Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dogs With Disabilities

For the better part of the last year I've been noticing this dog in Cambridge. He's filled with energy and always seeming to be very happy to be out walking. I've wanted to play with him. The human wanted to know his story because the dog only has three legs. Last week we finally got to meet each other. I was playing on the snow covered tennis court when through the fence I saw the dog and his human walk up toward us. The woman asked "do you have time to play?" My human said "sure, we have another half hour." After the two humans had a brief conversation about whether their respective dogs were friendly, she came through the fence. We both had an opportunity to greet each other before we were unhooked from our leads. We romped through the snow while the humans talked. I know. Very boring. All the snow to play in and the humans just talked.

It turns out that the dog was rescued when he was about 3 years old. The human's didn't know he had some sort of tumor on his leg. By the time it was noticed, it was too big to be operated on. The only way to solve the problem was the removal of the leg. It took him a few months to figure it all out--but he sure did. He ran through the snow almost as fast as I can!

Being overprotective of me, the human wondered how I would respond to a dog with a disability. Would I be frightened if a dog was different than me? Would I take advantage of a perceived weakness and bully the dog?

None of that happened. I played with my new friend the same as I would play with any friendly dog. We both gave each other play bows (letting each other know that whatever comes next is done with play in mind) and romped and wrestled through the snow.

You see, dogs don't really pay much attention to disability. That's a human concept. My friend really didn't care much about the difference between three legs or four. He learned how to make his way in the world. I didn't really notice or care either. I was more concerned with whether or not he'd be a friendly play partner. Once I learned that, I didn't even notice there was something different about my friend--because from my perspective, there wasn't anything different.

What a great lesson, no? Humans often immediately encounter someone with a disability and notice what is different--and frequently fear that difference. Is the difference really all that important? Does it effect some quality that is important to human interaction? Probably not. When compared the qualities that are really important in relationships the difference really isn't all the important in the larger scheme of things, is it?

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