From the summer of 2006 to near the end of 2019, Maura and I shared our lives and home with a three-legged inspiration named Elliot.
If, when he was young, you’d had the chance to glimpse Elliot chasing his favorite thing in the world, a green racquetball, around his favorite place in the world, the Redbud Island dog park, you would have guessed that he had four legs.
I say that with confidence because we were informed many times, by many people who watched him run, that it took several minutes for them to realize he was missing one of his front legs. He loved to run like lightning, he loved to jump up to catch his ball, and he was very good at doing both, despite his (seemingly) diminished physical state.
When Elliot first came to live with us he had all four of his legs, but one was on the fritz. He’d been hit by a car and left lying on the side of a road for an unknown length of time. As a result, he had significant, lasting nerve damage in one of his front feet. And with that foot off limits to his brain, he was left to hop around on three legs, dragging the fourth as he went.
The woman from whom we adopted him had seen him lying by the side of the road as she, thinking he was gone, drove past. As luck would have it, she looked in her reviewer mirror just as he lifted his head, so she turned around.
After she stopped and got out of her car to help him, a vet pulled up behind her. Together they got him off of the road and to an animal hospital. They treated his wounds, took donations to help pay for longer term care, and sent out an email to find him a permanent home. Our friend Myndi forwarded the email to us (thank you Myndi!).
Maura immediately fell in love with the face she saw in the picture that was attached to the email (see picture below). Countless times that first day, she’d pull up the picture on her computer, exclaim ‘just look at that face!’ and show it to me. It wasn’t long before we brought him here to live with us.
Building on what his first caretakers had done, we did everything we and his new vets could think of to try to get the nerve to heal so that he could regain use of his leg. In addition to giving it time, we tried acupuncture, massages, a variety of herbs and other supplements, and even a chiropractor. But nothing seemed to work.
After several months of working with it and dealing with the sores that frequently appeared on the top of his foot when his protective boot fell off, we gave in. We reluctantly accepted the fact that his leg would have to be removed and we scheduled the surgery.
That was a difficult decision and a difficult night. I still vividly remember driving him home from the vet after the surgery, wondering how I was going to get his groggy body carefully out of the car and into the house.
Although he wasn’t huge, Elliot was not a small dog. He weighed more than 50 lbs, so figuring out how to get him out of the back seat and into the house, without hurting him more, was a challenge. Luckily we had a fantastic neighbor (thank you Rachel!) who came over to help me maneuver him into a blanket hammock and slowly carry him inside.
Maura and I spent that entire first night on the floor with him, as he would periodically half wake up and spin around in an anesthesia haze, looking for his missing leg. Not wanting him to fall and hurt himself as he clumsily spun, we walked in circles around him, hands poised to catch him if needed, until he settled back down to sleep.
Though the recovery went well, the next couple of days were a little precarious. Luckily, he spent most of his time sleeping. But when awake he was clearly sore and in a seemingly perpetual state of confusion about what had happened to him. We were heart broken about it and worried that we’d made the wrong decision. We worried that we hadn’t give the nerve enough time to heal and had condemned him to a diminished life of hopping around on three legs.
But as it turned out, our fears were completely one sided. Once he got used to the idea of his new physical state, the fact that he now had only three legs didn’t bother him a bit.
Just one week after the surgery, when he discovered how much easier it was to balance on two legs while the third was lifted so he could pee on a tree, he began bounding around with what I am certain was a huge new smile. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we’d always been much more attached to his leg than he was.
Then, at Redbud Island, we discovered what an amazing athlete he was and how much he loved to not only run with reckless abandon after his green ball, but also jump in the water for a swim. The only thing he loved more was combining the two, chasing after his ball in the water.
I still find myself wondering how he did it. How is it that dogs, and other animals, simply accept their reality and go on as if everything is completely normal. How was it that Elliot easily accepted his situation and found so much happiness just one week after losing a leg? How was it better to him to have his leg removed rather than wait for it to heal so that he could once again be ‘whole?’
If one day I found that I’d lost a leg, an arm, a finger or toe, the ability to see or hear..., I am pretty sure I might not even get out of bed for the first month or two. Or three. And I am certain that it would be extremely difficult for me to adjust, and I’d likely make the adjustment equally difficult on other people around me.
But that wasn’t the way of Elliot. He never expressed a bit of anger at the driver of the car who hit him and then drove away. He never complained to us about our decision to give up on the nerve and amputate his leg. He never expressed frustration with his physical challenge. He just went about the business of being an amazing dog, rocketing around after his green ball and jumping high in the air to catch it on a bounce. He loved his life, and his love of life was infectious.
How Elliot Helped Me See
Everyone who met Elliot loved him on sight and everyone who saw him run was amazed by his speed and agility. In him, Maura and I, and many other people, found inspiration. If he could so easily overcome his physical challenge and do such amazing things with his remaining three legs, then what problems could we not overcome?
Over time though, I’ve come to realize that it wasn’t his challenge, or the way that he dealt with it, that made him an inspiration. That was just what allowed me to see the inspiration, sitting right in front of me with furry, floppy ears and a desire to go out and play.
I've come to realize that he was an inspiration regardless of the challenge. All it took was his amazing spirit and zeal for the adventure of his life. Even if all four of his legs had been in perfect working order, he could have provided daily inspiration. If I’d had the ability to see.
How to Surround Yourself With Inspiration
It occurs to me that we’re surrounded by inspiration all the time, everywhere. The only question is whether or not we open ourselves to it. Whether or not we take the time to immerse ourselves in it. Whether or not we chose to see and spend time getting to know and learn from the most amazing aspects of the people, animals, and other things in our lives. Whether or not we give our attention to aspects that enliven rather than frustrate us.
I believe this is an incredibly important aspect of life that we can't afford to miss. I think Thomas Edison got it wrong when he suggested that “genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Personally, I think that the idea that ‘perspiration’ happens without inspiration is a fallacy. Genius is perspiration fueled by inspiration. For anything we do, from getting out of bed in the morning to overcoming a major, seemingly insurmountable obstacle, we need a reason. We need inspiration.
But, we don’t need to go far to find it. The problem that a lot of us tend to have is not that inspiration is missing and needs to be found, but that we don’t see it sitting right in front of us all the time. If you take a moment to stop and look around then ask yourself, what about your surroundings might be inspiring, I’m guessing that you might find inspiration in a matter of seconds.
And, I’m guessing that if you make a practice of looking for, or seeing, inspiration wherever you look, you’ll come to find that it’s a constant companion and easily accessible source of whatever it is that you need to get up and go. Just like Elliot was, and remains to be, for Maura and me. Rest in peace my furry friend.