11/28/2011 09:19 pm ET | Updated Jan 28, 2012

Miracle Dog

I witnessed a Thanksgiving miracle. My dog, Baxter, took tentative, wobbly, awkward steps with his paralyzed back legs.

Last Tuesday, I glimpsed some movement. On Wednesday, my partner Brian saw the same thing. On Thanksgiving morning, he managed to right himself and began taking some steps.

This is definitely something for which we are thankful.

We adopted Baxter, a 3-year-old Shih Tzu, a month ago from the local SPCA. His background is a mystery. Since he has little musculature on his back end, doctors assumed that he had had a spinal injury some time ago and that the damage was irreversible. He was originally scheduled to be euthanized. But after someone built him a makeshift wheeled cart, he was given a new lease on life. He was taken off death row and placed for adoption. Many people expressed interest but left abruptly when told he was paralyzed.

Brian and I started receiving messages from concerned friends soon after this. They told us we were the only ones who could save this dog. We already have a house full of misfit animals, what's one more? We went to see him at the shelter. He was terrified, shaking pathetically in the back of the cage. We could not leave him there. After paying a small adoption fee, we walked out with him. No questions asked, no background check. They were glad to get rid of him.

The first week was difficult for him. He was sullen. But as soon as he got in that cart, his tail (which, by the way, works just fine) wagged and wagged. He became confident and social. He started looking us in the eye. After a few weeks, he decided a house of gay guys and crazy animals was not so bad after all.

I do not know if he will ever walk normally. We will bring him to a specialist next week and see if there are any exercises that will strengthen his legs. But his story is inspirational. He was written off so many times. He persevered. We cannot help but love him.

All my dogs are inspirational. The oldest, Festus, had his front, right leg amputated as a puppy. He had gotten trapped under something when he was alone on the streets. Luckily, he was found and brought to an animal refuge. I saw him on a website, and knew he was my dog. Today, six years later, Festus is a therapy dog. He meets fellow amputees at one hospital, wonderful kids at another. I am told routinely that he is an inspiration.

Cyrus was born without front legs. He was dumped at an animal shelter with no explanation, perhaps a product of a backyard breeder. We had a custom-made cart built for him and he is training to be a therapy dog as well.

Trixie has four legs. When we adopted her, one of those legs was shriveled and useless. After an operation, the leg was made functional. Now she follows me everywhere.

We have a cat, Polo. He has 23 toes. But that's a different story.

So, what's the message here? If you are thinking of adopting an animal this holiday season, consider the following:

  • Are you prepared for years of responsibility? Do not adopt if you are only thinking about how cute a puppy will be under the Christmas tree.

  • If you are planning to buy a puppy at the pet store, don't. Most of these store dogs come from deplorable puppy mills. Instead, go to your local shelter. Or go online. Check out You can specify exactly what want and will be matched with needy, adoptable dogs in your area.

  • If you go to a shelter, take notice of the animals that are quieter or need extra help. Do not neglect the older cats, the sad dogs, the ones with "special needs." These are the animals that will love you the most because they need you the most. Give them a chance. It is well worth it.

I choose to believe that we were not Baxter's only hope. He is so resilient. He would have survived any circumstance. I believe that he was meant to be part of our family. Friends say that all he needed was a little love, like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But, really, we are the ones who receive all the love. And for this, I am very thankful.