MILTON, Ga. — Canine Assistants is in the business of helping those with disabilities. The Milton-based group raises and trains service dogs to open doors, turn on lights and just be best friends with people young and old who have some sort of disability. However, one of their dogs has captured their attention like no other.
Pirelli is a Golden Labrador. He was born in a litter of six pups. He’s got floppy ears, a larger-than-usual tail that is always wagging and lots of loose, saggy skin that’s just perfect for rubbing and petting. While the other puppies came out as one would expect, Pirelli was found to be a little different.
“He was born without a paw,” said Canine Assistants Director of Development Tib Holland. “We think his umbilical cord was wrapped around his leg when he was still developing in the womb.”
While little Pirelli’s rear leg looks, for the most part, fully formed, it ends right where the paw should begin, instead coming to a halt at a little nub.
Now 6 months old, Pirelli is a large and awkward adolescent who hops around as he plays with other dogs and his trainers.
While Pirelli is an otherwise healthy dog, the lack of hind paw means he will never be a therapeutic dog like his brothers and sisters. Instead, he will have another role.
“We want him to teach kids about disabilities,” Holland said. “Not only can he show how to overcome a disability, but he can also show the medical side of it.”
Holland hopes to one day take Pirelli around local schools and show the children that he is just like any other dog they train – he can open doors and turn on lights on command – and his missing paw doesn't hinder him in any way. He would be a perfect way to show that disabilities are only skin deep and those with them can still continue like everyone else, said Holland.
They already have partnerships with Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, bringing their service dogs to children in hospital, and with schools, bringing dogs to help children learn to read. Pirelli would add another aspect to their outreach projects.
He’s even become the mascot for 11 Alive News.
“He’s a really cool dog,” said trainer Chris Casatelli. “He makes an impression wherever he goes.”
Much of Pirelli’s training centers around physical therapy as well as the typical training the other dogs get about socializing and obeying commands. Even now, Pirelli has started favoring his other leg, walking on it oddly, which is bad for his muscles and hips.
“We try to keep him healthy until we get a prosthesis,” Casatelli said.
Canine Assistants hopes to fit Pirelli with a special prosthesis soon, with the possibility of getting him a surgically implanted paw when he stops growing. The fake leg would get him walking normally. A fundraising campaign has been started to help raise the money to keep Pirelli walking, dubbed “Fund A Foot.” The money will go toward getting Pirelli a permanent prosthetic foot.
For more on Pirelli and the work of Canine Assistants, find them online at www.canineassistants.org or on Facebook.