Catherine Giles definitely didn't need another dog. Already sharing her sprawling house in Gastonia, North Carolina, with 22 rescue animals (10 dogs and 12 cats), the 53 year-old Giles didn't have the room or the resources to take in another creature, especially one that was going to be a project. Then an organization called Ruffed Up Rescue called her about an abandoned two-year-old pit bull that seemed to be deaf.
Giles was won over by the dog's intake photo: a handsome white male with a strong jaw, a black and pink mottled nose, and eerie, ice-blue eyes. "You could tell there was a lot going on behind that gaze," says Giles who dubbed him "Blue."
"Ok," she told the people at Ruffed Up. "I'll take him in. But only until he can be adopted."
It turned out Blue wasn't deaf at all. "He's just really, really stubborn," said Giles, who speculates that the reason Blue was abandoned is because "He's a bit ADD, and when he gets anxious—which is a lot—he chews through his crates." After Blue destroyed two metal and three plastic dog-proof containers, Giles allowed him to run off his anxiety outside. That worked fine until one day in July 2012, when Blue came back from an afternoon run with badly wobbling rear legs. Within minutes, he was completely paralyzed from the waist down. An MRI revealed a herniated disc.
Giles agreed to a $6,000 surgery that was Blue's only hope; after all, he was healthy and his prognosis good. But post-surgery, Blue failed the deep-pain sensation test: he had only a 10 percent chance of full recovery. Giles was devastated yet never considered euthanasia, even though Blue couldn't walk or urinate on his own. Part of Giles' daily post-op schedule included carrying Blue outside, five or six times a day, to manually express his bladder. More than once she broke down in tears, wondering if she could continue the grueling, near round-the-clock routine. But her pity-party didn't last long. "For whatever reason, Blue hadn't gotten the memo that his hind end didn't work. He was the same dog from the waist up. I decided if Blue hadn't given up, I wouldn't give up either."
Giles posted Blue's story on Facebook and people raised money to help with the surgical bills. They gave her moral and emotional support when she was down, including bringing meals and helping with chores. An animal acupuncturist offered to work on Blue for free. And then came what would end up being the best suggestion of all from an anesthesiologist who'd been following Blue's story: build the dog a wheelchair.
Giles worked with Eddie's Wheels, a company that makes specialized carts for disabled pets, to customize a wheelchair for Blue. "There was no adjustment period," said Giles. "He took to it right away. And then he was able to do the one thing he loved most—run."
Blue has learned to walk again, but his hind legs are always out of synch with his front, like a newborn calf taking its first steps. In the wheelchair, though, he can run and play unimpeded by the handicap he barely seems to know he has.
With his icy eyes and pit bull mien, Blue can seem intimidating to strangers, but when he's in his wheelchair, people eagerly approach to interact and ask questions. Giles uses these opportunities to dispel myths that all pit bulls are aggressive. She also takes Blue to adoption events. "He's a great spokesdog for promoting the adoption of animals with special needs."
Blue has joined the Giles household as a permanent resident. As hard as his rehabilitation was, Blue "never gave up. He never felt sorry for himself," says Giles. "There's a lesson in there for all of us."