The teachings of a three-legged dog.

This story begins like a third-grade math problem: You enter a room and count 36 arms and legs. You would think 9 people are in the room, right? Wrong. You should have said 11 humans and a dog.

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Two people in the room have all their appendages. Four are missing one arm each. Three have one leg each. Two have no legs. And, there is a three-legged dog aptly named Lefty. These 12 individuals--with their combined 36 limbs--form an amputee support group whose objective is to provide a community and share valuable resources for living as an amputee.

This is a diverse bunch formed by misfortune; the absence of an appendage is really the only tacit bond these people have. Socioeconomic status varies tremendously, and every surrounding community has a representative at this meeting.

The youngest member is also the newest one. She is a hip 25-year-old former prom queen. Her blond ringlets extend down to the nub that was her elbow. A month prior, a drunk driver ran a red light and hit her car. The car door collapsed, pinning her arm against the steering wheel. Her boyfriend now struggles with the thought of dating an amputee.

The next oldest is a 34-year-old veteran turned police officer. While working the graveyard shift a few years ago, he approached a man illegally parked in a handicap spot. "Come on, man, there aren't any handicapped people out at this time of night," was the man's excuse. The officer rolled up his right pant leg, and both men stared at the titanium shaft that is his leg. Unrolling his pant leg, he asked the man, "Where should we be this time of night?"

The oldest member is a 78-year-old man with diabetes. He struggles with medical noncompliance and has a missing leg to prove it. Every year he spends a few days after Christmas in the hospital getting his blood sugar corrected; the cookies and ham beat him every time.

The dog is certainly the most improbable member of the group. She was destined to be an amputee from birth; a deformed right leg gave Lefty a one-way ticket from her breeder's house to the animal shelter. A surgeon removed the deformed leg, and as soon as the stitches came out, Lefty joined the group. Her owner--a nurse--brings her to the meetings.

When the social worker introduced Lefty for the first time, the group was immediately intrigued but was cautious about allowing a dog to attend its meetings. Lefty's owner trained her, and the social worker cleared her attendance with the group.

Lefty is now the unspoken mascot of this group. Their attraction to the dog is peculiar. Unwittingly and absent of words, Lefty is the best teacher for how to live with amputation. Her lessons are wholly unintentional--and entirely unforgettable.

Members of the group have spent days--for some, years--asking why. Why me? Why now? Why didn't I just die? Why is there all this suffering?

Then, enter this dog, with no idea whether she has three legs or ten. Lefty does not ask why bad things happen to good people. She does not know she is missing a leg; in her world, every dog has three legs.

The dog does not ask why--she just gets on with it. In a culture obsessed with fairness and equality, Lefty's demeanor is laughable. Life has dealt her a bad hand, and that is okay with her.

Another weird thing about this dog--she is not miserly with compassion. She will just as readily kiss the prom queen as she will the janitor. Typical societal barriers do not slow Lefty down; if someone needs attention, she gladly obliges.

The night the former prom queen joined the group, she told the story of her amputation for the first time. Mid-story, she broke into tears. Before anyone could say anything, Lefty acted before anyone else could. She hobbled across the room--her gait deliberate and awkward. She sat down in front of the crying girl.

The dog placed her one front paw onto the girl's shoulder and gave her a slobbery kiss. The tense room melted into laughter. The dog did what everyone else was thinking. A slobbery kiss always helps.

For privacy's sake, some of the characters in this story are a creative amalgamation.

Contact: SuttonA@csl.edu.
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