Five-year-old disabled dog Tobi was born without his front legs, but that hasn’t stopped this petite pooch from making a big difference in the lives of special ed kids.
Adopted by teacher Paige Bradford, Mini Australian Shepherd Tobi spends his days by her side in the classroom, where he provides emotional support and helps teach young students about kindness and acceptance.
“I saw a news article about Tobi on Facebook, and they said that he would be put up for adoption after he adjusted to his cart,” Bradford told 7News On Your Side. “I followed him for a few months and reached out to The Humane Society of North Texas, asking about the adoption process for an out-of-state adoption. Luckily, everything worked out and I ended up picking him up in July 2018.”
Tobi was a regular in the classroom up until the pandemic struck and now works online, playing a crucial role in helping Bradford to teach her students important life and academic lessons.
“Toby has been a nice bridge in terms of helping kids to see that being different isn’t bad,” Bradford said. “Now in virtual learning, Tobi is like another member of my class.”
Bradford believes that the reason Tobi has been such a huge hit with her students is that he meets them where they are, encouraging them to learn in ways that are meaningful to them.
"One of the things that was really fun was to work on some of my students' goals while they were playing with Tobi because they didn't even notice they were doing hard work," Bradford says.
"For example, one of my students had hemiparesis and had limited use of his right side. So, I brought him treats, and he had to use both hands to open the bag of treats and then use his right hand to pull out a treat and hand it to the dog. It was fun for Tobi and for my student."
While Bradford’s students have academically improved since little Tobi joined the teaching team, she believes the lessons he’s role modeling extend far beyond what can be learned from a textbook.
“One of the best things that has come out of Tobi being such a large part of our classroom community is acceptance,” Bradford said. “The students in my class don’t see Tobi as different or think that they should feel sorry for him because they see him as a really cute dog.”
Tobi’s different outward appearance has also opened the door for conversations that may not otherwise have taken place.
“At first, they asked a lot of questions and wanted to understand why he didn’t have legs and why he was different, but I think having those conversations helped them to be more open-minded and I can see that kind of acceptance in the way they interact with each other in the classroom,” says Bradford.
Having been using an ill-fitting wheelchair since before he was adopted, Tobi has been struggling with the effects of a degenerative disk disease that’s aggravated by walking on his back legs. Thankfully, the money has been raised for a new custom cart that will be ready in the next few weeks.
“This cart will help to give him more stability,” Bradford explains. “It’s custom made to him, and it will account for the fact that his chest cavity is crooked. It will have padding in all the right spots, so there isn’t any rubbing or irritation and it’s guaranteed for life.”
The new cart will enable Tobi to feel comfortable doing what this disabled dog does best, fostering connections between students. “My students both with and without disabilities interact with each other now and have really rich and engaging discussions,” says Bradford. “They support each other and they’re kind to each other.”
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