To see Maria the Corgi rush across an elementary school field to meet a class full of kids, you would think this little dog has always known happiness and fun times, but the drag bag protecting her useless back legs betrays the truth.
Long before she moved to Michigan and started visiting school kids, Maria was rescued by police in North Carolina.
“She was found during a drug raid, with her feet tied and bound with rope and tape, and her back was broken,” explains Melissa Borden, the owner and founder of The Devoted Barn, a farm-style animal sanctuary where Maria now lives.
Authorities suspected Maria would have been used as bait in a dog-fighting operation if they hadn’t found her during the raid. Luckily, they got to her before that could happen. Her extensive injuries were caused by humans, not dogs.
Maria was taken to a shelter in North Carolina, and then pulled from that shelter by an Indiana-based rescue, who underestimated the amount of care a dog with Maria’s injuries needs. That’s when Borden was contacted at The Devoted Barn.
“We take in just the extreme cases of cruelty and neglect,” says Borden, whose rescue and rehabilitation facility welcomes dogs, cats, and all kinds of farm animals, some of whom were rescued from horrific hoarding and abuse cases.
“Maria clearly fit into our mission, and I knew we could provide her with the best life possible.”
Borden knew her barn would be a great home for Maria, who was not seen as adoptable because she can’t control her bowel or bladder and refuses to wear a diaper.
“Only when she’s at a school can I keep a diaper on her,” says Borden, who built a room in the barn especially for Maria, renovating an old horse stall and installing a tile floor that Maria can easily scoot around on and that barn staff can easily clean.
“She has a couch in her room, with a ramp, so people can sit on her couch with her and she can go up there,” explains Borden, who adds that fluffy blankets are Maria’s favorite thing in the world. The dog gets a fresh, clean blanket daily.
Of course, Maria spends plenty of time outside her room, and she loves to run around the farm in her drag bag and play with Borden’s kids.
“Right away, the first day I had her home, two of my my kids came home from school, and she just loved that,” says Borden, who remembers noting the instant connection Maria had with young people.
“As we got to know her, we got to know her personality more, and it just became clear that her purpose was to teach kids.”
Teaching kids is exactly what Maria is doing these days when she accompanies Borden to elementary schools in Detroit. During lessons about having compassion for those with different abilities, Borden first introduces the kids to Maria while the dog is zooming around in her drag bag. Then, Borden will move the Corgi to her wheelchair.
“It’s a really good visual for kids to see that even though we see her as disabled, she doesn’t see herself as disabled. She’s no different than any other dog in her mind, and we shouldn’t treat her like she’s any different. It’s the same for kids with disabilities; they’re no different than anybody else.”
Borden and Maria also teach lessons about the impact of dog fighting. According to Borden, the practice is common in some parts of Detroit — so common that four and five year old kids can correctly define what a bait dog is.
“I want to put a face to it, a face that they can relate to,” says Borden.
Maria’s charming and kid-friendly personality makes her the perfect ambassador to educate against dog fighting. Her role as an advocate was recently captured in a YouTube video released by the World Animal Awareness Society, which offers free lesson plans for other animal advocates wishing to educate school kids on pet guardianship.
The video follows Maria and Borden as they visit Dixon Educational Learning Academy in Detroit. Maria lapped up all the attention while Borden explained why Maria’s back legs don’t work.
“One of the kids at that particular school was really concerned that it hurt her to move, and he was almost in tears because he was really concerned about her being in pain. I always tell them, ‘Don’t feel sorry for her now. She loves her life. She’s gotten over what happened to her,’ which is another really good message for kids.”
Maria’s message of resilience is being spread even when she’s not visiting schools. The Devoted Barn is open to the public, and visitors often stop by to check out the adoptable animals and visit with the barn residents, like Maria.
“Everyone who hears her story leaves with tears in their eyes,” says Borden, “but now she really is just a happy, happy 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+.