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    Inquiring minds learn about the two-legged pup

    With its typical flair, National Enquirer retells the tale of Handy, the handicapped dog adopted by a disabled man in St. Petersburg.

    By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 16, 2003

    Hard to say whether it's really "over" between Julia Roberts and her latest hubby, as the front of last week's National Enquirer proclaims.

    But the tabloid's centerfold story about a two-legged dog saved from the shelter needle by a disabled man from St. Petersburg is the real deal.

    The story features a montage of photographs of the pup, his adoptive owner Steve Foss and his wife, Mary, sandwiched between features on Joe Millionaire's alleged new Penthouse pet girlfriend and the departure of Rosie's lover.


    "HE'S GOT THE WORLD BY THE TAIL!" proclaims the adjoining page.

    Handy's tale was first told in the St. Petersburg Times nearly three months ago, and his subsequent adoption chronicled, though admittedly not with teasers such as "World Exclusive" or "Only in the Times."

    The pup, a pit bullterrier mix now 6 months old, was born with a partial front left leg and no right leg. His first owners took him to Hillsborough County Animal Services because they couldn't care for him. Given he was basically a sweet mutt, the county put the word out, hoping to attract a new owner with patience.

    Up stepped Foss, a plumber on disability from a 1997 workplace injury, aided by local orthotist Bill Hancock, of East Lake, who makes braces for people with handicaps.

    Foss adopted Handy. Hancock helped build what he described as a three-wheeled "canine surrey," a cross between a wheelchair and a walker.

    "I think it's great that Hillsborough County Animal Services has gotten this kind of national publicity for such a positive thing," said Donna Olmstead, who works in the county's communications office and initially drew attention to Handy. "Not only that, but the story is accurate."

    Because of the publicity about the adoption, Foss was enticed to adopt a second afflicted animal featured in the Times -- Petey, a 10-month-old pit bull-bulldog mix missing a paw. The two dogs joined Brutus, the Fosses' original pit bull mixed breed, who has all of his paws.

    Brutus is the alpha dog, though he has taken a protective shine to Handy, cleaning the runt with his tongue when he gets dirty, Foss said.

    Since first arriving at Animal Services, Handy has nearly doubled his weight. Foss says he's as oblivious to his handicap as ever, tooling around the yard, climbing stairs. And he's smart, too, Foss said.

    Recently -- and Foss says this is true -- he and his wife were resting in the hot tub. They placed a couple of shirts on the surrounding concrete, so Handy could lie near them.

    Before they knew it, Handy had one of the shirts in the yard and was playing with it. Foss gently scolded the dog, telling him that's not why he had laid the shirt out.

    Foss said Handy carried the shirt back to the hot tub in his teeth, put it down and plopped on top of it.

    "I swear," Foss said.

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