“I have the perfect dog for you!” Those were the words on the other end of the phone. And that was the call that changed the life of Patti Kirscht and others she would yet to meet.
The awaiting dog was a Great Dane being rescued by a woman Patti calls an “Angel of Mercy” who travels across states to find dogs that would otherwise be put down and to place them in homes. Patti met her in a parking lot and took the dog she would name Haley.
”From the front, her rib cage was normally formed, but from the back she was disfigured. Her intestines were not where they are normally found. Her hind legs were not properly formed and she had to drag her legs sideways. They were going to put her down,” she said.
It turns out, it was the perfect dog for Patti and it was just the first many more she would adopt.
A New Life
Today, five of her six dogs have special needs. Her constant love and care has given them a new life. “I have a network of people caring for animals who trade stories on what training or treatment method has worked.”
One of her adopted dogs had a fractured pelvis as a result of abuse. “I did doggie yoga with her and in three months she was running”, she said.
The cost of veterinary visits and surgeries haven’t prevented Patti from adopting. She explained, “I budget a lot, have lots of yard sales, work extra hours, and I have a credit card I only use when needed for their medical treatment. They give back so much. These are my kids.”
Her kids include Scoot, who was born with a birth defect that caused him to have a deformed pelvis and both hind legs attached sideways and Miracle, a double amputee due to a birth defect. Both were abandoned and rescued.
“When I got Miracle, she needed a wheelcart to walk, but I couldn’t afford to buy one. My boyfriend asked me, ‘What do you need?’ I told him what it should have. He went to the garage and came back with PVC pipes and the wheels of a toy that was left from a yard sale. We took measurements of Miracle and he made her a wheelcart. It only took a few days for her to get the hang of it and she has been running ever since,” Patti said.
Giving Hope and Healing
Now, Scoot and Miracle are giving hope and healing to residents of West Haven Manor personal care home where Patti works as a housekeeper and to patients at Armstrong Memorial Hospital in western Pennsylvania where she provides pet therapy.
Patti remarked,”Scoot loves his wheels! When he sees me packing his wheelcart into the car, he goes absolutely barking-ballistic! He knows that we will be traveling somewhere special, either to our local hospital for pet therapy or to West Haven to visit the residents.” Miracle is equally energetic and all too happy to greet the residents.
“These dogs are living life to the fullest. They don’t think that their life is impaired. Residents see Scoot and Miracle and say, if they can do that, I can too. Dementia patients may not remember what they had for breakfast, but they’ll remember the dogs and they look forward to seeing them.
Dogs and animals have this amazing ability to heal people. When a patient or resident is with a dog, their face softens. Their pain lessens. Petting a dog lowers blood pressure and helps emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Dogs give love, expecting nothing in return.
I have witnessed residents and patients smile, touch, talk, laugh, and communicate through both body and verbal language all because of the dogs! I get to be a part of that magic just by holding a leash. The dogs do it all!”
Children Respond Too
Patti’s dogs with special needs are making a difference in the lives of kids too.
She explained, “A grandmother, who is a nurse at the hospital, showed her young granddaughter photos of Miracle and Scoot. The girl invited the dogs to her birthday party. They asked if they could pay me for bringing them to the party. I told them that if they gave a donation to a dog shelter, that would be pay enough. Not only did the guests bring gifts for their friend, they brought tons of items like bowls and blankets for a local shelter. Now that is giving back!”
Patti recalls an experience she had while once working at a day care center. “I told the kids that I was getting a new dog and that I’d bring him in to meet them. I shared that in some ways he’s going to look different. When he came to meet these kids, I took him out of his wheelcart and said ‘this is what he does outside of his wheelchair – he scoots. Rachel, a 3 year old, said that I should name him Sparkle because ‘even if his legs don’t work, he’ll still shine.’
The wisdom of children and their acceptance is amazing. If we would just listen to the little things that they say, we could learn so much.”
Patti said her Boston Terrier, the one without special needs, welcomes each new adopted dog into their home. “When somebody new comes in, “she walks them around the house, basically saying – I’m going to show you where to eat and where to sleep, and so on.”
One new adoptee Patti took in was a Cocker Spaniel mix she named Guliver. He was found along the side of the road and was blind, deaf and was freezing. “I slept in a crate with him to get his body temperature up. I would take him on walks with my Great Dane, Haley. She was his eyes. He stayed by right by her side.”
Guliver passed away all too soon from congestive heart failure. Patti commented, “I was mad and couldn’t understand why I didn’t have more time with him. Then one day I was outside where we have these beautiful wild violets that only bloom for a short time in the spring. I saw them and got my answer. Like violets, I had him for a short time, but look what I got. The time I had with him my life was enriched and his life was too.”
This special family is what Patti said she wishes more human families could emulate. “The dogs sometimes fight with each other, but they always go back to being OK,” she said.
Patti ends every day with what she calls “Pack Time.” It’s our family time. We all go to my living room where I have a therapeutic mattress on the floor for the dogs. I’ll read books to them or we’ll just have quiet time. Everybody gets comfortable. There is unity. It’s reconnecting time.”
Patti answered her calling that one day long ago when she picked up the phone.
“Everybody wants to have a picture perfect pet. What is perfect?” she asked. “Isn’t love perfect?”