Cooper in therapy dog vest

COOPER, THE TRIPAWD THERAPY DOG

04/12/15

This is a guest post from Alana L., passionate animal rescuer, Cooper’s owner and Pets Plus Us Member since September 2013. Follow Alana and Cooper’s adventures on Instagram!

Cooper is our amazing four-year old tripawd (i.e. three-legged) Redbone Coonhound and therapy dog. We heard about his story through a newsletter, and adopted him all the way from Georgia, USA to Montreal, Quebec where he joined our pack also comprised of dog Colby (our rescued 10 year old Golden Retriever) and Cinta (our rescued 5 year old Maine Coone Cat, who is also tripawd!). All three are abuse cases, but Cooper’s story is quite unique.

Brought in to a high-kill shelter by the police in Girard County, Georgia, Cooper had been shot in the leg with a shotgun in a ‘domestic dispute incident.’ When policemen showed up at the scene following calls of gunshots being fired, no one seemed to want to claim the dog as theirs. He was brought to the pound with his front leg dangling and would have been euthanized had it not been for a pound worker thinking he was the gentlest dog and calling a local rescue. Girard Lifesaver Rescue took him in the same day, raised funds for his amputation, and found a foster home for his rehabilitation. We heard about his story through a newsletter and it was ‘love at first read.’ We contacted the rescue organization, went through the screening process, were selected and after his 2 month rehabilitation, volunteers participated in his transport from Georgia to NYC – we drove the 12 hour return trip to pick him up there, and fell in love. You can tell he’s been through a lot in his short life: he has various scars on his body, parts of his ears are missing, he’s been shot and he’s lost a leg, but he’s the most beautiful dog on earth.

A few months after having adopted him, routine tests revealed he had another bullet lodged in his rear leg, which can’t be removed for fear of compromising that leg too. He does not seem too bothered by this if his playing, jumping, running and general happiness are any indication. He is also under good care and supervision by our vet and canine physiotherapist (with the help of a good mix of joint supplements).

What makes Cooper’s story amazing is his character. We jokingly call him our Buddha dog; he is the calmest, gentlest most soulful dog. We had noticed how people were drawn to him, often not noticing his physical state initially, just because of his striking color, sad eyes and long hound ears. A few incidents in particular indicated his special capacity to draw people to him. One example was when we met a little girl who had been amputated following a car accident, who sat down beside Cooper on the curb during a walk and told him her whole story while petting him calmly, much to the astonishment of her parents who had been trying to get her to open up through therapy about the accident for months. After this, someone recommended we look into therapy dog training with him given his calm and reassuring nature.

We researched ‘Therapeutic Paws of Canada’ and went through their screening process, evaluation session (4 hours of simulations with actors and volunteers - typically less than half the dogs pass this evaluation and deemed to have the right personality and character) and a number of supervised visits and sessions and Cooper passed them all paws up, graduating and ‘getting his vest’! His success and appreciation during his visits as a therapy dog (at shelters and half-way houses for homeless men; day programs for adults with serious physical disabilities; hospitals; drug addiction rehabilitation centers; colleges and universities) is inspiring to watch, and it seems that the more difficult the person’s situation, the more they respond to Cooper. One of the directors at the crisis center for homeless men said that the moment Cooper enters the room, you can feel the energy shift. I can’t count the number of times one of the men has told Cooper something along the lines of ‘you’ve obviously been through a lot and known life on the streets, so have I, we can understand each other’ before gently scratching his ears and kissing him. We’ve witnessed grown men cry as they speak to him; severely disabled people laugh and stroke his ears; and children say that he inspires them to get up and try.