How adopting a three-legged dog helped me accept my own disability

Four years earlier, I had been diagnosed with a chronic illness, lupus . At just 21 years old, crippling fatigue crept into my life, then refused to leave. Just showing up to my college classes felt like scaling a mountain. I’d collapse into bed each night, too exhausted to brush my hair or remove my makeup, then wake up the next morning feeling as if I hadn’t slept at all. Brunette clumps fell out if I ran a hand through my hair. I struggled with brain fog so severe I could barely finish a sentence without losing my train of thought. But as sick as I was, I couldn’t find a doctor to believe me.

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Many young women like me who have chronic illnesses seek help from doctors only to be dismissed or not believed. Knowing I was seriously ill, yet being told by my doctors that I was just homesick or that my illness was all in my head, was the ultimate rejection. I visited seven doctors before finally being diagnosed with lupus. By then, I had survived two years of such a severe lupus flare that I had developed life-threatening inflammation in my brain.

Becoming disabled invited other forms of rejection I had never experienced as a healthy person. Rejection was a family member staring at me blankly and then walking away on a shopping trip when I said I needed to sit and rest. It was watching TV shows about healthy people with normal problems and feeling like an alien. It was the guilt of not being able to work the hours that society expects of someone my age.

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Tiny dog becomes spokes-puppy for pet adoption


Although I wouldn’t be able to put my thoughts into words until years later, I adopted a disabled dog because I could no longer live with the loneliness of being the only disabled one in my life.

On his first walk the day after I adopted him, the dog hesitated, confused by his leash. Then he lifted his nose to sniff the air, wagged his tail and hopped forward along the sidewalk with enthusiasm. His limp sent his ears flapping as if they were wings. I thought of Wilbur Wright, one of the inventors of the airplane. The next day, I ordered a collar and tags with the name Wilbur printed on them.

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Unlike my invisible disability , Wilbur’s disability was obvious. In addition to his amputated leg, scars crisscrossed his back. He tested positive for heartworms when I adopted him. But Wilbur’s deepest scars lingered far beneath his skin. During our first few years together, he hopped after me as I walked from room to room in my house, afraid to let me out of his sight. If a door shut between him and me, he would cry and scratch the paint off until I opened it. His favorite place was sitting upright in my lap, his legs wrapped around my neck in a doggie hug.

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The parts of our disabilities that made others reject us made Wilbur and me perfect for each other. When the fatigue of my illness forced me to spend the day stuck in bed, Wilbur snuggled beside me, overjoyed to have someone to hug all day long. Due to his limp, Wilbur walked at a pace that didn’t tire me out.