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One of the most remarkable things about dogs is their determination. We’ve all heard stories of dogs traveling ridiculous distances to get back to their owners, like Buck the Labrador retriever, who journeyed five hundred miles on his own, or about dogs saving their families from fires, like Teddy the golden retriever.

In many of these cases, the dogs had been rescued from shelters, sometimes after being abused, and yet they still felt enough loyalty to humans to endure hardship to be with them or risk their lives to protect them. These stories are remarkable enough, but there’s another aspect of dogs and determination that should serve as an example to us all.

Dogs do not know the meaning of the word “disabled.” I’ve worked many times with dogs with a handicap. Well, we’d call it a handicap. The dogs don’t seem to notice. Whether they’re deaf or blind, or missing a leg or two, these conditions barely seem to slow them down.

If a dog loses one sense, like sight or hearing, they make up for it with their others. Remember, a dog’s primary sense is smell, and a blind dog can quickly learn to navigate with her nose. Dogs also have whiskers, which vary in length by breed but serve as an advance warning of anything approaching their face. Even a dog that is totally blind and deaf can still serve as a watchdog, because they can smell intruders coming and are sensitive to vibrations.

Far too often, dogs that go blind are dumped in shelters because their humans think they’re no longer useful, but that’s far from the case. In a story reported in People Magazine in 1997, a blind Labrador retriever named Norman responded to the cries for help from a drowning 14-year-old girl, running into the water and pulling her to safety.

Losing a sense is one thing, but it seems like losing a leg, for a dog, would be terribly debilitating. Yet, time and time again, dogs show us that this is no handicap for them at all. Three-legged dogs barely seem to notice. Meanwhile, you’d think that losing two legs would be completely devastating. Again, dogs prove us wrong.

I’ve seen dogs with every possible combination of two legs — on opposite sides, missing in front, in back, and even on the same side. Not only do they get around just fine, they do it without any artificial limbs, although at least one dog, Glory, was able to walk again on three prosthetic legs.

Of course, the downside to this determination in dogs is that they may sometimes hide conditions from for us as long as possible. They don’t do it intentionally, but their need to keep up with the pack can hide things like arthritis until long past the point when a human would have gone to the doctor for treatment. This is why it’s so important, whenever your dog seems to slow down a little or lose enthusiasm for things they love to do, that you take them to the vet.

But this ability of dogs to overcome physical difficulties should be an inspiration to us all. Just as dogs don’t see us as what we do for a living, but as the energy we project, dogs don’t see these handicaps as physical limitations in themselves — and they don’t see them as physical limitations in us, either. I’d even go so far as to guess that service dogs helping handicapped people are probably among the most fulfilled dogs in the world. They have a job to do, they get to do it for their Pack Leader, and they never feel sorrow for their humans, just admiration.

We should never feel sorry for handicapped dogs, because they will never feel that way for themselves. Instead, we should appreciate the lessons they teach us. By living in the moment, physical limitations cannot become setbacks. They just become another part of life — and I’ve never seen a disabled dog that didn’t try to live life to the fullest, every single day.

Stay calm, and live life to the fullest!

Have you adopted a differently abled dog? Tell us all about your pooch in the comments.

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