If you are a connoisseur of social media, maybe you have met Piglet, a tiny pink bundle of dachshund energy who is deaf and blind. This adorable little powerhouse has been life-changing for the Shapiro family as well has Piglet’s hundreds of thousands of fans on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook. Melissa Shapiro, veterinarian and frequent rescuer of dogs with disabilities, has brought her experience with Piglet to the world and shown how much we all can learn from individuals with disabilities and how much joy one little dog can bring to the world. Shapiro (and Piglet) met via Zoom with ABILITY’s Dr. Tom Chappell to share a glimpse into life with Piglet and the impact he has had on his fans. Shapiro also also speaks about her recently released book, “Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf-Blind Pink Puppy and His Family.”
Dr. Tom Chappell: How old is Piglet?
Melissa Shapiro: Piglet is four and a half years old. He was a puppy when we got him, a little teeny thing. That’s why his name is Piglet, the deaf-blind puppy. He’s actually not a puppy anymore, he’s a dog.
Chappell: Piglet has no vision at all?
Shapiro: He can see light and dark. If the lights go on or off, he is aware. But he doesn’t track anything, he doesn’t focus on anything. If you have a toy in front of him, he’s really using his nose and his feet to touch it more than seeing it. He’s looking around with his nose, otherwise he would see it. It would be obvious. He doesn’t see—I’m sure that he—I’m not sure of anything. I think his nose is so sharp because he’s a dog, compared to a person who is blind, that he knows everything that’s going on around him. He knows what’s come and gone, who’s coming and going, what’s behind and what’s in front of him, what’s on either side because of his nose.
Chappell: So, he’s really aware. Can you talk about the training, how you figured out how to help train him?
Shapiro: First of all, Piglet is not unique. There are plenty of deaf-blind dogs that are born deaf and blind as well as when they age. A lot of older dogs get deaf and blind. But when he came to us, I already had a dog that was a double merle, which is the genetic issue that he has. There’s the merle gene that causes that marbly color in the dog’s coat. When the two parents are merle–or it’s called dapple in doxie in various other breeds. When both parents are that color, there’s a 25% chance that puppy will be born with the two dapple genes. And when that happens, that is linked to a white color coat pattern and congenital eye defects and congenital ear defects.
I knew a lot of people who had deaf-blind dogs, so I was already aware of how they taught them and what they did with them to a good extent. Not totally because I had this other dog who is not deaf and blind, but she has the congenital eye defect. She’s got the peripheral vision deficits and she’s deaf in one ear. So, when Piglet came, I knew I was going to teach him tap signals because I can’t sign to him. And I can’t talk to him.
When he was a teeny, tiny little baby–He was a pound and a half when he came here.– within a few days, I started teaching him “Sit.” He learned it very quickly like I taught any other puppy, with holding food up in front of them and tapping. Instead of saying the word as he sat, I started tapping his lower back. He realized that I was signaling something to him. Then when I went to the next steps to teach him other tap signals, he was ready to learn. That’s how this all started. It’s a lot of fun to work with a dog that has this kind of disability because he’s gung-ho to do it in his own way.
Chappell: So, it’s very tactile in that you touch the dog then in different areas?
Chappell: I’m sure, like myself, other people are curious. How many things have you been able to teach him with the tapping?
Shapiro: You probably know people who are deaf and blind. No one’s sitting in a closet by themselves. They’re out there. They’re learning, and they’re using whatever senses and whatever other abilities that they have to connect and be in their world. The dog’s the same. The dog won’t just sit there. He was really eager to connect with us, engage with his life and with the other dogs that are here and with my routine and whatever else we were doing.
So, Piglet, as I got to know him–Initially we weren’t keeping him. He was a foster dog.–But as he settled in here, there’s a lot of touch communication that isn’t formal. It’s just like with a person. You’ve got your kids and you’re communicating with them without speaking. And other dogs as well, and this dog is the same. He knows when somebody is upset. How does he know? I don’t know how he knows. He can sense that because he’s paying attention. He wants to know because he’s very determined to be part of his world. He doesn’t want to feel alone.
He screamed for weeks when we first got him because I think he did feel very anxious and isolated and alone, and also anxious about what was going to happen because he didn’t know. Once he got into a routine with us, he knows when I’m walking to the door that leads to our garage when I’m going to leave the house versus just going downstairs through that door. I don’t know how he knows the difference, but he absolutely knows what I’m doing. Part of it I think it’s that he senses what the other dogs are doing because they certainly know, let’s say, that we’re going to go in the car now. Maybe their energy and the amount of breath that’s in the air and the amount of movement around him I think he’s absolutely aware of. If he’s sitting on my husbands’ lap under a blanket, I move about. He knows when I’m leaving the house. He’s literally wrapped in a blanket; his head is completely covered. So, he knows.
Chappell: How does Piglet communicate with you?
Shapiro: But as far as the actual communication with him, like touching him, do I know when he wants to go out? He’s very clear on what he wants. When he wants to play, he barks. When he’s got to go out, he’ll bark. He’s pretty well trained to go outside and not pee on the floor, but because he’s so tiny, I carry him down the stairs–We carry him down the stairs. My husband is part of this as well. Because he’s so little that I’m afraid he’ll hurt himself when he goes down the stairs. But I have a sense of what he wants, and he has a sense of what’s going on. I touch him a lot. I can tell you the tap signals that he knows that are pretty defined are “Sit,” I tap him on the back just above his tail. “down” he knows. I give him a little signal on the top of his neck and also a little tap under his chin. Because I taught him with food, and he likes to have the food, even though I don’t like to hold the food to get him to do these tricks. But anyway, he knows “down,” he knows “Wait.” I taught him “Wait, leave it.” He knows to leave his food before I give him an OK to eat it. He just learned “Roll,” so he’ll actually roll over, which is a silly trick. He’s not really part of any kind of great communication other than that he loves to do it. He loves to perform, and he loves to get treats.
And then he also knows “Go pee” because all dogs should know to go pee outside, especially when their people are in a hurry to leave the house. I have six dogs at the moment. When we had seven, I’d say, “Go out and pee,” and they’d all run out and come back in because they know they’re going in the car. Well, this dog, hey, I give him a little tap signal in his right armpit, just a little nudge, and he knows to go pee. If he’s running in, I bring him back out and I say, “No, you have to go,” and I give him a tap signal, and he goes. And then he knows just a general “Let’s go,” just a little swish over the top of shoulders to neck. And I talk to him, we talk to him into the side of his face, and I think he knows when we’re talking to him and I think he can sense what we’re saying, like telling him he’s a good dog, or “Relax,” or whatever we’re communicating to him. I don’t think we’re anthropomorphizing at all and I don’t think we’re exaggerating the amount of communication that happens with him, despite his being deaf and blind. He doesn’t miss a beat.
Chappell: I’m dying to know what the cue is for “Leave it.”
Shapiro: For “Leave it”? I give him a little tap on the top of his head. He’s also a very tiny dog, he’s six and a half pounds, so there’s not a lot of space to touch him in different places. Oh, he knows “Shake,” and little tap on the side of his leg here. But the “Leave it” was a little big challenging for him because he’s very food motivated. So just like any other dog, you have the food on the floor or in your hand, it has to be in a place where they can’t get it. There’s something there, whatever they want, and you wait for them to look up and away from the food. In his case, he’s just turning his head away, he’s not looking at anybody because he can’t see. But once he realized he wasn’t getting it, the second he moved his head away, I gave his tap to say “OK” and gave him a treat. And he’s so smart and so keyed-in that it took just a few times for him to realize what I meant. Then he had to figure out how to control himself.
Within a very short time—and that “Leave it” probably took a few times over a week or two to get him really solid. I’m moving my hand with the food in it, and I labeled it with the tap, and then I could open my hand and give him the tap. And he sniffs the food because he wants to know where it is. He doesn’t want to lose track of it, so his head bobs up and down. (laughs) You can watch videos of Piglet on his TikTok, Instagram and Facebook pages. I post pictures of him. He’s really literal about the instructions to “Leave it.” Piglet sits there, and I tell him “Leave it” and his bowl of food is here. And he literally dips his head into the bowl, and he will lick the food but leave it there. That’s how literal he is. He’s a very funny dog. He’s got a really comical sense of humor. He’s just very present. He’s happy.
So, Piglet does that, and it’s really cute. Initially, he would move away from the dish. I think because he didn’t want to be tempted, but now he’s figured out that he’s just dipping. And then I tell him “OK” with a little tap here, and he dives in. (laughs) He’s so cute. He’s so funny. What I think is so amazing about Piglet is that we have our social media pages, and people watch him, engage in his life, and it’s inspiring to them to do the same in their lives, despite whatever their challenges are.
Chappell: What’s been the impact of your story?
Shapiro: We just did an event this weekend. We have a book called “Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf-Blind Pink Puppy and His Family.” The book is about me, a veterinarian, my life caring for animals, our family. My husband is in the book. It’s sort of a family-oriented book. It’s a nice story. It’s G-rated. It’s a nice book about being hopeful and bringing positivity into your life, saying “Yes” when you really are inclined to say “No” and expecting the unexpected. That’s all in the book.
We went to an event in New Jersey, and they publicized it well. There were a lot of people there, and we sold a lot of books. As I was signing books, and a woman came up being pushed in a wheelchair by her son, who was, I think, probably in his twenties. She bought six books because she wanted to give them as gifts because she is so inspired by Piglet. She was in a very serious accident and hasn’t been able to walk for two years, but she’s just getting to a point now where they’re starting her walking in rehab. And I guess she is going to be able to walk–predicted to be able to walk at some point in the next couple of years–but she’s been wheelchair-bound now for a long time.
She learned about Piglet, and she watches Piglet doing his thing. She said it makes a huge difference in her life. She looks for his videos every day. They’re inspiring her to move on with her own life. It seems so silly because it’s a tiny little dog running around doing his thing. He’s disabled, like any other disabled person. He doesn’t need to be congratulated for walking up the stairs or going to eat his food or peeing outside. But he has a little extra special piece of him because his attitude is so positive and so engaging that he brings adults into his world. She’s an example.I started talking to different to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, schools, teachers in our community. I have educated myself on their challenges. That’s part of being a Representative—that learning part—learning what the problems are in your community. The next logical and needed step is to teach other people about them to create the momentum to fix them.
People send me notes every single day and make comments on our social media pages, which have hundreds of thousands of followers. Every single day we get notes from someone telling us what Piglet does for them. And then we have our educational program in schools, which is called Piglet Mindset, that brings him there as well to teach about growth mindset, optimism, flexibility, perseverance, resilience, and empathy. And we have Piglet’s Inclusion Pack, which is our other dogs as the pack, including Piglet despite his limitations and challenges. They bring him in and they work together. They’re very accepting of his sometimes-unusual behavior because he’s blind. He walks around in circles frequently. He walks around them in circles, and he bangs into them all the time. They’re all nice to each other as well, and they’re all different from each other.
So, we have a whole teaching model called Piglet Mindset. The kids—it’s mostly in schools, but it can be for anybody. There’s nothing babyish about it. It’s a lesson for everybody from the tiny little pink dog who happens to be deaf and blind. He’s as happy as could be, and people say they wish he could see. And we see his life would probably not be so much different. We’re going to carry him anyway, he’s six pounds. And he enjoys himself.
Chappell: Is he a specific breed?
Shapiro: He’s a dachshund-chihuahua mix, and the reason—dachshund and chihuahua can have that dapple coloring. But there was a hoarding situation. There were three dogs that were not spayed and neutered, and they turned into 30 dogs.
Chappell: Oh, my! How were they rescued?
Shapiro: (Piglet’s) litter was living in a tent in Georgia because they got kicked out of their apartment. They were very tiny puppies. When they were rescued, there were four of them and three were affected. There were three white deaf dogs. Two had better vision than (Piglet) does, but all three were affected. The fourth one looked normal. He can see and hear, but he could be double dapple, just not affected. So, if someone were to be breeding dapple dogs and dapple line dogs, they should always be genetically testing them if there’s a breeder who actually needs to breed dogs—which is a whole other story!
But yes. This was an unfortunate happening in that house, which was, I suppose, unfortunate and fortunate because we have Piglet, and other people have the other puppies. We educate also about special needs disabled pets through Piglet, and we certainly educate and discourage the breeding of dapple and piebald-colored dogs to each other. That’s another aspect of Piglet. We have a whole thing. We have a nonprofit that supports our work as well. It’s been quite an evolution of saying yes to keeping a dog that I didn’t want four and a half years ago. (laughs)
Chappell: They find the dog in Georgia, but it winds up in Connecticut. How did that happen?
Shapiro: Piglet was rescued by a veterinarian in Georgia. The reason I knew her is that she has a rescue group that takes dogs from wherever down there, and she brings them up to Connecticut for adoption events. She doesn’t specialize in dogs with various issues. This is just who she got. Gina, our double merle Aussi border collie mix, who’s deaf in one ear, as I mentioned before, and has the eye defects, we adopted her from Gloria six years before Piglet. It’s coming up to be 11 years now that we’ve had Gina. So, I was in touch with Gloria over the years because when she would bring dogs up to Connecticut for adoption events, and they were adopted, some of them had medical issues that needed to be follow up. And I did that for her. We were friends and we were in communication. And when she ended up with this dog, Piglet, who’s on my lap here, she sent me a note to ask me if I knew someone who would be a good fit for him. So, I said we would foster him, and that’s how he ended up coming here.
Chappell: Just so we get this in, my wife and I work for a rescue. Just so Chet and other readers know, this goes on all the time. People pick up adopted dogs from all over the country and transport them in various ways. A friend of mine just went and picked up a dog she wanted to adopt. It was born without a limb, and she flew all the way to Texas and even was able to hide the trip from her husband so that she could surprise her husband with the puppy when she got back.
Shapiro: (laughs) A three-legged puppy!
Chappell: Just letting the readers know that there are big organizations of us all over the place, various breeds, some mix breeds, who travel all over the country and get adopted dogs and get them back to our other pets, too.
Shapiro: Yes, it’s for all of them. The problem is particularly a problem in the South and Midwest because that’s where people are not spaying and neutering their dogs and cats. That’s why they are being dumped, and that’s why there are so many of them being dumped. The people in the northern part of the country, it’s just a fact, are taking these dogs and cats and other pets in. You’re talking about down South. They do bring the animals up, either transporting them up directly, through an adoption from the South to the North, or they bring the animals up to the North and they have adoption events.
My dogs, there were seven. Susie was from Tennessee, she died in April, very old. She came up for an adoption event from Tennessee through a rescue group that was stationed in Rhode Island. Zoë, the little brown one that was up here a little bit ago, Zoë and Dean are from Arkansas.
I also have Evie and Annie, who are from California because there are similar problems in other parts of California. And all states, really. They were flown. I went and picked one up and the other one was sent to me.
Chappell: We also do a lot of work trying to bring dogs to California as well that need homes. We mostly do go up and down the coast more. You’re right. The inner part of California is probably more like that.I started talking to different to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, schools, teachers in our community. I have educated myself on their challenges. That’s part of being a Representative—that learning part—learning what the problems are in your community. The next logical and needed step is to teach other people about them to create the momentum to fix them.
Shapiro: Yeah, there are parts. It’s a big problem. I think it’s a much better situation now than it was 20 years ago, with Pet Finder coming. It’s helped place a lot of animals. It’s educated people that there is a problem altogether. Without the Internet, nobody would know.
Chappell: You said “educate.” I just want to bring up something before I forget. On your website, you have the vet school for kids. How did that come about? Is it popular to kids across the country? How does that work?
Shapiro: It would be popular, but I’m so involved in Piglet Mindset right now that it’s on hold. We started that because I have always gone into classrooms to talk about being a veterinarian and caring for animals. Even before I had kids, I went in to talk to kids. I would bring my dog, whoever the dog was at the time, show them how to do a physical exam, talk to them about what pets do, answer their questions. They would all tell me about their own pets. It was a lot of fun. When my kids were young, I created some workshops for kids to come to and I would talk to them about physical exam, show x-rays and radiographs from them to look at the guess what the problem was like, how many puppies are in the abdomen of a pregnant dog, broken legs, things like that. I was supposed to do a two-week camp, two one-week camps last summer, before COVID came. It was canceled in person, but I had already taken videos and pictures of all sorts of things. And I would have some slide presentations and also live with kids to teach them about being veterinarian and animal care, including a rescue topic and pet safety and these sorts of things.
It all got canceled, and I ended up still creating vet school for kids. I have a domain name, which has grown to my visiting vet practice website. But I do have some topics on there, and I did last year do a virtual pet safety course for kids, a two-part course. The kids loved it. I got a few kids from advertising on Piglet’s social media pages, a lot of girls, a few boys, elementary school to middle school age. And they were glued to my presentations. The pet safety course is very well done. I have to give myself a little credit because I go through all aspects of pet safety, ranging from toxic foods, dangers outside, car safety, general care, walking on flexi-leashes versus a regular leash, microchips—all of these topics, all condensed into about an hour and a half, so we broke it into two 45-minute sessions. They could ask questions. It’s for kids or adult. I have given that a few times online for Piglet followers as well. I have a full course. I have to add a couple of videos to my beautiful course about veterinary medicine that I will eventually get back to. But it’s on hold because I’m doing so much Piglet mindset right now.
Now, I’m doing Piglet Mindset. It’s teaching growth mindset and inclusion, and it’s also advocating for people and animals with disabilities. We clearly are showing and using a disabled dog, and hopefully, with the disarming nature of using animal models, kids are very comfortable asking questions and delving into learning about what it’s like to be deaf or blind. I hope that they bring that into when they meet people with other disabilities as well, being empathetic, not staring, not being so uncomfortable with it, that they’re just another person who happens to have this problem. When they see my dog, they realize, they see him with the other dogs. Anyways, you didn’t ask that question.
Chappell: The thought that’s coming into my mind, though, is a little bit egocentric, but we’re crazy about our dogs. Our oldest is starting to lose her hearing and her vision. We’re used to it because we had another one that we had to put to sleep a couple of years ago who had that at the end of her life, too. She also had some dementia. Your dogs, the ones we’ve been talking about so far, were born with these disabilities. What about just aging dogs and their disabilities?
Shapiro: One of the things I do is that I have just started giving presentations to veterinarians about supporting people who choose to care for pets with disabilities. One of the things that I say is that if animals live long enough, they’ll all have some disability before they die. It’s normal, it’s completely normalized to have deaf and blind dogs, especially as they get older, but even if they’re younger. This is a novelty, having a dog born that way. In my whole practice in all these years, I had not seen a dog like Piglet. I live up here in the North, and people just aren’t breeding dogs like this. And more people where I live, because they’re going about their lives, aren’t adopting them either. But I have seen plenty of old dogs and cats that are deaf and blind. I have a house call practice, my veterinary practice, and of course, I go to people’s houses. And one of the advantages is that I see what’s going on in the house. And, of course, the best candidates for a house call are older pets. They’re comfortable in their homes. I walk into the home, and I see what they’re doing in their home. I can see where the stairs are, the wood floors that are slippery. And I can then recommend to people various accommodations to be made as their pets are aging and developing in this case talking about being deaf or blind where they’re actually not thinking about it.
Those dogs adapt. Don’t forget, most of them are becoming deaf over time. It’s a slowly progressive issue. We only notice that they’re deaf when suddenly they’re not coming when we call them and we’re not able to get their attention, but they didn’t become deaf that day or overnight. It’s been a gradual process for them. They’re used to it. They’re not startled as easily as you would think. The vision issues can be acute because with glaucoma sometimes, it’s not gradual, and with some of these other retinal diseases, they become blind very quickly, again, probably not as quick as it seems. A lot of people contact me because I’m sensitive to that, and for some reason the veterinarians, while there are a lot of very, very compassionate, caring veterinarians, but a lot of people don’t have the time or the inclination to spend with people whose animals are becoming much more needy. In my practice, I spend a lot of time with people. I’m not seeing one appointment after another, driving around. I spend time in a house or with people even if I see them at the master vet hospital. I stand and talk to them. I’m not scheduling this way.
So, it’s not a specialty. It’s not a board specialty, but it is an area of interest that I have. And I think it’s really important for vets, especially young vets coming into the profession, to realize that these are our best clients. They are taking the most interest and really putting out for their pets who now need accommodations and a lot of extra care. I think it’s regional. You find people who dump deaf and blind dogs in a shelter because they don’t want to pay to have them euthanized, and then others take care of them till the very last breath.
Chappell: What accommodations do you recommend?
There are a lot of things you can do with those animals in the house to help them adjust, to help yourselves adjust and make it easier for you to take care of them. You just need someone to give you maybe some tips and guidance because it’s not natural for everybody. You might realize if a dog is blind and really disoriented. Because some of the old ones also have dementia, they’re walking around in circles and bumping into things. Others are fine. They have cataracts. And sometimes you do cataract surgery, and they can see again, at least well enough. I tell people to use different floor coverings, changing the floor coverings so that there’s a mat by the food dish, there’s carpet in the kitchen now so they can recognize using their sense of touch in their feet where they are. Some of them never get it, but most of them do. They adjust very well.
I have frantic people contacting me. They don’t know what they’re going to do, and they’re looking at Piglet and thinking it’s not the same because he’s very well adjusted.
There’s this halo, like a little vest, that has a little handle on the top and a plastic ring that goes around the front of the head and the face of the dog, so that when the dog is walking around and they’re hitting into the walls and other places, they’re hitting this ring rather than their face. That’s a nice little piece of equipment, not very expensive to use for an older dog that is having trouble and is disoriented from the blindness. It gives them a little more confidence. I have a video of Piglet that I did within the last couple of months. I took the halo out because a lot of people have thanked me. “Why doesn’t he have a halo?” He doesn’t want one because he wants to be able to move around freely. This is cumbersome for him, and it gets in the way. Piglet goes into little cocoon beds, and he has to go inside it. So, first of all, he didn’t want it on. When I put this halo contraption on him, and he’s trying to get into his bed and it’s hitting, he can’t. I have a video of him not being able to get into his bed.
And then I took it off him, and he went into his bed. But I have videos of him running into the house, playing with the other dogs. It wouldn’t be helpful to him. Even if we go to a new place, he’s the kind of dog that goes to a new place, in a hotel room, for example, he walks around. He bumps his nose into things systematically and very gently to scout out the area that he’s in, and then he immediately relaxes and wants to play with a toy. That’s his routine going to a hotel room, a new house, a new place where he’s never been.
A dog that’s old would have a much harder time. That’s not their routine, and they’re also not using their noses like Piglet does because they never had to. It would take them some time to realize, “Wait a minute, I can actually smell my way around.” A lot of them never get that. I have my dog Gina, who can’t hear very well in the other ear that was good. Initially she would have trouble placing sound and locating us if she wasn’t facing us. In fact, I almost lost her one time because she heard me, but she didn’t know where I was. And she was running away from me, thinking that I was in a different direction from her unilateral deafness. Once, she was sleeping, and I was getting their food together. Piglet immediately pops up out from under a blanket because he knows the food is in the kitchen. She’s sleeping and is completely oblivious because she has not had to use her nose for anything.
When we go to a hotel with my dogs, Piglet knows when we get into the elevator that we’re about to get onto the floor where he’s staying. He has a little stroller, and he gets taken out of the stroller. He runs down the hallway and finds the room that we’re staying in after we’ve been there for one time back and forth in the hallway. The other dogs walk right past the room, They’re not even paying attention. He’s so diligent in paying attention. He does not want to be out there alone. He’s always connecting. He’s just amazing. He really is. And I think that it’s a nice example to show the difference between the senior pets becoming deaf and blind versus a dog that’s born that way and has had to use his other senses and optimize them. He has the same nose as every other dog of his breed mix. They don’t need to use it. He does. So, he uses it, and he does so in a very directed way. He knows what he’s doing. He’s really good at it. It’s really fun to watch him.
Piglet’s attitude is so inspiring and so positive to so many people. And that’s why he is very well known on social media. That’s why people are telling us how much they love this book because they really—They see it in him, and it’s more than just—it’s not being sympathetic or feeling bad for Piglet. It’s watching somebody who does have some disadvantages really grab their life and move on with it in a really, really positive way. That’s how he is compared to senior pets.I started talking to different to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, schools, teachers in our community. I have educated myself on their challenges. That’s part of being a Representative—that learning part—learning what the problems are in your community. The next logical and needed step is to teach other people about them to create the momentum to fix them.
Chappell: We’ve been struck by it since this friend of ours adopted this little dog who was born without—
Shapiro: The three-legged dog, yeah.
Chappell: Yeah. And you watch this dog play, and he doesn’t realize he’s supposed to have a fourth leg.
Shapiro: (laughs) The only thing with those dogs is that they do end up with some back—they’ll have some spinal curvature. And if they’re born without one front leg especially, they do get bowing, depending on how big the dog is. For the little, tiny ones, I don’t think it’s a big issue. It is recommended that they learn to use a cart, a front cart. And some of them will even use a prosthetic, and others are just fine. It depends on the dog and the structure of the dog and the activity that they do. I was at Eddie’s Wheels is in Massachusetts. They make custom wheelchairs for dogs, all different kinds, quad carts, front carts, back carts. There was a little dog there. I think that dog had an amputation very young. So the dog’s leg was bowing and there was a lot of strain on the joints in that front leg and then the shoulder. So, they were going to do physical therapy with that dog to get things rebalanced and then get wheels to use from when they went on especially long walks. It’s all available to animals as well.
Those little dogs with both legs missing in the front, they run up and down stairs. They just figure it out. And they have carts for certain kinds, just to make it easier to walk down the street instead of hopping along like a kangaroo. But on uneven terrain, they hop along. It’s amazing. They’re all inspiring to people for the right reasons. I was very sensitive in writing the book. I spoke to a woman who’s deaf and blind. I wanted to be sure that we’re not exploiting Piglet, discussing it in a way that would be insulting and improper, using the words “special needs,” and all of these things. I feel like these animals are really nice examples. They are not aware that we’re looking at them and using them as teaching models. It’s a very nice teaching model, especially for kids.
Chappell: Can you tell us more about the Piglet Mindset program?
This has been so much fun for me, to have this dog, have him on social media, where we connected with a teacher to have a program that’s used around the country and the world, in classrooms.
The program is PowerPoints that are on the PigletMindset website. There teachers can download the materials. There are lesson plans to be used as a guide. Everyone can use them to fit their own teaching styles and curriculum. And then we make virtual visits. I send them stickers and Piglet’s Inclusion Pack membership cards, which the kids can have. I’ll make a virtual or an in-person visit. All of that came about because of Piglet. But the other part of this is that I am a vet and I enjoy being a vet. And I’ve been able to help people who are adopting pets with disabilities, not because I’m sitting and talking to each one of them as an individual, but that they take some inspiration and also information from my pages. And they’re better equipped to take care of these animals.
But the most fun I’ve had now is creating these talks for vets, which I can also use for the general public, about wheelchair dogs. One of them is a general disabilities talk. I have all sorts of networks on social media of dogs and cats and turtles and others with a range of disabilities that I’m showing veterinarians, and they have never seen. I had never seen this kind of deaf-blind dog. I saw plenty of old ones, until I got this dog.
I had never seen people changing diapers and expressing bladders and bowels of dogs that they chose to keep that had a spinal fracture and are paralyzed. I hadn’t seen it directly, I didn’t have a dog like that. I just knew people were doing it in houses if they kept them. I don’t even see that many dogs like that up here because no one wants to keep them. But now I have a whole network of people I know who do, and they were delighted to send me videos of them caring for those dogs so that I could show veterinarians what they’re doing at home so they would be less likely to recommend euthanasia for those animals when they come into their practices. That part of it is a lot of fun. It’s really fulfilling for me. I hope to get increased exposure for the disabilities world, normalize disabilities in pets, through those kinds of presentations. I’m doing that, and that part of it is a lot of fun also.
I think having this dog, using him in an appropriate way has been a really—I’ve reached thousands and thousands of people around the world. On our pages we have hundreds of thousands of followers, which means that each one of them clicked the button to follow us, and that means that they saw this dog and they saw what we’re doing. It’s a nice project for me, that’s for sure!
Chappell: Do you have any connections or work with any of the animals that happen to have disabilities and becoming service dogs?
Shapiro: That’s one of my talks. (laughs) I made a presentation about—it was called “Pets with Disabilities.” I featured a number of dogs. One in particular is in New Jersey. The dog is deaf, and he goes to veterans’ hospital or home where there’s like 300 vets. They love him there. The dog was adopted by an elementary school music teacher (Chris). The guy signs to (his dog). (Chris) was going to adopt a dog when he found out about a deaf puppy. (He overheard) the people at the front of the line. A man said to a boy, “Oh, that dog is broken,” referring to this tiny four-month-old deaf puppy.
Chris immediately adopted that dog. He has a young nephew who’s deaf. Chris started bringing the dog to school with him, and the dog became the resident dog at an elementary school in New Jersey. He greets the kids when they come off the bus in the morning. They all learned to sign to Cole. They all do sign language. They all wear his shirts. They sing to Cole, and he can’t hear them. His website, if you’re interested, is ColeTheDeafDog.com. Chris does a really nice job.
I have videos that I show of Chris signing to the dog. People are sitting there watching and they begin to cry because it’s such a nice thing to see someone relating to their dog. Forget about the deaf part, he loves him. And one of the things that people say to me about my dog is that they see how much I love the dog. It has nothing to do with Piglet having a disability. I love the dog. I love my other dogs also. But people love Piglet because Piglet is Piglet, adorable and pink.
So, Cole has a whole educational program. He’s a certified therapy dog. Piglet is not, but he is. And I do know others, a little dog in a wheelchair that goes to nursing homes. There are plenty of them. My talk was about some of those that teach kids in one fashion or another or adults who have some sort of service therapy function job.I started talking to different to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, schools, teachers in our community. I have educated myself on their challenges. That’s part of being a Representative—that learning part—learning what the problems are in your community. The next logical and needed step is to teach other people about them to create the momentum to fix them.
Shapiro: This dog is such a character. He would not go to a nursing home or a veterans’ place. He gets himself so worked up. He’s overstimulated in, like, two minutes. He’s carrying on, he wants to play tug. He’s really cute, and everyone likes to see the tap signal demos. He has a little stroller he can’t wait to get out of and show everybody.
We have Piglet Mindset presentations that we do in addition to the school program and now we have our book. We had all these book signings. I felt like we really shouldn’t be focusing so much on the book, which has our whole story, which you have gotten some of, but that we talk about Piglet Mindset and show his videos.
It’s hard to describe Piglet and what he does without showing a video of him. Just look at him.