DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — Despite his physical disability, Turbo, a pet therapy dog for a hospice facility in north Alabama, is inspiring people and showing them they can overcome any problem they may face just like he has.
Turbo, a 50-pound, 1-year-old chocolate lab, was born with a disability that makes him incapable of bending his back legs. His owner, Meighan Maples of Trinity, works for Hospice of the Valley and takes Turbo to nursing homes as a pet therapy dog. This year Turbo also attended Hospice’s Camp Hope, an outing that provides support for children who have lost loved ones.
Maples said she adopted Turbo specifically because he was handicapped. “He has a very rare hip issue; they don’t even know what to call it.” Maples said he also has a weak immune system due to his physical issues.
Turbo’s breeder was given the option by the veterinarian of euthanizing him because, although the dog is not in any pain, he would eventually need wheels for mobility. The breeder did not have the heart to put him down, Maples said, and kept him for a few months before starting to look for a permanent home for Turbo.
“Me and my husband were sitting on the porch and we saw him on Facebook,” Maples said. “We just started crying. We said, ‘We’ve got to have him. He’s special; he’s going to do something special.’ And he has.”
Maples took Turbo to an event at West Morgan High School and they encountered a 4- or 5-year-old boy in a wheelchair.
“It was an instant connection. He said, ‘He can’t walk, like me, can he?’ I said, ‘Not really, has to have a little help.’ And he said, ‘I just love him, I just love him. He’s different like me,’” Maples recalled.
Maples said people like that boy connect with Turbo and feel they are not alone.
Maples said Turbo has never acted differently than any other dog and is completely happy. “He’s just as normal (as other dogs). He just pogos, that’s what we call it. He hops.”
Turbo finds ways around his disability, she said.
“Sometimes when he leans over, like if he goes to smell the ground, his whole back end comes up and his back two paws come up and it’s like he does a handstand. The kids at Camp Hope thought that was awesome,” Maples said.
Maples was paired up with a young boy at Camp Hope who became attached to Turbo. She said Turbo went home at lunchtime. The young boy cried and refused to eat his lunch because he missed the dog.
Maples has taken Turbo to two assisted living and nursing homes, Morningside of Decatur and Falkville USA Healthcare. She said the elderly love to watch Turbo walk. Maples said the residents have fallen in love with Turbo and he with them. She said he is a great therapy dog because his presence brings joy.
Dee Robinson, Morningside activities coordinator, said the residents “feel a little sorry for him because of his legs. But when she showed us he could stand up and, well, he was more than what we saw … everybody loved to look at him and see what he could do.”
Robinson said the residents were impressed that Turbo was still walking, seemed to be doing fine and was overcoming his disability. She said both the residents and staff felt that if Turbo could overcome his problems, they could overcome their own.
Sammi Brooks, Morningside executive director, said “I just wanted to sit in the floor and love on him. He’s very sweet, but I think for me, it’s his willingness to overcome his disability.”