Olivia isn't even a year old, and she's been through more than most pets.
Like many inspiring figures, her story starts with tragedy, Sue Bell, the founder and executive director of Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, tells PEOPLE.
Earlier this year, Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, an animal shelter in Fairfax Station, Virginia, received a distressing call from Fayette County Animal Control in West Virginia, a shelter partner Homeward Trails has been working with for close to 20 years.
"They called us and said, 'Hey, we just got a call from our local vet, and a breeder of these little teacup dogs brought in this dog and said to euthanized her because she was born without her front legs,'" Bell recalls.
Thankfully, the veterinarian felt confident this pup, later named Olivia, had plenty of happiness ahead of her and decided to take in the dog instead of euthanizing her. Fayette County Animal Control, at full capacity, was unable to take Olivia from the vet, so they called Bell for help.
The rescue founder says she took one look at a photo of Olivia and knew she had to try to give this pup the best life possible, so Homeward Trails took Olivia in. The little dog arrived at the shelter weighing just over half a pound.
After transporting Olivia to Virginia, Homeward Trails went to work learning more about the puppy's missing front legs. Thanks to assistance from their "amazing" donors, the shelter was about to schedule x-rays and orthopedic consults for the canine. The results showed that a cart or wheelchair would be the best option for the dog's future. By learning to walk in a wheelchair, Olivia will move around more easily and prevent injuries to her shortened front legs and joints.
Bionic Pets, a company that creates prosthetics and mobility devices for animals, recently visited Olivia and fitted the puppy for her first wheelchair. Once her custom wheelchair arrives, likely in a few weeks, Olivia will start learning to walk with the device, which will be adjustable, so it grows with the tiny canine.
While she waits for her new wheels to arrive, Olivia is enjoying the love of a foster home. The pup currently resides with K Scarry and her 65-pound Lab Rey. Even though Olivia only weighs about two pounds right now, she and Rey get along well and enjoy an odd-couple relationship.
"They are real buds. Olivia is full of energy, and Rey is perpetually sleeping and laid back. Olivia jumps all over her," Scarry says. "Rey looks out for her."
Olivia is Scarry's first special needs foster pet and likely won't be her last since the experience has had such a sweet, lasting effect on her.
Faded Fern Photography
"She is the truest delight. Fiesty and fun and snuggly," Scarry shares. "It's not lost on me what an honor it is to watch her grow and accompany her on her journey. It feels deeply meaningful to get to know her and live with her."
Scarry, who started fostering pets during the pandemic, says that while it will be great for Olivia to get into her custom wheelchair, the pup doesn't let her missing front legs slow her down.
"She hops everywhere. It's not held her back at all," the foster parent adds.
She hopes that learning about Olivia will inspire other animal lovers to adopt or foster a special needs pet, so they can "delight" in the experience. Bell also wants others to find joy in Olivia's sweet can-do attitude but hopes the dog also serves as a reminder of the effects of reckless breeding.
"The breeding of these little teacup animals really does have real-life, negative impacts. And although the overbreeding of any animal at any size has an impact, we just hope that, as people are going out there and securing pets for their family, that they will be very mindful of where those pets are coming from," Bell says. "If from a breeder, that they're visiting the breeder and they're going to the sites, and they see how the animals are kept. They're interviewing the breeders thoroughly to ensure that they are reputable."
For now, Olivia is not available for adoption while she awaits her custom wheelchair, but the people caring for her know that there are only great things ahead for this small but mighty rescue dog.
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"Her little happy, loving spirit and personality will persevere, and she will get out in the world, and hopefully inspire others Because you don't find many more vulnerable creatures than animals who are voiceless — and then they're two pounds and missing their front legs, that's about as vulnerable as you can find in the world," Bell says.
"We're hoping people can look to that puppy and think, 'Wow, if that puppy can make it happen, then maybe I can.'"
To learn more about Homeward Trails and support their work, visit www.homewardtrails.org.