A Special Dog Named Joey Shares His Love with Those Who Have Special Needs
By Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.
"Animals are essential for providing comfort and support to those with special needs," said RJ Connelly III, a professional fiduciary and certified elder law attorney. "At our firm, we have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of animals. One of our clients used to come in with her dog in a baby stroller, dressed up according to the weather. Our staff loved it when she and her "baby" arrived. Before adopting the dog, she lived alone in senior housing and felt lonely and depressed. The dog brought her back to life, giving her a sense of purpose in her final years. The love they shared was mutual."
"In today's blog, we are featuring Joey, an exceptional dog with special needs from Tiverton, Rhode Island. Joey has appeared on the beloved Puppy Bowl and is now visiting local facilities to help those with special needs. The story of Joey is one for the ages."
The Story of Joey
Joey was born on Christmas Day in 2021 with no front legs. Originally named Christmas, he was renamed Joey by Vintage Pet Rescue of Foster, Rhode Island. The name Joey came about because of his means of locomotion -- hopping like a baby kangaroo, which is called a joey.
Vintage Pet Rescue is a non-profit organization that protects and advocates for senior dogs in need by helping them find love through adoption. Kristen and Marc Peralta founded the organization with the goal of raising public awareness about saving senior pets. Cathy Larson and Laurie Thibodeau of Tiverton quickly adopted Joey, and he joined their family of five dogs, including Murphy, a three-legged pup who fell in love with his hopping counterpart.
"When we saw Joey, I thought they would be perfect together," Cathy told Connelly Law. "We have made some adjustments in the house to accommodate the 'boys'. Murphy has a ramp to get in and out of the house, and there are ramps to get up in the furniture. We have gym mats down with soft rugs for Joey so he can hop around and play with the other dogs."
"Does Joey's special needs affect him?" we asked. "Joey doesn't know he's any different. He's a happy puppy who loves to play," replied Cathy. "Our goal is for Joey to live like all the other dogs. So, it's our responsibility to give him an environment that allows him to do so."
For Joey, his adventures were just beginning. As 2022 was ending, Cathy and Joey were invited to participate in the 19th Annual Puppy Bowl, a nationally televised event that is shown on Super Bowl Sunday.
Joey and the Puppy Bowl
The Animal Planet Website describes the Puppy Bowl as "the annual fur-tastic battle held at the grand gridiron of Puppy Bowl Stadium. It's a celebration of all that's good in the world: competition, cuteness, and pet rescue."
The Puppy Bowl has been held as a parallel event to the Super Bowl where puppies play in a mock stadium while announcers provide commentary. The goal of the event is to raise awareness about the importance of rescuing abandoned pets from shelters. This year, Joey was named the Most Valuable Puppy of the event, stealing the spotlight.
"The puppy bowl was actually filmed in October," Cathy said. "We had a day of filming at Vintage Pets, and then we went with Kristen for another day of filming in New York. Joey was exhausted and needed some time to recoup."
After Joey's national television appearance, Cathy received numerous interview requests from local newspapers and news channels. Channel 12 [WPRI] even did a 'Street Stories' segment on Joey and Vintage Pets. They also had a meet and greet at Rumford Pet Store, where over one hundred people came to meet Joey and take his picture. Cathy describes Joey as well-natured and people-loving and because of this, she decided to share Joey's love with others.
Joey's Adventure at Zambarano Hospital
Cathy and Joey set out on a mission to visit individuals with similar issues as Joey. Their first stop was Zambarano Hospital in Burrillville, Rhode Island.
"Zambarano Hospital provides long-term acute and post-acute hospital level of care to patients with complex medical and psychiatric needs," said Attorney Connelly, no stranger to the hospital and its staff and residents. "Our office has had many clients there through the years, and it is an extraordinary place filled with extraordinary people. When I walk in, I can feel the caring and compassion among the staff in their relationships with the residents there. When I was told that Joey was going to be there, I couldn't think of a better place for this special dog to appear." And Attorney Connelly could not have been more correct.
Upon entering the hospital, Cathy knew something special was about to happen. "When Joey went in and met the staff and residents, it was just pure love. Joey has met so many people, and it's the same everywhere he goes. He just gives love, and at Zambarano, everyone gave it right back."
Amy, a resident of Zambarano, shared her experience with Joey. "Despite Joey being in a wheelchair, like 75% of the hospital population, that little dog brought smiles to those who rarely smiled and snuggled with people who could barely hold him. He stayed for three hours and was a wonderful treat for us all."
"I know this sounds funny, but one of the most memorable things I have from meeting Cathy and Joey is an autograph or rather a pawograph from Joey. It's going to occupy a special place in my keepsakes," Amy said with a smile.
"The staff here that arranged this with Cathy are amazing," Amy continued. "They seem to know what we need to stay focused on our goals and to keep us from getting down. My disability was acquired, so my life changed dramatically all at once. I thought a lot of terrible things at one point and became really depressed. But having events like this one with Joey shows me that life can be good. It's all about attitude and knowing that you can accomplish most things if you put your mind to it while accepting that there are some limitations."
"Thank you to the staff for having unique events like this and thank you to Cathy and Joey for bringing joy to us at the hospital," said Amy. "Here's hoping for another visit from you, Joey!"
For Cathy, this was also a life-altering experience. "There's no judgment and no expectations, just a connection and love. I still look at the pictures [from Zambarano], and I see good in the world. This little dog has made individual connections with those who may be a little more like him. When Joey spends time with people with special needs, you can see the bond that develops. It's amazing to watch."
Cathy was also impressed with the staff at Zambarano, who are very committed to their mission and the residents of the facility. "I was really impressed and touched by how much time and preparation went into making Joey's visit a worthwhile memory for all involved. It reminds me of what's really important in life."
Joey's Two-Legged Life
Joey also has a book that has been published about him. Kristen Peralta of Vintage Pet Rescue has authored a book about the pup and his determination to live like other dogs. According to the description of the book, "Joey is a small dog with a big personality and heart! He was born with only two legs, so he's had to overcome some obstacles, but nothing seems to stop him. His love of life makes everyone around him smile. Joey is showing everyone that his disability doesn't stop him!"
The book, called "Joey's Two-Legged Life", is twenty-four pages with illustrations and is available for $30 for a hardcover copy and $20 for a softcover. All the proceeds will go to Vintage Pet Rescue. On Kristen Peralta's social media page, she writes that this is "a great gift for the animal lover in your life." She is planning book signing events for later this summer and fall.
What's Next for Joey
For Cathy and Joey, the trip to Zambarano was an example of how impactful their visits can be for so many. "We have a couple of visits planned for an assisted living facility and a day program for adults with special needs. We have had some teachers reach out as well."
"We will continue to share Joey, his adventures, and his love with anyone who will benefit from it," said Cathy. "We will also continue to remind people that many animals need a loving home, and a disability shouldn't be a reason not to adopt."
"Joey's story is magical," said Attorney Connelly. "He shows that life can be enjoyed even with limitations. Animals provide warmth that people cannot match. Combining the emotional support of pets with an array of therapies helps individuals accomplish goals that were once thought to be out of reach. There is nothing more I can add than to say keep up the magnificent work, Cathy and Joey!"