Born without a foot, Pirelli the puppy clears another hurdle

7:40 AM, May 23, 2012   |    comments
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(Courtesy Chris Casatelli)

ATLANTA -- Five-month-old Pirelli was born without a foot. When we introduced you to him a few months ago he was much smaller, learning to get around in his jimmy-rigged boot stuffed with make up sponges for cushion.

PHOTO Gallery | Pirelli the service dog

"Do you know there are people who would have put this puppy to sleep because of his paw? That's ridiculous," said Jennifer Arnold, founder of Canine Assistants, a nonprofit that trains and provides dogs for the disabled.

This is where luck and this puppy intersect, because he wasn't born just anywhere, he was born at Canine Assistants, destined for life as a service dog.

"If we were to say 'no, we reject this puppy based on a physical issue,' we would be horrible hypocrites," Arnold said.

Pirelli's destiny has been redirected. He will get a prosthesis, a fake foot, and will serve by visiting schools as 11Alive's new morning mascot and showing kids that what you lack doesn't limit or define you.

Pirelli is already in training but he's still very much a baby.

"He gets time to be a free dog with nothing on, then he gets time to have the boot to do therapy," said his trainer Chris Casatelli.

Veterinarian Dr. Kent Bruner recently performed a critical test on Pirelli and all of his littermates. X-rays revealed if the dogs would develop hip dysplasia, a career and life ending form of arthritis that plagues golden retrievers.

One by one, the puppies were given sedatives and put to sleep.

And one by one, the news was good.

Then it was Pirelli's turn.

A few minutes later, the news wasn't good.

"He's on the wrong end of the bell curve for his litter," Bruner said.

"The good news is the surgery can prevent that," he added. "He's going to be fine."

Canine Assistants, along with North Carolina State University and the University of Pennsylvania, have been pioneering a surgical procedure that corrects dysplasia before it develops - a game changer for one of the nation's most popular breeds, and a career saver for a service dog, like Pirelli.

Pirelli underwent the corrective surgery and came through beautifully.

One more hurdle has been cleared by a dog who has a lot of lives waiting to be changed, by him.  

To learn more about Canine Assistants, visit

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