Glacial blue lakes ripple below and a green pine tunnel flits by on either side. Sharp snow-covered mountains move slowly right to left as the helicopter twists and angles in their shadows. All the elements of a good action movie are here: a little terror, an awesome beauty, and a brave hero. Only, instead of Tom Cruise or the newest hottie to shake a Bond martini, the star of this film is a short, chubby guy with wrinkles, saggy jowls, and a tendency to drool. All of which is extremely handsome when you’re an English bulldog.
“For some reason, when I saw that cute picture of him, not only did I want to adopt him, but I knew I wanted to train him to be a therapy dog,” Scudera says. “I just felt that there was something compelling about his story that would be inspiring to people. And, in fact, that was very true.”
In their time together, Festus and Scudera progressed through canine therapy training and made an impact on countless lives, including each other’s. As Festus grew older and closer to retirement, Scudera began searching for a pup to carry the therapy torch.
Born without front legs, Cyrus was the first of Scudera’s two-legged crew, which now includes fellow bipeds Lucky and Deuce. Now 11 years old, Cyrus’s disability hasn’t kept him from making a mark on the world; the small gray wonder still makes visits as a certified therapy dog, cruising around Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in his wheels. At home, he prefers to fly solo, using Scudera as his personal transport service when he needs a change of scenery. “He’s just like my little football, I put him under my arm,” Scudera says. “He’s almost always next to me, day and night. He’s just the easiest dog.”
Lucky was the second to join Scudera’s merry band of two-legged canines. His life started in Cairo, Egypt, where an animal activist found him with injured back legs, likely from a car accident. After healing from his amputation, Lucky found his way to the U.S. and Scudera. Because he has no feeling in his back end, Scudera has to help Lucky go to the bathroom, but the pup has no trouble moving freely around his home, either by his own strength or with the help of wheels. Despite this difficult start to life, Scudera says Lucky is one of the most optimistic creatures he’s met. “In the end, he’s just a very lovable, goofy, funny, full-of-life kind of dog.”
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It’s those personality traits that created an instant bond between Lucky and the latest addition to the 2legdogs household, Deuce. Three years ago, Scudera was contacted by a woman in Kentucky who had seen his work with Lucky and Cyrus. She was fostering Deuce, who was found with injuries and infections in both of his left legs, and thought he’d make the perfect therapy dog. Despite losing the legs on one side of his body, he can walk and run alongside most four-legged pups, and only needs support when standing still.
“At first I said, ‘No, we have way too many animals. I can’t possibly do this,’” Scudera remembers. “But I watched the videos that she sent, and he was so amazing and unusual. He’s very stable and fast and capable. And I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s really inspiring.’ He’s now part of the mix, and he is one of the sweetest dogs.”
All three dogs have followed in Festus’s footsteps, working as therapy dogs at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital’s amputee clinic. They also regularly visit The Barn at Spring Brook Farm, an organization dedicated to enriching children’s lives through animal-assisted activities. These dogs, who have conquered so much, have a special ability to bring joy to children dealing with difficult medical circumstances, or people who are recovering from amputation surgeries and adjusting to a new way of life. “I know from years of doing this, that you train a dog to be a therapy dog, but when you actually start doing the work, something happens that you can’t train,” Scudera says. “They just naturally have an understanding of what people need.”
Scudera remembers one instance when he and Lucky were visiting a man who had recently lost his legs to a terrible accident. “When we met the patient, he just got down on the floor and held Lucky for a really long time, and everybody around just sort of stopped because they knew that this young man had gone through something horrible. You could tell that just emotionally, he needed some kind of release, and the dog was providing it, finally.”
While all therapy dogs have this innate special ability, the 2legdogs crew members have an added superpower. Having witnessed a friend’s brother recover from amputation, Scudera saw how difficult it can be for humans to struggle with losing a limb and work to rebuild mobility. For dogs, he says, the transition is easier, and that visible symbol of overcoming adversity is inspiring. He’s used to hearing patients exclaim, “He’s just like me!” upon meeting one of the pups, and, “If he can do it, I can do it,” but it never gets old.
And it’s not just the patients who are impacted by these moving healing moments either. When Lucky, Cyrus, and Deuce stride into a hospital, Scudera says it instantly breaks up the sterile environment with some much-needed levity and brightness. They’ve become so popular that each dog even has its own trading card, and they appear on posters throughout the hospital.
While they give so much, Scudera is confident the dogs get just as much in return. Hopping in the car for a therapy session is among their favorite activities, and they relish the love and treats they receive. What’s more, he says the dogs seem to understand that they are doing important work. Scudera says, “I always say it’s a win-win-win. The dogs get something, I certainly am getting so much from doing this, and patients do, too.”
For the last several months, though, this work has been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, Lucky, Cyrus, and Deuce found new ways to reach people in need. The group has a whole additional community on social media (@2legdogs), including Instagram, where more than 84,000 people follow along. Scudera first noticed the trio’s online impact after Deuce’s unique ability to get around with just his right legs began attracting an international audience. He continues to get messages daily from inspired followers around the globe, including people who have started to see disabled dogs differently.
During the pandemic, the dogs struck a new chord with people who have been struggling not only with illness and loss of loved ones, but quarantines and the mental health challenges that have accompanied them. “The pandemic was so difficult for people, and just seeing the dogs living their lives and not being held back in any way is hopefully a symbol of endurance, and that you can make it, you can get through it,” Scudera says. “It’s so rewarding knowing that for a few moments, we lightened the load for someone going through a really difficult time.”
These dogs have been just as meaningful to Scudera as they have to others. In fact, he says that Cyrus, Lucky, and Deuce have profoundly altered his outlook on life, teaching him to stop worrying about what may come and be present and joyous in each moment he has. That lesson is one he hopes others can learn, and he says adopting disabled dogs is a powerful way to do that.
“The dogs are this connection to the world that I would never have had otherwise. There’s something special about them, and people are drawn to that,” he says. “Taking care of a special needs animal is not much more difficult than taking care of a four-legged dog, but the rewards are so much greater in a way.”
Follow the crew on Instagram: @2legdogs
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