From triumphing over a birth defect and a devastating 50-foot fall, to being a therapy dog over Zoom during COVID-19, Fanny deserves every ounce of happiness (and treats!) her latest victory can afford her.
Heroes At Home Pet Photo Contest: Finding Fanny
To commemorate the passage of one year into the pandemic on a positive note, we asked our readers to share photos of their pets helping them get through the often emotionally challenging reality of being stuck at home. Although we had many adorable submissions (on Instagram at #NOWpetcontest), one photograph was too arresting to forget.
Surrounded by a heavy Toronto snowfall, Fanny (pictured above) stands on three legs, wearing her cross-country ski gear. Though her photo garnered the most likes in the contest (which would have been enough to win), Fanny delivered more than just a great pic. After getting the full story, we can confirm that she is the real deal – a true hero at home.
Not your average three-legged dog
Fanny was born with three-and-a-half legs. “Three regular-sized legs and one that resembled a chicken wing,” Kristin Halliwill, Fanny’s mom recalls fondly. Eventually her little leg had to be amputated due to an injury, but her personality remained unchanged.
“She is probably one of the most mellow and relaxed dogs. She doesn’t mind not being able to wander around, she’s not frustrated by it. She enjoys life and having fun. She is kind of mischievous and likes to hide from you.”
Based on her calm temperament, Halliwill knew Fanny would make an excellent therapy dog. Pre-pandemic, Fanny joined the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program. In Toronto, the program has about 250 handler/pet volunteer teams dedicated to serving the sick, elderly and lonely.
Before COVID-19 hit, Fanny would visit seniors’ homes and schools. “When she was with the seniors she would literally lay herself across three ladies’ laps and fall asleep while getting pats for hours,” recalls Halliwill. Fanny loved providing relaxing touch-therapy to those in need.
Being a therapy dog during COVID-19
How can a therapy dog like Fanny be expected to work during widespread lockdowns? Over Zoom, naturally.
“Usually, there is a moderator. They get questions going and chat about the different things they do with the dogs. The seniors or kids jump in with questions [for the dog] whenever they want to,” explains Halliwill. A popular question Fanny gets is about her favourite foods. Spoiler alert: they are sweet potatoes and pistachios.
The St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program works with about 20 care homes, some of which have been able to make the transition from in-person visits to Zoom calls. They also do community outreach to accommodate seniors at home who are struggling to cope with isolation and loneliness.
The Zoom calls are usually 30-minutes long. They have had to change the traditional format of the sessions to accommodate the Zoom interface. Normally, an in-person session focuses on calming, tactile therapy with pet companions like Fanny. Now over Zoom, handlers are finding new and creative ways to keep the sessions engaging. These can range from feeding the dog so that their audience can watch them enjoy treats, to playing fetch and ramping up the on-screen action. Early in the pandemic Fanny was dedicated to keeping kids and seniors engaged and connected through Zoom – until an accident left her immobile last year.
The accident: Fanny’s 50-foot fall
Fanny nearly died when she jumped out of a second story window after being scared by an Amber Alert from a nearby cellphone. She was just four years old at the time. When Halliwill realized what had happened she took Fanny to the hospital immediately, with the help of her landlord.
“They gave her fluids, a blood transfusion, put her on oxygen and stabilized her,” notes Halliwill. “They found that she had fractured most of her thoracic vertebrae. Her front leg was broken and she had internal bleeding. She didn’t need surgery, just intensive care. She got out [of the hospital] just before Christmas,” she continued.
Since the accident, Fanny has been going to rehab a couple of times per week. She had a wheelchair, and then when the snow came, she upgraded to skis. “She can run around in her skis and her wheels to play with the other dogs. So far it looks like she will be regaining most of her abilities,” says Halliwill optimistically.
What’s next for Fanny?
Soon Fanny will be getting a new orthotic for her front foot so she can practise walking more naturally. If she were an athlete it would be like getting a knee brace. Halliwill is hopeful that Fanny will get to reconnect with their extended family this spring if restrictions ease. Fanny loves Halliwill’s nephews, who were the ones responsible for her infatuation with eating pistachios. She is also slowly getting back into being a therapy dog again.
Perhaps some of her grand prize winnings will be consumed over Zoom with one of her future chat companions.