Maty catches a disc mid-air.
(Photo by Sven Van Driessen/
Courtesy of Lynne Ouchida)
Thirteen years after being abandoned in a Bend, Oregon motel room, Maty, a three-legged Australian Shepherd mix, continues to give back to the community that helped to save her. In addition to being a supreme athlete, Maty has become a canine ambassador for amputees. Her greatest quality is her ability to draw people in, and her own disability is helping to break down the barriers associated with pet and human disabilities.
People, especially young children, are often afraid of amputees because they seem different. People don't know what to say or do with such a condition, but Maty has lessons to teach, according to her owner, Lynne Ouchida, who, along with Troy Kerstetter, adopted Maty in 2001.
Maty could easily have become yet another discarded dog languishing in an animal shelter—another statistic— but life seemed to have a plan for her. She survived tremendous adversities—exposure to parvo virus, a staph infection, and amputation of her hind leg—all before eight weeks of age. Amazed that she persevered, Ouchida and Kerstetter soon found out how much of a survivor this puppy would be.
For a short period of time, Maty was the "hospice puppy" at a local nursing home, where she provided comfort to those in need. The nursing home decided Maty wasn't a good fit, even though she would not leave a person's room the last few days or his or her life. At six months old, Maty was adopted by Ouchida, Community Outreach Manager for the Humane Society of Central Oregon, Bend, Ore., and Kerstetter, shelter manager at the Foothills Humane Society in Golden, Colorado.
"I had kept an eye on her and took her home on weekends to train—and used her since she was 8-weeks-old in our humane education program," says Ouchida. As the Humane Society of Central Oregon’s goodwill ambassadors, Maty and Ouchida go to local schools and events to educate about the humane treatment of pets. Maty doesn't mind being touched, so kids are able to pet her and touch her "stump." As a result, these kids are able to lose their fear and mystery regarding amputees. "Maty shines with kids with disabilities," says Ouchida. "I don't know how she knows the difference, but she does."
Maty's ambassadorship extends beyond the humane society. In her spare time, she's busy demonstrating the abilities of a three-legged dog. Her owners never intentionally thought, "Let's make our three-legged dog a Frisbee dog," but once again, Maty's purpose in life seemed to follow its own path. Her natural athletic ability and her love of jumping and retrieving catapulted her into the national spotlight. In 2006 she became the first disabled dog to qualify and compete in the Hyperflite-Skyhoundz World Canine Disc Championship—placing 7th out of a class of 25 of the top sport division teams in the world. In 2008, she again competed against four-legged dogs—finishing in a three-way tie for 7th place in a field of 30 of the elite teams in her division.
Sushma, a 9-year-old girl from India, who had been adopted and brought to the United States, was watching the competition. Like Maty, Sushma was an amputee—missing a leg and both her hands. She was having a difficult time adapting to her new life and her disabilities. Hard to imagine, but people actually pointed, stared, and even made fun of her. A meeting between Sushma and Maty was organized, and it’s no surprise that Maty worked her magic on the disabled girl—even catching every Frisbee Sushma tossed her way. Sushma was laughing and smiling for the first time.
Shortly thereafter, Ouchida received a letter from Sushma stating how Maty had been an inspiration and role model for her because Maty tries so hard at everything she does—even though she only has three legs. Sushma wrote that even though she and Maty were missing a few body parts—they shouldn't be looked down on because they're just as special.
"I believe Maty survived all of her adversities so she could demonstrate the abilities of disabled people and animals," says Ouchida. Without question, Maty's purpose in life remains a gift of immeasurable magnitude.
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