“You would impulse buy a three-legged dog.”

That was my brother’s comment via text after I sent him and my sister pictures of Hooch, the canine amputee that my fiancé and I brought home the other day for a trial period. Hooch is about 3 years old and was found after having been hit by a car multiple times. His rescuer hasn’t been able to find anyone to adopt him, because apparently no one wants a 60-pound, 3-legged pit bull.

Except me.

I don’t know what it is—maybe it’s my rescuer complex coming out in a stage of my life where I’m no longer rescuing the people around me. Mostly, I just love dogs, and especially since Crash, our first of now 3 pit bull mixes, happened into our life (he was a foster failure), I’ve had a soft spot for blockheaded dogs that society discriminates against unfairly.

Hooch is at least 10 pounds heavier than either of our other dogs—60 pounds is a conservative estimate. But I’m glad he’s big, mostly because it prevents me from coddling him the way I might a smaller 3-legged dog.

My fiancé and I have talked about all sorts of potential future parenting scenarios, including having a child with disabilities. I hate to admit that I am intimidated by such a prospect. Thankfully, he has had experience working in group homes, and his main takeaway has been that if we have a child with special needs, they will be expected to participate fully in society and in the world. Colin believes that people with disabilities tend to be limited in unfair and unnecessary ways, and in his time working in group homes, he came to be a proponent of inviting and even pushing those we see as handicapped to lead normal lives.

I’ve kept that in mind these first 48 hours with Hooch. He’s still learning to walk without his left rear leg, and he stumbles a lot and is terrified of new spaces. I had to pick him up to get him in the car, to get him in the house, to get him up the stairs. I’ve joked I want to rename him “Pancake,” because when he doesn’t want to do something, he just flattens himself out on the floor.

Now that he’s gotten over those first few hurdles, I’m trying to encourage him to do more things himself. This goes against my nature—I like to help the helpless, sometimes to such an extent that I end up imposing helplessness on them. I want to scoop up this incredibly sweet and struggling dog and help him avoid the scary stairs, the scary kitchen tiles, the scary whatever.

But he’s heavy. I’m pretty strong for my size, but it’s just not practical for me to pick him up every time he stumbles or hesitates. So instead of carrying him over obstacles, I’ve started going with him to encourage him to do it himself. I’ve noticed that there’s a difference in his response between me going ahead of him while pulling on a leash and me standing beside him, hand on his collar, telling him to come with me.

The only obstacle he hasn’t yet conquered is the flight of stairs between the floors in my house. I’ve always known my house isn’t exactly handicap-accessible, but having a 3-legged dog has really brought that to the fore. Although Hooch will tackle sets of 4 or even 5 steps, the 11 from the landing to the top floor turn him into his alter ego, Pancake.

I’d been carrying him up and down the stairs, but now that I’ve seen him get around a little more, I know he could do it himself if he tried. So last night, I pulled out a harness that a friend gave me after her dog passed away, strapped it on him, and proceeded to go up one step at a time, hauling him alongside me. I made sure he had all 3 feet on the steps, even when he was frozen or attempting to pancake, trying to show him that he could do it, stopping at every interval to pet him and tell him he was doing a great job. It was harder than just carrying him, but it was the only way I knew to help him learn to do it himself.

When we got a few steps from the top, I showed him how close we were and encouraged him to finish the ascent by himself. Finally seeing the end in sight, he did scramble up the last couple of stairs without my help.

My hope is that I can gradually show him that he can, indeed, tackle the whole staircase alone. I know that he can; he just doesn’t know that yet. Having Hooch is showing me how I tend to help others in ways that are actually hurtful, that backing off and cheering others on is far more empowering than doing something for them. And it encourages me to trust my own capacity more.

We all have our handicaps, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. What obstacles do we believe we can tackle, and which ones cause us to freeze or throw up our hands in despair? Is our assessment accurate? Are we surrounding ourselves with people who will help us avoid those obstacles or even do things for us, or do we have communities of support that will tackle them with us? Do we offer that kind of support to others?

I’m pondering a mini-series of blogs on the topic “Do it with me, not for me.” I’ve started with this 3-legged dog, but I’m thinking about connections to poverty, community, mental health, and more. Stay tuned, and let me know if you have thoughts on that theme as well!

Want to read more? Check out Part 2 of this series, about how kids are slow and that’s OK.

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