Downeast Dog News

Rescuing Dogs with Disabilities & Special Needs

By Susan Spisak | Aug 01, 2021

For shelters, nonprofits, and individual rescuers, taking on relinquishments and strays is their mission. Many respond to pleas to assist canines who would likely be euthanized - those with special needs and serious medical issues who require expensive veterinarian care and rehabilitation. Meet a few of these dogs and those who’ve gone above and beyond for them…

Winne’s Georgia owner took the 4-month-old pup to a vet for euthanization - she was born with angular front limb deformities. The vet refused to put her down, declaring that she was terrific. He turned to Makeda Stewart, an individual rescuer there, who reached out to her Maine pal, Britt Bolnick, co-founder of Pittie Posse Rescue (PP), to see if she would accept her. Bolnick said absolutely.

She arrived in-state in April and had leg x-rays, a CT/MRI, and surgical plans were outlined. Winnie had the orthopedic surgery to straighten her legs, and PP’s social media team began fundraising for her all-important rehabilitation sessions. “We do really know that when we have special cases, our community helps us.”

Routine bloodwork then proved that Winnie was anemic, requiring x-rays. A slip lead was lodged in her stomach, no doubt ingested prior to her trek north. During the surgery, the vet also repaired a hernia and spayed her. Winnie’s expenses are $10k but could increase – she may require another leg surgery.

PP has a reputation for going the distance, especially for those from high kill shelters. So Bolnick wouldn’t say no to Georgia gal Dumplin, a 3-year-old who required surgery for a painful eye entropion condition. While under anesthesia, vets noticed her rotten, cruelly filed down teeth, and pulled twenty-two. Her costs are $2k but stomach issues guarantee they’ll rise. “She’s the sweetest velvet hippo.” When Dumplin is healthy, she’ll be adoptable. PP’s bank account has been drained by these darlings. To donate for their care,

Theresa Gargan, Shelter Manager for Pope Memorial Humane Society of Knox County (PMHSKC), recently took in a Chihuahua. Gargan said it was clear she had severe neurological symptoms; her head was tilted, she was unsteady, almost blind, had little hearing, and couldn’t eat without assistance. She saw PMHSKC’s vet; they started her on antibiotics and steroids for any infection or inflammation.

Despite progress, Riley saw a neurologist for further testing. The differential diagnosis is that her problems, including brain swelling, are trauma related. While her neurological issues haven’t worsened, she’ll always have a deficit. The “little trooper” is getting braver every day in foster care as she adapts to impairments.

Riley’s a snuggler and a good companion. If she hasn’t been adopted yet and you’re interested, know that she’s a diva, is closer to men, and older children only. Donate at to offset her vet costs, they’re at $2k and if an MRI is necessary, that’ll be another $6k. So why does PMHSKC take in expensive dogs? “I’m a sucker,” Gargan laughed. “We’ve had so many cases over the years…We like the underdogs and undercats.”

Little Tim aka Lucky Tim is not a rescue case but a special needs pup. He was born in December of 2018 at Varney’s Labs breeding facility with a deformed front leg. Army Sergeant Christy Gardner worked there and knew he had potential as a school therapy dog, and Varney’s owners agreed. So double amputee Gardner, a skilled service and therapy dog trainer, took him home and began schooling him alongside her service dog, Moxie.

The happy yellow pup required an amputation and hernia repair. This was financed thanks to Gardner’s GoFundMe efforts, “Little Guy, Big Mission.” VetriScience® Laboratories granted $10,000 for the surgery, and all other monies raised went towards formal certification training, medical insurance, and future costs, so he wouldn’t be a financial burden to his owner.

Gardner and Moxie had been to Leeds Central School to speak on service dogs and were well-received. So Gardner approached school leaders about the tripod becoming an in-house therapy dog. The superintendent and board approved, and in December of 2019, Claire Parker, Administrative Assistant to Leeds Principal Danielle Harris, became the proud owner/ handler of Lucky. Together as a team they went through certification, and he carries the title of AKC Therapy Dog Advanced. (The students voted on the name Lucky Tim but call him Lucky.)

Lucky is in Parker’s office daily – the kids read to him – and he’s on the playground at recess. This past school year, despite the hybrid schedule, Lucky was at Leeds five days a week with Parker. He gladly greeted those students who attended in person.

The tail wagging Lab enjoys hiking at home and swimming at their camp – no tripod woes for him. “He’s so strong, physically he’s fantastic.” Parker takes him to events and shares the children’s book co-written by Gardner and Eileen Doyon, Lucky: Little Guy BIG Mission. “We didn’t know how this was going to play out. We are lucky to have him, and he is lucky,” said Parker. Follow him on and meet him at Cabella’s in Scarborough on August 8th.

Biker Jarrett Little and cycling friends came upon an injured Great Dane mix. Little shouldered the friendly pup for miles into Columbus, Georgia. The dog bolted enthusiastically into Andrea Shaw’s arms – she was exploring the town’s storefronts while there on business.

She called her husband, Joel, who agreed if they didn’t adopt the stray, he’d probably be put down. She placed him in her rental car and took him to an ER vet for his orthopedic surgery – he had a broken toe, femur fractures, required countless stitches, and needed TLC. She named him Columbo aka Bo after the town where their bond began. She arranged for a professional transport to their family farm near Portland.

Bo was rehabbing with shock wave treatments and physical therapy when a cracked tooth required an extraction. “It was ‘two-fer,’” said Shaw, he was neutered as well. Then came Elbow Dysplasia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, and Lyme Disease. The last three triggered an auto-immune disorder – specialists, a hospital stay, and meds. He developed kennel cough despite being vaccinated, then required another abscessed tooth surgery.

He’s their most expensive “free” dog. “We try not to do the math. Our family loves Disney. We should’ve named him Disney Vacation because we could’ve taken a few really lovely Disney vacations for what we’ve spent on him in the past three years.”

She’s had fun with social media pages to give him and his fur sibs a voice. The often-snarky Bo sometimes voices his videos and has a unique language - think Muppy (mom to puppy) and Beeps (Bo’s people). Shaw’s thrilled with this platform to advocate for rescues. Through her posts she’s raised monies for Southern pups in need. Her altruistic area collaboration is with Midcoast Humane on the Columbo Fund, which has raised $34,500 for the nonprofit, mainly for urgent and specialty veterinary care. (

“We are so grateful to Andrea Shaw and everyone who has contributed to the Columbo Fund. The money raised has proven to be a lifeline during uncertain times and has positively impacted the lives of many dogs in Midcoast Maine,” said Michelle Zichella, their Director of Development.

Columbo’s gift to her is that he’s carried on for her best friend and soulmate, Pluto, the 9-year-old black and tan Coonhound/Plot Hound who passed. Pluto taught Columbo to do a night check with her on their horses and a “perimeter watch” of the yard. “So, although Columbo is definitely his own dog, it fills my heart with joy to see him do his very best ‘Pluto.’”

Another Bo gift: “Rescuing and rehabbing Bo gave me a wonderful opportunity to teach our son [Christopher] about compassion and putting others first. He was only five when we first adopted Bo. He is now eight and has been an active participant in ‘all things Columbo’ since the first day they met.” Laugh with Bo’s #questionable life choices at Meet the crew at Portland’s Pet Rock in the Park, August 29, 11 am – 4 pm at Deering Oaks Park. This pet cancer fundraiser is their way of honoring Pluto. (