don't have hang-ups. They don't care whether another dog has three legs," she said. "There’s no social stigma as far as they’re concerned with deafness, blindness or amputation."

When she was a veterinarian to the 1,000-mile Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska, she said she saw a blind dog partnered with a sighted dog in a team. The blind dog ran as smartly as the sighted members of the team.

Another veterinarian, Dr. Karsten Fostvedt, of the St. Francis Pet Clinic, said handicapped dogs "want any kind of human love, and they return love ten-fold."

Fostvedt said that, though rare, over the past 10 years he also recalls several dogs with spinal injuries that could only get around if their rear legs were hitched to a small, wheeled cart. That, he said, shows the extent that owners will go in caring for a pet with physical limitations.

One of the best known adopters of handicapped dogs in the valley is Rae DeVito, a longtime Sun Valley resident.

She has adopted several deaf dogs. She now has a three-year-old deaf and blind Australian shepherd–border collie mix, Tommy, and a 4-year-old deaf Dalmatian, Frances. She also has arranged for the adoption of a small deaf Australian shepherd puppy, Jeremiah, that she temporarily cared for.

DeVito has even developed hand signals for the sighted but deaf dogs.

"I’m so proud of them," she said.

Rare is the dog in distress in the community that goes untreated. Veterinarians are known to have devoted thousands of dollars worth of time performing exotic surgeries on abandoned and injured animals without being repaid.

Several Internet Web sites provide information on deaf dogs, including the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund (www.deafdogs.org).


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