One pastel puppy is a mascot for acceptance, kindness, and inclusion — but it wasn’t an easy journey to get there.
Now very happy and living “like a little prince,” according to his owner, Piglet was born deaf and blind in a Georgia home with 37 other puppies in a hoarding situation.
The dachshund-Chihuahua mix was rescued and sent to a shelter, then adopted by Melissa Shapiro, a Connecticut veterinarian who offered to foster the 1-lb. puppy.
While she never intended to become his full-time mom, after two months with Piglet, Shapiro couldn’t imagine the dog living anywhere else.
“It was quite a decision to make. He is a lot of work and he is like a full-time job, taking care of a little disabled baby,” Shapiro tells PEOPLE. “But he’s so cute, and we couldn’t give him away at that point.”
Piglet became No. 7 in Shapiro’s pack of pups, but his transition into the family was a rocky one.
“He was so anxious, he was screaming constantly. He would play, then go to sleep, but when he wasn’t doing either of those, he was screaming. I couldn’t leave the house the first month I had the dog here,” Shapiro says.
Since then, Piglet has made strides, overcoming his anxiety to play with his brothers and sisters and become a mini-celebrity with more than 100,000 followers on Instagram.
“When we kept him, I said he needs to have some bigger meaning,” Shapiro says.
His story found its way through social media to a third-grade classroom in Massachusetts, where a teacher used Piglet as a model for a positive growth mindset, which discourages students from giving up and instead promotes the idea that struggles, like Piglet’s, can lead to growth.
“She called it Piglet Mindset, and we corresponded throughout the year. At the end of the year, we surprised the kids. They thought we were going to FaceTime, and we walked in with Piggy in his stroller and three of my other dogs, and everyone was crying,” she says.
Shapiro now has an official Piglet Mindset Outreach program to teach children how to face challenges, work with what they have and not worry about what they don’t have.
The program, which consists of online learning materials, has spread to classrooms in Alabama, Connecticut and even Japan and Australia, and Shapiro offers it for free download on her website.
“People are afraid to adopt these animals, they think that it’s going to be too much work. But people see Piglet’s page and I get so many notes from people that because of him, they just adopted. It’s rewarding to know that people are taking the lead and being inspired by Piggy,” Shapiro says.
The money she earns from ads on social media and Piglet-themed merchandise goes to special-needs animal shelters; so far, Piglet has raised more than $30,000.
In the future, Shapiro hopes to expand into more classrooms and eventually create a non-profit to give more to rescues.
“It makes a lot of people really happy to know him,” Shapiro says.