Here’s the essential thing that distinguishes one person’s life experiences from another’s: attitude. If, in our darkest moments, we can look past ourselves and our current challenges and, despite hardship, still choose to move forward and try to focus on something other than ourselves, amazing things can happen.
Just ask Judy Walter of Las Cruces, New Mexico. When faced with permanently debilitating injuries following a devastating car accident, instead of descending into despair when confronted with all the things she would no longer be able to do, she instead chose to take on a little dog more injured than her. In doing so, she changed not only both of their futures, but those of many other people and animals as well.
The little dog in question, now named Mango, had been found in a ditch in Fort Worth, Texas. She had been hit by a car and had multiple fractures of her spine and pelvis. The diagnosis? Permanent paralysis. She was scheduled to be euthanized.
Mercifully, a rescue group stepped in and pulled Mango from the shelter, and the small dog spent a year in the rescue healing before being placed for adoption. Ideally, they were looking for an adopter that was a Veteran of the service who would get Mango certified as a Therapy dog to work with disabled Vets. Judy, who had served in the US army for six years and was herself still recovering, saw this and recognized it for what it was: kismet.
Their journey together thus far has been marked by all sorts of triumphs, from helping hundreds of disabled animals get wheelchairs to winning the for Therapy Dog work. In May of 2017, Judy and Mango were officially accepted an Ambassadorship role with American Humane and now travel on the organization’s behalf. We asked this remarkable woman some questions about her remarkable dog. Prepare to come away inspired.
Q: What drew you to Mango? Did your experiences as a veteran have anything to do with your decision to adopt her?
I had become disabled myself from a car wreck a year before adopting Mango. I had worked full time in a professional career. The wreck left me with a broken back and partial loss of my right leg; I never could return back to my career and was classified as permanently disabled. I suffered mentally from depression after the accident and my physical recovery was just as painful. I saw Mango posted on the rescue’s website and made the decision that I could adopt her and it would give me a purpose in life again. I felt I could heal her but I soon found after bringing her in my life that she healed me. I didn’t realize until after getting Mango how much more broken I was than her. She healed me physically, emotionally, and mentally. We bonded immediately upon her arrival and after getting her certified as a Therapy dog, we take our mission on the road, helping others, from veterans to the disabled. Life isn’t about what you no longer have; it’s what you do with what you have left.
Q: What did it mean to you to win the 2016 Hero Dog Award for Therapy Dog work?
It was a Cinderella moment for a little dog that had been homeless, left for dead in a ditch, was hours from being euthanized, and now winner of the 2016 American Humane Hero Therapy Dog of 2016. I couldn’t have been more proud of her! She made believers of everyone that voted for her and for every disabled Veteran and animal that didn’t have a voice. She inspired all of us that we should never stop believing in ourselves.
Q: What do Mango’s physical challenges mean for her and for her care?
She will never walk. She will never potty like a normal dog as her life consists of full time diapers and onesies. She doesn’t consider herself different and she adapted very quickly to the diaper routine. I, on the other hand, never had children, so it took me many attempts to learn how to put a diaper on her. When I went to the store to buy her onesies I had to ask the clerk what an “onesie” was as I had never purchased one before. We are fortunate that now her followers keep her in onesies because they just love buying her the cutest outfits. I learned how to carry a diaper bag and what I need to pack inside it for trips. I carry her through airports with a diaper bag over one shoulder and her wheelchair strapped to my back. People ask many questions and always feel sorry for her until I explain that she doesn’t view herself as handicapped. She considers herself fortunate, healthy and very spoiled and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Q: How did Mango’s Freedom Wheels get started?
Mango already had a Facebook page when I adopted her from the rescue in 2014. We posted daily and people read her story about her wheelchair. One day we were contacted by a woman with a small Chihuahua named Cindy. Cindy had recently lost mobility in her rear legs and her human Mom wanted to know the cost of her wheelchair. When I told her the price she said they could never afford the cost. Mango and I decided to ask our followers if they could find it in their hearts to help us collect enough funds to purchase Cindy a chair. I contacted Sierra at Ruff Rollin’ Wheelchairs in Montana and asked her if she could take credit card donations over the phone if people wanted to call in donations for Cindy’s wheelchair. She agreed and I said let’s give it five days to collect the $400 and whatever the balance was I would pay the difference. I posted the announcement on Mango’s Facebook page on a Monday morning and four hours later Sierra called me and stated the funds were collected and her phone wouldn’t stop ringing!
When people found out we had enough funds they wanted to know if there were other dogs that needed wheelchairs. Mango’s Freedom Wheels was born that day and to date we have purchased over 640 wheelchairs for dogs, cats, goats, pigs, and a mini horse. If there is a need, we will attempt to build them a chair and cover the cost.
Q: Would you recommend other people out there consider adopting a dog with a so-called disability? If so, why?
I get this question a lot and for some people, yes, a disabled pet will give back over 100 percent what you give them but they also are not for everyone. They require more work and they are a lifetime commitment. Mango is only five and she will never outgrow diapers like a human child. She will never walk and will battle urinary tract infections the rest of her life because of her paralysis but when I look in her eyes I see a kind soul that appreciates everything I do for her no matter how small. Our connection is so deep that she never has to verbally communicate with me when she needs anything, I just know. She shows me everyday with her hugs and wet kisses how much she appreciates and loves me. Disabled pets always deserve a second chance and they make the most loyal pets and this “Mom” wouldn’t hesitate to adopt another.
Q: What does having Mango in your life bring you?
She brings me hope and happiness. I was in a dark place after I went from working to disabled and Mango brought me back to the light. She taught me not to feel sorry for myself, to pull myself back up, and realize that I too can still contribute as a disabled person. Because of Mango I no longer consider myself handicapped. I can walk and she can’t. That’s reason enough to never feel sorry for myself. She healed me just as she does others everyday. I feel blessed to share her with her 37,000 Facebook followers that tell me how she inspires them to be a better person. God chose me to be her keeper and in return we spend everyday making it our Mission to be thankful and give back.