At nearly three years old, Tucker the Miniature Pinscher/Chihuahua/Miniature Poodle mix doesn’t move the way a dog that young should — in fact, this albino runt of the litter can’t walk at all. A progressive disease keeps Tucker stationary, but it doesn’t keep him down. This happy pup is too busy loving life in Los Angeles with his human, Brittany Johnson. The first-time dog owner didn’t realize how sick Tucker was she adopted him, but she has no regrets about opening her heart to this funny-looking little dog.
“He’s just totally filled my life with so much happiness and love. I never really understood that you can love an animal so much,” says Johnson, who adopted Tucker when he was 6 months old after seeing his photo on an adoption website. Looking back now, she suspects her dog may have been neglected in his early puppyhood.
“The adoption agency brought him over, and they were like, ‘He can’t really walk, you have to teach him how to walk,’” Johnson remembers.
Not having had a dog of her own before, she didn’t realize that a 6-month-old pup should already know how to walk, so Johnson began working to get Tucker up and about. After only a couple of days under her care, the pup was slowly walking on his own, but he was never able to jump, run, or even walk quickly. Tucker’s peculiar appearance and physical delays raised red flags for those close to Johnson.
“A lot of friends and family members were kind of like, ‘Brittany, you adopted a sick dog,’ but I just didn’t really realize it,” she says. “Then I started taking him to a lot of vets, and a few of them suggested I put him down.”
Euthanizing Tucker just wasn’t a choice for Johnson, who decided early on that she was going to do everything in her power to give Tucker the best life possible — no matter what was wrong with him.
“That was the only option. I never saw anything else. I could never imagine not giving him that.”
As Tucker’s health continued to decline, Johnson kept taking him to veterinarians, but it took awhile to find out what caused him to look and act the way he did.
“In January of last year, I took him to a vet — a cardiologist — to check his heart out, and she was like, ‘I suspect he has MPS VI. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this dog named Walter, but he resembles that dog a lot.’”
When Johnson looked up Walter at the cardiologist’s suggestion, she realized she had in fact heard of this dog before. Six months after she’d adopted Tucker, Johnson’s aunt had sent her a Facebook video of Walter, an inbred Min Pin who has a disorder known as Mucopolysaccharidosis VI (MPS VI). The tiny social media star instantly reminded Johnson of her own pup.
“It was just his mannerisms, and the way he walked just exactly the same way as Tucker did.”
Through Facebook, Johnson got in touch with Walter’s human and was soon networking with other people whose dogs suffer from MPS VI.
“It’s a genetic developmental disease, and it’s unfortunately progressive,” explains Johnson, who has watched Tucker’s health deteriorate further since his diagnosis.
“It affects everything in his body. Nothing has developed quite correctly. Unfortunately, it keeps progressing, and it’s not curable.”
About three months after the cardiologist suspected MPS VI, Tucker went from being unsteady on his feet to not walking at all anymore.
“His bones have since fused so they won’t straighten out,” says Johnson. “He can’t put any weight on his front legs. He does kind of like an army crawl — he crawls with his front legs and his back legs pushing.”
Facing big vet bills, Johnson set up a GoFundMe page for Tucker, but the donations weren’t significant at first. Then, at the urging of some of her friends in the online MPS VI community, Johnson set up social media accounts for Tucker, and the GoFundMe page began attracting traffic.
“Once I started him on Instagram and Facebook, it flourished,” says Johnson, who estimates she’s received between $8,000 and $10,000 in donations through the GoFundMe page and other forms of online fundraising. She says she’s very thankful for all the help and doesn’t know how she would have supported Tucker’s expensive medical care if not for the generosity of strangers.
“I definitely can’t do it on my own, so it’s really amazing that he’s gotten so much support, with so many people donating to this dog they don’t even know.”
Thanks to Johnson’s loving care and the outpouring of support from his social media friends, Tucker is doing as well as possible these days. With the exception of some issues with his heart, his condition has not significantly progressed over the last 12 months.
“He’s so happy, his tail is always wagging,” says Johnson.
The feisty pup certainly has a lot to be happy about these days. Tucker recently received a cart thanks to his Facebook friend Mango, who helps paralyzed pets access expensive carts that their pet parents can’t afford.
While Tucker learns to use his wheels, Johnson plans to continue raising awareness about MPS VI by spreading one important message.
“If people do breed Min Pins, I would highly encourage them to test for this gene, MPS VI. It’s not a very expensive test, but a lot of Min Pins are being bred with this gene and it causes dogs to live life with this progressive, awful disease.”
The disease may be awful, but according to Johnson, living with Tucker is anything but. The first-time dog owner recommends anyone looking to adopt consider animals with special needs or physical challenges.
“I think sometimes people are looking for that perfect dog, but honestly, Tucker is the perfect dog.”
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.