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Puppy receives a new home and mobility

A St. Petersburg man adopts the 2-legged dog and gets him a device to help him walk.

By ED QUIOCO and BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 5, 2003


EAST LAKE -- Tuesday was a big day for Handy, a two-legged pup in need of a home.

First the mixed-breed pit bullterrier was adopted from Hillsborough County Animal Services. Then the 12-week-old puppy was fitted for a makeshift doggie wheelchair at the garage of a retired brace maker.

With a handful of people urging him on, Handy tried out his new wheels for the first time.

"C'mon, Handy," said Steve Foss, the dog's new owner. "One step at a time, buddy."

The puppy was born with only a partial left front leg and no right front leg. His owners turned him in to the animal shelter when they realized they might not be able to afford to care for him.

The same day Foss read about Handy's plight in the St. Petersburg Times, he rushed to the shelter and filled out an application to adopt the dog. Foss said he worried that no one would come forward to adopt Handy because he is part pit bullterrier.

"He has too much heart just to be destroyed," said Foss, 44, who lives in St. Petersburg. "I went over there and just fell in love with him."

Foss picked up Handy from the shelter Tuesday morning and drove the dog to Bill and Dottie Hancock's home in East Lake. Bill Hancock, 78, is an orthotist who has been making braces for people with disabilities for 50 years.

He called the three-wheeled contraption made in his garage a "canine surrey." Its two large back wheels are from his wife's old Ab Roller-like exerciser, the smaller front wheel is from Home Depot and the bolts were left over from an experimental plane Hancock built a few years ago.

The Hancocks and Foss tried using a slice of cheese to teach Handy how to use his new wheels. But the puppy was a bit nervous and could only inch forward.

"He'll learn," Hancock said. "In a week's time, he'll be running around."

The Hancocks heard about Handy from their daughter, who lives in Ohio and read about the puppy while vacationing in Crystal River. Their daughter and her husband tried to adopt Handy. They decided against it because in Ohio pit bullterriers are labeled vicious dogs at birth under the law and with that label comes a host of requirements and permits.

In all, five people stepped forward in an attempt to adopt Handy. Animal Services workers screened the candidates in the order they applied, awarding the dog to the first family that passed muster.

The Ohio couple came ahead of Foss. But that state's laws were "a liability that the couple that wanted to adopt him wasn't prepared to deal with," said Susan Saylors, a supervisor with Hillsborough County Animal Services.

Her counterparts in Pinellas then visited the Foss home for an inspection to ensure the family could handle Handy. The family passed. Plus, Foss is a stay-at-home father, an added bonus that should mean he will have the time to give Handy the attention the dog needs.

"He's like a child who's handicapped," Saylors said. "He needs people around him."

Because of the circumstances, Animal Services director Bill Armstrong lowered the usual $65 pet adoption fee to $10.

Saylors said she would have liked to see Handy outfitted with new "legs." She had to stay in Hillsborough. Even without front legs, the pup managed to scoot around some, moving somewhat like a seal.

"I would like to have seen how he did," Saylors said.

If Saylors sounds a little like she'll miss Handy, it's because she says she will.

"You bond with these animals when you work around them," Saylors said. "You try not to, but you do.

"Handy makes you like him," Saylors said. "You know how some animals ignore you? He's not like that. He likes to be touched and played with. He's a happy dog."

Handy's new home comes with plenty of playmates: Foss's wife, Mary, his daughter, Tabitha, and the family's 4-year-old dog, Brutus, who also is a mixed breed pit bullterrier. Foss was a plumber until a work-related accident in 1997 disabled him, he said.

When asked if his disability was a reason for wanting to adopt Handy, Foss said, "I'm not a throwaway. And neither is he."

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