Piglet, a pink, blind and deaf pup who lives with six other dogs in a house in Westport, is oblivious to the fact that he’s a social media star and a novice teacher. His owner, veterinarian Melissa Shapiro, was inspired by her puppy’s plight to create an educational program with Piglet, aka Piggy.
“I am partial to dogs with special needs. That’s my thing,” Shapiro says. “I am advocating for dogs and other animals with disabilities. When we go to see kids, we teach them about resiliency and inclusion. We hope they will take that, the normalizing of disabilities in dogs, and extend that to people as well.”
Piglet and his canine mates — Gina, Dean, Annie, Evie, Zoey and Lucy — are an example of that inclusion. Piglet wanders among them, sometimes bumping into them because he can’t see and not hearing when they bark to complain. But the barks die down and the dogs are happy.
“The dogs get along so well. They are all different colors, shapes, personalities, sizes, ages, sexes. Not only do they accept Piglet but they also all accept each other,” Shapiro says.
After taking in Piglet in March 2017, Shapiro put him on social media. He has 270,000 followers on Instagram, 221,000 on Facebook and 30,000 on TikTok.
Shapiro parlayed Piglet’s fame into Piglet Mindset Educational Outreach, a program for schools and libraries to teach empathy, kindness, inclusion and triumphing over adversity. The program also encourages adoption of pets with special needs.
Shapiro later turned the educational initiative into a nonprofit, Piglet International. She also published “Piglet, The Unexpected Story of a Deaf Blind Pink Puppy and His Family,” in 2021. In June, a children’s book, “Piglet Comes Home,” will be published. Profits from the books fund the educational initiative.
A difficult beginning
Piglet is a Chihuahua-dachshund mix, with a genetic condition called double dapple that causes eyesight and hearing difficulties. His breed mix causes a coat so sparse his pink skin shows.
He was born in Georgia in “a hoarding situation. The people started out with three dogs who were not spayed. It turned into about 30 dogs,” she says. “They were not abused. They were neglected.”
After the dogs’ owners were evicted, they advertised the dogs on Craig’s List. A rescue group saw the ad.
“They met them at a gas station next to a Walmart. The dogs were in rusty crates in the back of a truck,” Shapiro says. “They transferred over about 11 dogs. Piglet was one of them. He was very tiny, probably about two weeks old. He was there with his mom, Abigail, and three of his littermates. Three out of four of them were double dapples.”
Shapiro took Piglet in as a foster dog.
“He was a 1-½ pound screaming anxious baby dog. It took months, but Piglet eventually settled into a comfortable, predictable daily routine,” she says.
Piglet fit in so well at Shapiro’s dog-filled house that she adopted him. She taught him tap signals to communicate. From the start, Piglet went straight to Shapiro’s heart.
“My first dog was blind. That was normalized for me when I was just 6 years old. From there, I worked in a diabetes lab in medical school. I adopted a dog that was diabetic and needed shots twice a day,” she says. “I find it rewarding to help the ones others can’t. I’m a vet. I have access to care other people don’t.”
Last November, Piglet and Shapiro virtually visited Highland Elementary School in Cheshire. Second-grade teacher Jodie Monllos says the visit enhanced the school’s social and emotional learning curriculum.
“A lot of times, kids look at things and say, I can’t do that. ... We want them to say I can do that,” Monllos says. “We want to change the phrases we use when we come to a difficult task, especially if they need to overcome something challenging or if they have a limitation.”
Parent Keri Banak says “Piglet doesn’t know what he can’t do. He has no idea he’s any different than other dogs. He’s not focusing on the fact that he can’t see and hear. He uses what he does have to get all his daily tasks done.”
Willington Library brought Piglet in for a visit in October.
“He has overcome all of these things. This is a creature who can’t express himself. He has just learned to adapt,” says Librarian Debbie Linares. “Melissa has trained him. It’s as if he can see and hear even though he can’t see and hear.
“How much can we achieve if he can achieve all that? It’s quite the lesson for people of any age or capability.”
Shapiro and Piglet will make an appearance on Feb. 19 at 2 p.m. at the Bristol Public Library, 5 High St. Admission is free. To RSVP, go to bristollib.com.
Susan Dunne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.