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A dog born without front legs is playing an instrumental role in helping young students learn ever-important lessons about acceptance and kindness.
Paige Bradford — a special education teacher in Alexandria, Virginia — works with her five-year-old, two-legged miniature Australian shepherd Tobi to teach her students important life and academic lessons, according to ABC 7.
“One of the things that was really fun was to work on some of my students’ goals while they were playing with Tobi because they didn’t even notice they were doing hard work,” Bradford told the outlet about the calming properties of her rescue pup. “For example, one of my students had hemiparesis and had limited use of his right side. So, I brought him treats, and he had to use both hands to open the bag of treats and then use his right hand to pull out a treat and hand it to the dog. It was fun for Tobi and for my student.”
While Tobi hasn’t been in the classroom as much recently, he continues to play a part in the education of Bradford’s students amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Bradford added.
“I actually taught one of my students the letters of the alphabet using Tobi as a reward. That’s also how she learned the letter ‘T,’ because every time she found ‘T,’ she would get to call Tobi,” she said. “I also used Tobi in a couple of writing units this year for persuasive writing as well as for procedural writing. My students wrote about how to give a dog a treat, and then we would practice with Tobi over the computer.”
According to ABC 7, Bradford initially adopted the lovable pooch years ago after seeing an article about the special needs shelter pet on social media. At the time, Tobi was located a few states away in Texas.
“I saw a news article about Tobi on Facebook, and they said that he would be put up for adoption after he adjusted to his cart,” Bradford said. “I followed him for a few months and reached out to The Humane Society of North Texas, asking about the adoption process for an out-of-state adoption. Luckily, everything worked out, and I ended up picking him up in July 2018.”
After adopting Tobi, Bradford said the canine “has served as my pet, visited my students in the classroom and made deep connections with them, and is now also serving as an emotional support animal.”
Along with his missing front legs, Tobi was born missing two ribs, and the dog has degenerative disk disease from walking on his back legs so often. Even with these health obstacles, Tobi is a kind, loving and happy pooch who has dedicated his life to spreading love.
“One of the best things that has come out of Tobi being such a large part of our classroom community is acceptance,” Bradford said. “The students in my class don’t see Tobi as different or think that they should feel sorry for him because they see him as a really cute dog.”
“At first, they asked a lot of questions and wanted to understand why he didn’t have legs and why he was different, but I think having those conversations helped them to be more open-minded and I can see that kind of acceptance in the way they interact with each other in the classroom,” she continued.
Added Bradford: “My students both with and without disabilities interact with each other and have really rich and engaging discussions. They support each other and they’re kind to each other.”