Pets With Disabilities – Because Their Spirits Aren’t Broken

When Mike and Joyce Darrell decided to visit the local rescue to adopt a dog – they had no idea that a vibrant young shepherd mix would change their lives forever.

They named him Duke, he was a wonderful, typical puppy who added excitement and joy to their home. Two months after bringing Duke home he was playing with another puppy and tragically severed his spinal cord. At only six months old Duke was in a wheelchair. He was still vibrant and young, he just now had special needs. When we adopted Duke and took him home it was a commitment, thru sickness and health until death do us part – he was a member of our family, said Joyce. A few months later Mike and Joyce heard about another dog named Misty, who had been living in a NY shelter for over five years. Misty had hind leg problems and no one wanted her. Mike and Joyce adopted her immediately. For years, Misty was a “spokesdog” for her cause. People started looking at her, seeing the life in her eyes, and the heart she wanted to share and commented on what a wonderful dog she was, and “How could she had been in a shelter so long?”

Through the experience with their wheelchair dog Duke and seeing the impact Misty had on people Joyce and Mike realized there were no support system or education available for people dealing with disabled pets. Pets with Disabilities was founded to be that support system for these animals with no voice. The grassroots organization located in Prince Frederick, MD, and their website, provides support and information to animal caretakers whose pets suffer from birth defects or have become disabled due to illness or injury.

Mike and Joyce both had full-time jobs for the first eight years of Pets with Disabilities. At one point they had 12 disabled animals living in our home. Due to the demand for their help and dogs in need, they decided to expand their efforts and build the rescue barn, in order to help more dogs.  Joyce finally made the decision to go full-time with Pets with Disabilities on behalf of the disabled animals. “With the expansion of the rescue, I committed myself totally to helping these dogs in need. Many people that visit our website, think we are a huge organization, when in fact, I am a one person show. I take no salary for my hours and hours of work, and have no paid help and a small core group of volunteers. Mike still has his full-time job and is in charge of mobility for Pets with Disabilities. He does all wheelchair fittings.

Joyce and Mike currently have 10 permanent resident dogs with disabilities and on average 10-15 in the rescue facility in addition to 2 dogs recovering from orthopedic surgery. Thankfully they have 10 wonderful volunteers and two families that help with fostering. Volunteers also help to transport the dogs to and from veterinary visits. “The veterinary partners and specialists in the Calvert County area and Washington area have been so amazing in helping us with our animals in need. Pets with Disabilities would be impossible without the help from everyone involved”, said Joyce.

Currently, Pets with Disabilities has helped 500 of their dogs get adopted into forever homes. On average it takes around six months for a dog to be ready for adoption. Joyce and Mike keep in touch with the adopted dogs and even send anniversary cards on their adoption anniversary. Whether blind, deaf, missing a limb, or paralyzed – many of these pets are healthy animals full of spirit, living their own “normal.” “Rescue groups who have taken in a wheelchair dog. Thank you!! Our rescue can’t take them all, it is physically and financially impossible. We help as many as we can. Please realize it will take time and patience to get these dogs adopted. But they deserve to live and given that second chance at finding a new home. That is what rescue work is all about.” said Joyce. “So many people forget that adopting a dog is a commitment, and once their dog gets ill or sick they still need to commit to caring for them.” “All of our dogs at Pets with Disabilities are disabled.  They are the dogs that are overlooked because of “the defect” people see on the outside – people typically aren’t willing to take the time to see the wagging tail of the deaf dog chasing the ball across the yard, or the blind dog going up a flight of stairs to get the treat or hug they know is waiting for them, or the 3 legged dog run like the wind with their friends in the joy of living.”

Pets with Disabilities has several fundraisers every year to support their rescue efforts. We anticipate each dog coming into the rescue program will require $1000-$1500 in “typical” medical needs. The fundraisers help us cover those costs. “Once a dog is accepted, we make a COMMITMENT to that dog – whatever it takes, for however long they need. We can see the obvious external needs of a dog, but until they get to our vetting team, we really don’t know what the real medical implications will be to help a dog become as healthy as they can be.”

One of their largest fundraiser, A Toast to Pets with Disabilities is June 3rd. The fundraiser is a night to wine and dine with friends, a silent auction, music and food and drink. Hare Vineyard in Prince Frederick, MD donates the use of their stunning new Tuscan-style events building for an evening in the vineyard for a worthy cause.

To purchase a ticket visit their website,

Joyce and Mike plan on continuing their labor of love, Pets with Disabilities for the rest of their lives. The commitment to Pets with Disabilities and the sleepless nights, heart, time and energy has changed both of their lives and the many lives of past and future disabled pets.

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