A paralyzed dog abandoned in a Dumpster just weeks ago is today scooting around in a special wheelchair and comforting a pair of autistic children in Tampa, Fla.
Sandy Lewers, 55, walked into a Tampa shelter Sunday with no intention of adopting an animal, but the sound of the dachshund's bark immediately stood out. Lewers has had dachshunds ever since she was 11 or 12 years old, she told ABC News.
"I heard the very unique dachshund bark. I know that bark, and I demanded to see the dog," Lewers, a retired U.S. Postal Service worker, said. "I saw Willie, and my heart melted."
An employee at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay discovered Willie a few weeks ago in a box by a trash bin near the humane society's facilities. The dog's tail and hind quarters from the waist down were paralyzed, according to the society's executive director.
Animals in Wheelchairs
A shelter employee warned Lewers that Willie, who is thought to be about seven years old, would need a "special home" – and Lewers said her house fit the bill.
"We have two autistic kids, and I have a dog who was in a wheelchair, so I was ready for it," Lewers said.
She adopted Willie that day and brought him home to her three other dachshunds, a Labrador-golden retriever mix and a cat.
Willie has been learning to walk with the help of a wheelchair specially made for dogs, which had been donated for Willie. The shelter's veterinarians had also put Willie on steroids.
Lewers' children, who are 21 and 18, have taken a liking to Willie in just two days. Her son, Kevin, is helping to train him. "He emulates Cesar Millan," television's "Dog Whisperer," Lewers said. And her daughter, Lia, has in just a few days overcome her initial hesitation and lets Willie sit alongside her.
"It has helped the children tremendously," she said. "It has helped our daughter overcome some seriously sensory issues she had."
It's not common that a dog found in a trash bin makes it into such a loving home so quickly, Sherry Silk, the executive director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, told ABC News.
"It's a great holiday story that he's now in a home with other dogs and is now going to be loved for the rest of his life," Silk said.
She said people often abandon dogs and cats at the humane society, which facilities nearly 6,000 adoptions a year and has a policy of not putting down animals other than when their medical conditions truly warrant it.
"We're just really glad that we were able to help the little dog," Silk said. "This one has really touched everybody's heart."