After Fabio, a white-haired Maltese, had his back legs hacked off by a former owner, he got around as best as he could, but this week the 4-year-old Florida pooch is being fitted in New Orleans for new shoes that will help him run and play like other dogs.
"His legs were cut off by his ex-owner so he couldn't climb a chain link fence," said Joani Ellis of Florida Poodle Rescue. "Fabio's bone is just covered with skin, so it hurts him when he stands or walks."
Ellis prefers not to focus on the ex-owner, who she said was never prosecuted, and instead pours her attention into giving Fabio, who she adopted in January, the care and attention he needs.
Ellis and Fabio traveled to New Orleans today to spend one week meeting with specialists and working out at a doggy rehab center that may change the Maltese's life forever.
"They're going to make impressions and make him some boots so he can walk without pain," Ellis said. "It's my hope that he will be able to run and play. He so wants to, like a normal dog."
Fabio will be able to test out his new shoes at Dag's House, a Marrero, La., rehab center, where on any given day, there's likely to be 15 dogs scooting around in specially-designed wheelchairs.
"We have everything under the sun in disabilities, ranging from birth defects, trauma, dogs that were hit by cars, shot by guns, run over by vehicles," said Kim Dudek, founder of Dag's House. "We've done a lot of rehab and rehoming of dogs that have had traumatic incidents."
Baloo, a Bull Mastiff, that was shot in the elbow, spent 10 days in a Houston shelter before he came to Dag's House.
"Bless his little heart, he had been shot in the elbow and had been used as a bait dog. The blood got the other dogs going," Dudek said. "We rescued him out of that situation. We did the rehab on him. He ended up landing in a great home with two other mastiffs."
There was Little Man, who had a spinal injury after his mother sat on him, and Julieta, who was injured in the 2010 Chilean earthquake.
Countless dogs have filtered into Dag's House since it opened in 2007. They have left for adoptive homes feeling stronger and with the tools to help them and their owners cope with their disabilities, Dudek said.
Dag's House is named for Dagnabit, a pit bull Dudek adopted after he underwent surgery for three ruptured disks in his back.
"You don't get an instruction book on a disabled dog. I created Dag's House for someone to ask and more importantly, [for] that emotional support," Dudek said. "A disability in a dog is not a death sentence anymore."
Fabio has come a long way since Ellis met him in January, she said, and she has high hopes he'll walk away from his week in New Orleans happier, more comfortable and able to move, just like any other dog would.
After that, she plans to look for a loving home to adopt Fabio, and his Maltese companion, Lady, who is blind. The two had lived in the same home with the abusive owner, Ellis said.
"These little guys get mistreated and they have no choice. I want to make it up to them," she said. "They deserve so much better."