Small Legs, Big Heart
By Noel Daniel
The sun beat down on the alley behind the Jones’ house on June 30, 2015.
It was 105 degrees and sweltering in the mostly-shadeless alley as Dave Jones walked out to move the trash bins. It was then that he saw it—a tall, bottle-brush tail sticking out of a pile of rubbish and an animal that moved curiously in the bush. When Dave went to investigate, out toppled a two-legged Australian Shepherd and Collie mix, followed by her quadrupedal brother.
“No water,” Dave said. “No food. Starved half to death. Dehydrated. Almost dead. And that’s where our journey began.”
Their ears were dirty and black, and the fur behind them was matted. They were the picture of abandonment. Rex, the four-legged dog, had crippling anxieties that left him prostrate most of the time—even when Dave tried to walk him. But it was Dina that was the truly unusual case.
Her name is “Din-ah,” short for “dinosaur.” She earned her name by the curious way she walks around on her hind legs with her short, underdeveloped forelegs tucked uselessly against her chest. Her tail, the whole reason Dave spotted her, is what she uses for balance as she bobs about. In spite of adapting this way, walking is understandably still incredibly hard for her.
It was difficult in the beginning. When they managed to get the two dogs into their backyard, they ran and hid in the foliage. They slept in the rocks. They were shaken and afraid—and it only got worse on the Fourth of July. Not sure what else to do, Dave came to their rescue, bringing soft music and holding them until most of the fear had passed.
For weeks, their frazzled behavior continued, to the point where it almost looked hopeless. And then Dave took them into the pool.
“All of the sudden, things started to change,” Dave said. “They started to dig being in the pool. Dina learned how to swim all on her own without the aid of pool floaties. And she can get out of the pool on her own—she stands up on her hind legs like a person and climbs up the steps.”
When Dina was first learning to swim, she needed a life jacket in addition to the pool toy. But now? Dina can doggie paddle with the best of them, even without the use of her front legs. Both dogs were starting to relax, and learning what it meant to trust the Joneses. That was the first step in the process—but there was still a lot of work to do.
“We started to do therapy with Dina,” Dave said. “We tried to get her used to being up on two feet. We did a lot of online research to see what therapy would work best for helping Dina walk again.”
Soon enough, people started showing up and showing the dogs love. There was a burgeoning community of people who were engaged and supportive. They’d donate blankets and toys, and they even donated to a GoFundMe for the two siblings’ vet bills—which were quite high.
Dina needed a claw removed on her front paw as it had grown dangerously long. Her propensity for jumping on others meant she was liable to unintentionally hurt someone. In addition to this, both dogs needed to be spayed/neutered, get their shots, and be microchipped. It was with Dr. Michael O’Brien’s help, a veterinarian at Beckwith Veterinary Hospital, that the siblings were cared for.
“He gave them great attention, love, and care,” Angela said. “He went over and above, especially with surgery.”
Now that the Joneses had the dogs’ trust and a supportive community, they started training the siblings with the help of Top Notch Kennels. Tammie Cohen, Trainer and Behavior Counselor from Top Notch came out and donated her time to help the Joneses begin the training process.
Rex started out very scared, unable to walk on a leash. He was very submissive and would crawl along the ground, making himself as small as possible. Even after a month and a half, Dave could not get Rex to walk on a leash. Then along came Cohen who watched the way Dave walked him. When she’d finally decided on the perfect method, she instructed him to keep up that same process for a week.
“That week was just terrible,” Dave said. “It was stressful. He was anxious.”
What she had him do was put a red harness around his chest because Rex would pull. As soon as he’d start pulling, Dave would have to stop until Rex let the lead go loose, and as soon as he did, they’d be off again.
“It would take five minutes to get to the far wall,” Dave said tiredly. “That was our ‘walk.’ It took a week of doing this and there was no change. And then one day I came out and I said ‘let’s go,’ and he walked right up beside me. And as soon as he started to pull, I’d stop and he’d look over his shoulder at me and we’d start going again.”
Now they go for two to three mile runs. It’s just one in a long list of training that needed to be done. The dogs needed to learn to trust the car, they needed to know to not compete for attention when their owner was petting one and not the other. They learned “stay,” and “free,” and “come.”
“I had to get trained,” Dave admitted.
Once the dogs were living happily, it was time to help Dina get around—so Dave took it on himself to build a wheelchair. There have been three iterations, with the first having short, fat tires that mostly limited Dina to doing circles. But she didn’t care. She loved it. Suddenly there was less strain on her back and she could actually move. The Joneses saw how wildly she wagged her tail and knew they’d done something right.
This iteration lasted two months. Then, the second model was born, and Dina made the leap from backyard to park. It was a lot like the first, only they used thinner wheels—specifically, the wheels from a Barbie bike. And that day was very different for Dina.
“All of the sudden she realized she was free and that she could walk,” said Dave. “like a regular dog. It just totally changed.”
“I remember when we did this, it was the first time she was really set free,” said Angela. “We almost cried. We couldn’t believe it’d just happened.”
At this point, the change in the siblings was obvious. Dina was loping along the asphalt, not pausing for a moment, wagging her tail and carrying on like a normal dog. Nearby was Rex, walking peaceably on a leash next to Dave. Now Dina is on her third wheelchair, more than half the weight of her first with conveniently tilted wheels, and she can cross any terrain she likes. Rocks and sidewalk curbs won’t be holding this spirited collie back.
So what’s next for Dina?
“We’re also looking to get her prosthetics,” Dave said. “I’ve made Plaster of Paris molds of her legs and sent them off so that they can start getting some traction.”
They’ll be expensive—approximately $5,000—but Solid Networks in Salida has taken on the case. Dina won’t be the first dog with prosthetic legs, either. Derby the Dog, a Husky mix whose owner Tara Anderson works as the Director of Project Management for 3D Systems was able to construct a pair of prosthetic legs that emulated the give-and-take of an actual knee joint. This revelation was amazing news for the Joneses.
Both Dina and Derby have similarly-deformed forelegs and Derby is two years old, which is about how old Dina is. And they’re similarly sized dogs, which means there’s a good chance the prosthetics will work just as well.
“We want to thank everyone in the community for their support and love,” Angela said. “It really gave us the courage to take this challenge on and our lives have been truly blessed.”
To keep up-to-date on Dina and Rex’s story, visit their Facebook Page at Dina & Red – Rescue Dogs Journey or go to their GoFundMe page at www.GoFundMe.com/zz48JW.