Life has a habit of surprising you in ways you could never imagine, something Deidre Grafel has learned and embraced. Looking back to just over a year ago one would easily say that Deidre's life was full. An animal lover to the core she was operating an outdoor (enclosed) cat sanctuary to help feral cats and kittens stay safe and happy, and her family at the time consisted of 3 three-legged dogs and 2 four-legged dogs and that was her wonderful world. And then she learned about Nubby, a long-haired Chihuahua (6 yrs) that was born without his front legs, who was up for adoption and had a story that would melt any heart.
Nubby came into the rescue world when his owner became very ill. Unfortunately the person entrusted to care for Nubby during her illness ended up dropping him off in the parking lot of the Humane Society of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, California in the middle of the night when the shelter was closed. The next morning one of the volunteers found Nubby lost, wandering around the parking lot, covered in mud and noticeably upset.
It was then decided that Nubby would enter into the care of the Dogwood Animal Rescue Project until his owner could decide whether to keep him or sign his release. While she did take good care of him, her illness eventually made it too difficult to give Nubby what he needed and she made the difficult decision to release him. Nubby was in foster care for 5 months until Deidre came into his life.
Deidre wasn't looking for another dog since she had so many already, but after seeing him and learning about what Nubby had been through she couldn't stop thinking about him. She knew that Nubby needed to be in a safe environment, in the hands of someone who had experience with animal rehabilitation and could give him the best care, as well as the love he deserved. He needed to join her family and that is exactly what he did.
Throughout all that he faced Nubby maintained a cool demeanor and took everything in stride, never looking back only forward to his new life. When Deidre adopted Nubby he adjusted immediately as if he knew that he was where he was meant to be and finally safe. He never missed a beat, even having to fly back with his new mom who he only just met, staying in the carrier under her seat on the plane without making a peep. He just knew.
Just prior to his adoption an anonymous and generous donor bought Nubby a front support dog wheelchair to help him move around more easily. He didn't have much of a chance to get used to his new wheels while in foster care, but was able to train with them when he came home with his new mom. Learning to use his new wheels took some time since it was an unusual feeling for him being 6 years without such a device, so steering took practice.
Deidre took the transition slow because she wanted to ensure the wheels were a positive experience for Nubby especially given all the changes he had gone through recently. They took baby steps or in Nubby's case, baby rolls and with patience, love and positive reinforcement found success. He'd use it for 3 minutes at a time, then he'd get a snack and then it became 5 minutes, then 10 and before they knew it he was a pro. Deidre also learned that Nubby loved looking at the cats in the sanctuary, so she would bring him in his wheels to watch the cats and by being so distracted he learned to move around obstacles without even realizing it.
With Nubby's fearlessness, energy and can-do attitude it is very easy to forget that he is physically challenged. But after bouncing around on his chest for his first 6 years, relying so much on his rear legs, his body mechanics have been altered and has contributed to knee problems in the form of luxating patellas. It doesn't slow him down, but since he won't slow down Deidre makes sure he doesn't overdo it or jump too much so he can avoid injuries. She also follows a few other guidelines with Nubby and her other dogs ensuring that they maintain a healthy weight, utilizing hydrotherapy, receiving proper medical care to evaluate how their joints are doing and finding a balance between mental and physical enrichment activities without taxing joints, helping them stay active without placing undue stress on their bodies.
As an advocate for physically challenged dogs Deidre has always strived to educate people so these special dogs will not be overlooked in shelters. In fact, this desire to open minds and hearts is what drew her to therapy work.
Deidre believes that all animals are therapy, but by being certified Nubby is allowed to visit with patients inside hospitals who are unwell. Nubby is currently helping patients that are receiving rehabilitation as they recover from strokes, injuries, amputations etc He visits with them as they are doing their exercises and during this time they learn about his story, his resilience and his spirit in hopes that Nubby's never-quit attitude will inspire them to keep going despite their challenges. At times Nubby even becomes part of the rehab as the patients hold him as a strength building exercise or in the case of stroke patients, pet him to help improve range of motion.
"Therapy work is a great way to raise awareness and by helping others it helps Nubby because he receives as much love as he gives."
To help with Nubby's therapy visits Deidre did extensive research on strollers and was drawn to the Dogger because of its versatility and that it would allow her to place Nubby at the perfect height for hospital beds and wheelchairs. Also being able to lower the front of the basket and completely remove the canopy means that patients can have 360 degree access to Nubby.
"There's a million things I love about the Dogger. I'm obsessed with strollers and with research and this is by far superior to all other strollers."
Deidre uses the Dogger throughout the hospital and brings Nubby's wheelchair with them which she transports in the underneath storage. In the rehab center patients love to gather around and see Nubby work his wheels. He zooms around saying hello to everyone, sometimes taking off down the hall to visit more patients. The Dogger allows Deidre to bring everything they need to make the most out of these visits, keeping her hands and arms free from clutter, helping to make the therapy time as easy and rewarding as possible.
"I love it so much I bought a second one so I could have a Dogger for hospital visits and another one for outdoor adventures."
Deidre opened her heart and her home to Nubby giving him the life he always deserved and expanding her wonderful family of special dogs and cats. The joy and purpose she has found through Nubby's instant connection with people has enabled them to reach those in need in new and wonderful ways.
Animals teach us so much and if we are open to their lessons they can change us forever. Nubby has reminded us that love and kindness are free, it doesn't cost us anything to do and the rewards are priceless. When Deidre is sharing Nubby with others she sees first hand the positive impact that they have simply through an act of kindness and by not expecting anything in return, they are given more than they could possibly imagine. And through it all Nubby is not seen as a dog with less, but rather as a dog that has it all.
It is so easy to see Nubby beyond his physical challenges because his spirit, energy and zest for life touches everyone that crosses his path in a way that inspires. Nubby doesn't see himself as different and when you meet him you only see the miracle that he is and the message that he communicates to be kind, be caring and to never give up. Just think of how great the world would be if we could all be a little bit more like Nubby.