Three-legged Therapy Dog Makes Special Connection

Published on 
April 12, 2017
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During the annual Dog Therapy Appreciation Day, where patients and families can meet, take photos and hang out with some of the many therapy dogs who visit Children's Hospital Los Angeles, one child and family came up to a therapy dog named Amber.

Amber's owner, Denice, says the boy and family were petting Amber and at first didn't realize that Amber only has three legs. But when Amber stood up, the father realized and said almost in tears, "Oh my gosh, she's missing a leg." So was his son, the boy petting Amber just then.

The child looked at Amber again, smiled, and asked how she lost her leg. Denice shared that Amber had an accident, but that it didn't stop her from doing what she loves, like swimming and hiking and running really fast. The boy's mom leaned over and said, "See, she loves to be outdoors just like you, and she doesn't let anything stop her from doing what she loves."  

Amber is one of many CHLA therapy dogs who have differences, some visible and others not so much. Often times, learning a happy, resilient, hard-working therapy dog that has also faced physical or medical hurdles can be a special comfort to a patient.  

Amber's story in Denice's words

When Amber was 9 months old, hikers found her abandoned in the hills of Southern California. She had been shot in her front leg. They carried her out and took her to a shelter, where a dog rescue organization stepped in to take over her care. But by the time she received proper treatment, her leg was no longer salvageable and the veterinarian recommended amputation.

chla-amber-three-legged-therapy-dog-trading-card.jpgShortly after her surgery, I became Amber’s foster. To be honest, I was a little nervous. I never had a tripawd (an affectionate name for three-legged fur friends) before and I worried if I could care for her. The first couple of weeks were tough. She suffered from separation anxiety, fear and what I could only call, depression. I could see that her past trauma and her adjustment to a new life were hard on her. She struggled to find her balance again. But as time went on, I knew she was the dog for me. Her sweet personality and amazing spirit began to shine through.

We would go on outdoor adventures from time to time and that's when she really started to come into her own. She loved being outside and just being a dog. We swam at the beach, went on bike rides and hiked many trails. At first, I had naively thought she would be limited by her amputation, but boy, did Amber prove me wrong. And as her strength and endurance grew, so did her personality and confidence.

It's not very often that you see a three-legged dog hiking the trails, let alone, leading the group. So, people would stop us, ask me questions about her, and couldn't help but feel inspired by her story. Seeing her calm demeanor, a friend recommended that we gett involved in a dog therapy program through Pet Partners. We decided to go for it and were certified shortly after. That's when the Amerman Dog Therapy Program at CHLA became a part of our lives. Amber was a natural. Her loving personality and sweet nature fit so well in the program and the kids were excited to see a three-legged dog hoping down the halls.

Moments like yesterday, where a dog makes an impact on a child’s life, makes volunteering as a dog therapy team all worthwhile.