Defeating disability: finding a way out



The decision to live with a disabled pet is as monumental as it can get, since it requires not just a lot of grit, love, time and effort, but also an intricate knowledge of the right medication and resources. The whole idea is not just to keep them alive, but to give the four-legged darlings a life that is joyous, loving and complete – even with their disabilities!!!

It was in 1999, that Joyce and Michael Dickerson had adopted Duke, a highenergy puppy, from their local shelter. While playing with some other puppies at a friend’s house, Duke was badly injured and Joyce rushed him to the vet. After reviewing his X-rays, it was determined that Duke’s back was broken. 

Joyce and Michael were faced with two options – to put Duke to sleep or have him undergo immediate surgery. However, throughout the trauma, Duke’s tail never stopped wagging. And Joyce and Michael couldn’t help but ask themselves, “How could you put a pet to sleep while he is still wagging his tail?” They immediately opted for the latter option. But unfortunately, the procedure did not go as expected and Duke was paralysed. When Joyce and Michael picked up Duke four days later, they had no plan or knowledge about caring for a paralysed puppy. But their beloved pet was in need and their commitment was strong. Michael slept on the kitchen floor for over a month, even as a friend began to research the internet for wheelchairs. Ten months later, Duke had his wheels, proving Joyce and Michael had certainly found their way.
In January 2000, Joyce’s longtime friend sent her an article he read in the New York Times. The article was about pets and human intervention, and contained a small paragraph about a dog named Misty. She was a disabled mixed-breed who had been living in a shelter for five years. After some research, Joyce and Michael discovered that Misty was still in the shelter! After pondering over having and caring for two handicapped dogs, they decided that since they were already caring for a 70-pound handicapped dog, a dog 20-pound would be easy in comparison. Once the decision was taken, the couple drove to New York from Maryland to adopt Misty. With some tender, loving care and a new wheelchair, Misty was soon mobile and happy. More than that, she was now loved and had finally found her way home.
After adopting Misty, Joyce and Michael couldn’t help wondering about all the other disabled animals who were in need of love and family. Now, equipped with valuable experience with Duke and Misty, they finally founded Pets With Disabilities, a grassroot organization based out of Maryland, with volunteer support in New Jersey.
Primarily, the mission of this organization is to advocate and network for animals with disabilities. It is a small, close network of people who provide assistance to individuals and rescue groups that are seeking support, homes and products for disabled animals. Such animals include dogs who are disabled or those with special needs, to even those who need special attention due to their age. What’s more important is that the organization only seeks to provide support for the disabled animals who have the will to live, zest for life; who are otherwise healthy in spirit, physical condition and mind. But the organization does not, in any way, advocate or condone saving a life for selfish reasons, such as when he is in pain, when there is no quality of life or when the animal does not have the desire to live. Pets With Disabilities only strives to give quality of life for those disabled animals who simply need assistance with their environment (e.g. due to blindness, deafness), medical needs (e.g. due to allergies, neurological disorders) or through the use of orthopaedic products (e.g. due to paralysis, hip dysplasia).
Case histories :

  • Virginia Johnson, residing in New Jersey, learned of Pets With Disabilities through a family member after her pet ‘Lady’ was diagnosed as being blind just less than a week of getting her home. She was diagnosed with retinal detachment, a genetic eye disease common in Collies. Although, Lady is completely blind, she is a very active girl who loves to practice her training, play, chase the water hose in the summertime and volunteer as a certified Canine Good Citizen thereapy dog every week. Lady is a testament to how intuitive, resilient and capable an animal can be while living with a disability. She is truly amazing to watch! (  
  • Lynne Przychodzki, also in New Jersey, saw Duke playing fetch down the aisle, while attending a Pet Expo. After visiting the booth, she researched their website and decided to adopt a dog Mikko, who was living at a sanctuary for abused and neglected animals in California. He was a senior who had been abused, blind in one eye and had lost his leg due to an old injury that had not received medical care. Sadly, Mikko passed away. But Lynne was so touched by her experience with having Mikko, that she was inspired to provide another disabled animal a home. Lilly, the new pet, was the only survivor when her mother attacked the entire litter two days after giving birth. She had suffered a bite to her spine causing several broken vertebrae and an infection in her bones. While she had some feeling in her hind hegs, she sustained neurological damage that made Lilly unable to walk normally. But now, with the help of her wheelchair, Lilly gets along fabulously! She not only attends a puppy playtime programme, but also makes sure her ‘brothers’ don’t get much rest from playing either.

(For more details, contact Lynne Przychodzki at