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When Dogs are Heroes


Any dog lover knows that we are blessed by having these special animals in our lives, but there are some dogs who have a higher purpose than just making a difference in one family’s life. Pirelli is a golden retriever who makes a big difference in lots of people’s lives, despite being born with only three paws.

When Pirelli was in his mother’s womb, the umbilical cord wrapped around one of his back paws, cutting off the blood supply and causing him to be born with only three paws. He was bred to be a service dog, helping people with disabilities with physical aspects of their lives, but because of his own disability, this was not to be Pirelli’s fate – instead, his owners at Canine Assistants recognized that this beautiful puppy was going to be able to help in a different way, as a “spokesdog” for those with disabilities.

It works like this: Pirelli tours schools in Georgia and spends time with the children there, showing them that he has as much love to offer as any other four-legged dog, and the idea is that by seeing him as just as valuable, then children will place a similar value on the disabled children that they meet. So far, the kids who have met Pirelli have all fallen in love with him, and the teaching program has been a very effective way of teaching empathy.

Being as special as he is, Pirelli has been fitted with a prosthesis, so that he is able to get around and walk, and play. This is another way that he helps disabled kids, by showing them that they aren’t the only ones that might need help getting around. The deal site Groupon ran a promotion to help fundraise to buy the special prosthesis, and matched all the donations that came in to help Pirelli. That campaign was successful, but as Pirelli continues to grow, he will need bigger prosthesis fitted throughout his life. Right now, there is a fundraising drive to try and raise enough money for Pirelli to have a permanent prosthesis fitted by a surgical veterinarian.

There are thousands of service dogs in the US, and although Pirelli may be somewhat unique in that he is a disabled service dog, there are lots of other wonderful dogs out there making a difference. In general, golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers are thought to be the best breeds for service dogs, because their temperament is best served to the duties required, but really, any dog can be a service dog and fulfill various functions that will help a person.

Although we traditionally think of service dogs being there for people with visual disabilities, there are service dogs that help all kinds of people, from those who suffer from autism, diabetes, various physical ailments, or hearing impairments. There are also therapy dogs, which are trained to bring comfort to people and help them recover from trauma. Trained therapy dogs are welcomed at many children’s hospitals around the world and have even been used to help veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you feel that your dog has a suitable temperament, you may be able to get him entered into a therapy dog program in your local area (check online for local therapy dog programs and ask whether they need more animals) and share the love that he gives to your family with a wider audience. Not everyone is lucky enough to benefit from having a dog in their life, but there are plenty of people out there that really could benefit from some canine love and affection. Maybe your dog could be the one to give it to them.

Chrissy Chesney is a dog-lover and mom to a Jack Russel named Ginger, who is the friendliest little dog you could ever hope to meet but is unfortunately too high spirited to become a therapy dog. Chrissy and Ginger live in Nova Scotia, and love walking by the ocean together.


About Author

Devoted pet owner and now, devoted pet editor, Judi worked in traditional offices, keeping the books and the day-to-day operations organized. Taking her dog to work every day for over a decade never seemed odd. Neither did having an office cat. She knows what it's like to train a new puppy and she's experienced the heartache of losing beloved companions. Retired, she currently lives with her spoiled dog and four chickens (who are, interestingly enough, also spoiled).


  1. Mary Kay Rovelstad on

    We had a “tripod” who was born three-legged. She never knew she was different from any of our other dogs. Who needs a prosthetic?

  2. Hey i just picked up a dog from the RSPCA. I fell in love with her straight away ..she absolutely gorgeous. She a 3 legged staffy x ridgeback I think. My baby lost her leg to her previous owner who beat her. Luckily she was saved by the RSPCA but they couldn’t save her leg. She is so full of energy and fun and is fantastic with my kids and playful with other dogs. I have no idea what possessed her previous human to do such a thing to her.

  3. Slain Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson’s dog “Hawkeye” lies next to his casket during funeral services in Rockford, Iowa. Tumilson was one of 30 American soldiers killed in Afghanistan on August 6 when their helicopter was shot down during a mission to help fellow troops who had come under fire.

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This post contains affiliate links, which means we earn a commission for sales referred from links on our site. We're also Amazon Associates, so we may earn from those qualifying purchases, too. Learn more!