Although short in stature, a special needs dog at the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania had a big enough personality to get a new home.
The seven month old dwarf chocolate lab was in such bad shape when she was surrendered to the East Liberty shelter July 30, her right eye had to be surgically removed and her left eye looked "iffy," according to league adoptions manager Joe Tedesco of Regent Square.
“Our vet, to put it in non-medical terms, called her a train wreck," Tedesco said.
The pup was diagnosed with glaucoma that veterinarians blame on poor genetics, which likely also caused her unusually small size.
“At first, we thought she was some sort of mix, but the vets think she’s a dwarf lab or has dwarf tendencies," Tedesco said.
She was endowed, though, with plenty of spirit, and soon stole the hearts of staff and volunteers, as well as Kristi and Nicholas Henkelman, a young Wisconsin couple who had moved recently to Valencia and visited the shelter one afternoon.
“We went there to see about volunteering, something we did back in Wisconsin,” said Kristi, 31, who is both an attorney and social worker. “We also wanted to adopt, because we’d lost our dog, Thomas, to a brain stem lesion last year.”
Kristi had spotted an elderly Rat Terrier, which was the same breed as Thomas, on the Animal Rescue League website, but when she went to meet him, fate intervened.
“We noticed this little lab with short legs whose one eye socket was sewn shut. She was cute, very sweet, but you could see she was different,” said Kristi. “We felt pity at first because her eye is sort of sunken in on the one side. But if you spend any time with her, her awesome personality makes you not even see that anymore.”
What helped clinch the Henkelmans’ decision to adopt the pup—whom they’ve named Cheddar in homage to their home state—passed the feline-friendliness test when introduced to the shelter’s cats. The Henkelmans live with three cats, Bernice, Jack and Max, a 6-inch tall conuer Charlie, and a flock of chickens.
“The cats realize she can come within two inches of them and not know they’re there, and they mostly just move or stay out of her way,” said Kristi. “When she hears Charlie rustling around in his cage, she sometimes barks.”
And Cheddar has already learned the layout of her new home.
“She really uses her ears and nose a lot, and she can find her water bowl, which we always leave in the same spot," she said.
The Henkelmans are careful to walk Cheddar where there are few obstacles, choosing a field over a nearby forest.
“We’re her security blanket,” said Kristi. “If she can’t sense where we are, she’ll panic and bark, but once we say ‘We’re over here,’ she immediately calms down and comes to us.”
They are determined to help her live as fully as possible.
“The question we asked ourselves when we decided to adopt her is, ‘What quality of life can we give this dog?’ We didn’t want to bring her home and keep her in a crate most of the day," she said. "We wanted her to be an active part of our lives.”
Cheddar also is receiving new treats and toys to play with each day.
“I’m teaching her to fetch and she loves going to the dog park," Kristi said. "Once in a while, she’ll run over other dogs, but she’s a puppy and she’s going to play.”
Cheddar’s remaining eye must be medicated daily, although that might change over time.
“The vet said if she gets through another year without going more blind, this may be as bad as it gets, and she could live to be 15," Kristi said.