If you were to spot Cooper out for a walk, you’d probably notice he looks a little different.
That’s because he was born with short spine syndrome, a genetic condition that causes vertebrae to fuse together and compress.
That means he’s half the size he should be, and looks a bit, well, squashed.
But his disability doesn’t stop him from living a happy life.
Cooper was rescued by animal control officers in 2017, near a suspected puppy farm in Halifax, Virginia. Officers reckon he was abandoned because his birth defect would make him more difficult to sell.
He was taken to Secondhand Hounds, a shelter in Minnetonka, Minnesota, where he was treated for ear mites, worms, and a hernia.
Once he was in better health, Cooper was adopted by Elly Keegan, 32, and her husband Andy, 33, who live with their dogs Skylar, Waylon, and Tuva.
He’s found a loving home with the couple, who happily make any adjustments Cooper’s disability means he requires. That includes not being able to walk on hard surfaces or go for long walks.
‘The condition means that Cooper has a screwing and corkscrewing of his spine,’ explains Elly. ‘It is fused in two places – on his neck and on his rear.
Find ways to enrich your pet’s environment. Your dog or cat needs your help to stay mentally stimulated. This is important not only to discourage destructive behavior in younger pets, but also to keep your older pet’s brain sharp.
‘He looks like he has no neck and to look behind him he has to turn his whole body.
‘When he was found he was in very poor condition. His butt is on his back and it was all matted. He couldn’t go to the bathroom properly which was causing him a lot of issues.
‘He was originally placed with a family, but because Cooper is a chaser of cats, it didn’t work out.
‘I couldn’t put him through that process again.
‘I was also very aware that he needed intense medical care. I am lucky to have the support of Secondhand Hounds and the right environment for a special needs dog.
‘That’s not to say we don’t have incidences. A few months after he came he had a fall and fractured his neck in five places.
‘A couple months ago he was starting to show signs of pain again and he actually had a bone infection called osteomyelitis. Because his spine is so compromised, it was dangerous but luckily we got it under control with antibiotics.
‘He also had a surgery which helps him go to the bathroom a little better, which means he’s quite low maintenance now and can go by himself.
‘It’s hard because he can’t go for long walks and can’t spend a lot of time on hard surfaces. He has to be on soft ground like grass or carpet.
Growing up. While the Chow Chow dogs are well known for their distinctive blue-black tongues, they’re actually born with pink tongues. They turn blue-black at 8-10 weeks of age.
‘But he’s still the happiest dog.’
Elly says that despite his disability, Cooper is a happy dog who loves to run around, play, and snuggle up with his owners.
He gets a lot of attention from strangers, and is being considered as a candidate for a study of short spined dogs conducted by Purdue University.
Secondhand Hounds want Cooper’s story to encourage people to give special needs pets a chance.
Elly says: ‘His condition is caused by inbreeding and it is unconscionable to me that he was just thrown away when the breeders realized he wouldn’t make them money.
‘Many dogs with conditions like Cooper’s are euthanised which makes me so, so sad.
‘They have so much living to do and Cooper is a real example of that.
‘He has a happy, normal little life now and is a key member of our family.’