Double Amputee Veteran Training 3-Legged Puppy to Be Therapy Dog for Schoolchildren
Christy Gardner is paying it forward in the best way possible: with a puppy!
In 2006, Gardner, a U.S. Army Military Police Officer at the time, was injured during a peacekeeping mission. Due to complications from these injuries, Gardner had both of her legs amputated. This drastic change left Gardner in a low place, unable to live on her own and unsure on how to enjoy life.
Those feelings shifted when she met Moxie, a golden retriever service dog trained by Florida's K9s for Warriors. Always an animal lover, Gardner was open to the idea of getting a service dog when her doctors suggested a canine companion.
She was place with Moxie in 2010. The effect the service dog had on her was immediate.
"Moxie has been absolutely life saving. In the beginning, she was more peace of mind for my family as I became more independent, as well as an extra set of hands to help me with tasks. Over the years, our bond has deepened and her skillset has grown," Gardner told PEOPLE. "Now, I can't imagine getting through a day without her. She motivates me to stay active and healthy, going for extra walks and forcing me to keep my muscles moving and my weight down, as well as helping with simple tasks."
With Moxie's help, Gardner was able to reclaim her independence and seek out activities she didn't think were possible because of her injury. Today, the veteran is a para-athlete. She is the assistant captain of the USA Women's Sled Hockey Team, and a three-time track and field national champion in the discus and shot put. Through embracing these activities, Gardner has found that Moxie has inspired her to "live" more than anything else.
"Without her, I would have given up already. I got to places so low in my life that I didn't want to go on but didn't know what to do with her because she relies on me," Gardner said. "I didn't know how she'd handle it. Now, I'd never give up on her and I'm so afraid of the day I have to let her go. She's given me my life back and a purpose helping others."
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Which brings us to one of the many ways Gardner is paying it forward. The dog lover recently met a little puppy with a defective paw at a dog breeder near where she lives in Lewiston, Maine. When Gardner found out the puppy, now named Lucky, would have to have his defective paw amputated, she asked the breeder if she could raise the puppy herself, so she could train the canine to be a therapy dog at a local school. The breeder agreed and gave Lucky to Gardner at no cost.
Now, both Gardner and Moxie have been working together to prepare Lucky for life as a three-legged therapy dog. Moxie has been doing her part to teach Lucky the essentials of good dog behavior.
"Moxie will be hugely instrumental in teaching him virtually everything. We've helped be ‘puppy raisers' for many puppies that have gone on to become service dogs or therapy dogs in the past so Moxie knows what to do," Gardner said of her service dog's teaching skills. "She isn't a huge fan of unruly puppies so she's a great teacher and she's been great with the little guy so far. He'll learn nearly all of his skills and tasks for his job as well as how to act in public from her."
Gardner has been working four jobs to raise money to cover all of Lucky's medical expenses and training, so Lucky is set up to be the happiest, healthiest and best therapy dog he can be.
Lucky recently went through a successful amputation surgery and has been in therapy dog training for two weeks. The puppy is also quickly gaining fans, veterinarian specialists have offered to examine his leg at no cost and numerous people have donated to the Go Fund Me account set up to help pay for Lucky's future medical needs. On top of all that, Vermont animal nutritional supplement maker VetriScience donated $10,000 to cover all of Lucky's surgery expenses, and promised to provide Lucky with the nutritional supplements he needs at no cost.
Once his training is complete, Lucky will likely be placed in a Maine school.
"Because of his challenges, including losing his leg, he should be able to show the kids that it's okay to be different, okay to struggle, and that you don't have to be good at everything in order to be amazing at something," Gardner said of her hopes for Lucky's future. "He's an amazing little guy that can bring a lot of compassion and understanding to the whole community. I truly hope he can be an ambassador for working dogs as well, so that the kids learn the different types of working dogs and what they can do, but also how to respect them."