Puppy power

Once Caboodle gets rolling in his specially designed cart, he’s hard to stop. His ears are up, his tail is wagging and his feet are hitting the dirt road with purpose. He’s got places to go and things to sniff. The world is a fascinating place for him, as it is for any six-month-old puppy. But Caboodle is no ordinary puppy.

Caboodle and his sister Kit were abandoned on the side of the road in Missouri when they were only eight weeks old. A rescue organization saved the Siberian husky mix puppies, but it was clear that they would need special care.

Because of a neurological condition (the cause of which is unknown), Kit and Caboodle had trouble balancing when they walked. In fact, at first, their little legs were barely strong enough to stand.

The puppies were clearly going to need a lot of help long-term. So the brother-sister pair came to Best Friends. As soon as they arrived, they began stealing hearts and winning friends. Their sheer joy for life makes them just as endearing as other puppies their age, though the challenges they’ve overcome make them extraordinary.

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Once Caboodle gets rolling in his specially designed cart, he’s hard to stop

Puppies with special needs get a team of helpers

When Kit and Caboodle arrived at the Sanctuary, Best Friends veterinarians gave each puppy a thorough checkup. The good news was that aside from their incurable neurological condition, the puppies are otherwise healthy. The doctors’ orders included careful management and physical therapy.

With their clean bill of health, the puppies could then start meeting all the people eager to get to know them and do whatever it would take to help them thrive. Dogtown manager Chris Vergallito says that has meant balancing special care for the pups’ special needs, while also treating them just like other puppies at Best Friends.

“Even though their limbs and minds aren’t always on the same page, Kit and Caboodle are typical puppies in every other way,” says Dogtown manager Chris Vergallito. “They are curious, wrestle and snuggle with each other and their dog friends, like to meet new people and enjoy all kinds of adventures.” But first, they needed the right kind of place to call home while at the Sanctuary.

Although they move differently from other dogs, they can be strong, fast and are able to launch themselves across a room like torpedoes. So their room in Dogtown’s puppy preschool area is padded with jigsaw-puzzle-shaped gym mats and lined with soft bedding and blankets. Now when they tip over or launch themselves across the room, they always have a soft landing.

Kit and Caboodle's room is padded and lined with soft bedding and blankets

Physical therapy for puppies with a neurological condition

The next key part of keeping the puppies comfortable and happy is physical therapy. Kit and Caboodle will always have their own special style of movement. But their daily physical therapy exercises — combined with the hydrotherapy several times a week — are making them stronger each day and teaching them to hold their limbs in healthy positions.

For example, they have a special stationary frame that helps them learn to stand in an upright position, with their feet squarely under them and their heads in a neutral position. For most dogs, this natural standing position comes as easily as breathing air, but Kit and Caboodle need a little help to get there and to build up the muscles that can help them stay there.

Kit gets extra therapy in gentle neck stretches and soothing massages. Because her head has a way of swinging back and forth toward one shoulder or the other, the stretches help bring it back into alignment with her body, until one day when she may be strong enough to do it on her own.

Physical therapy time for Kit and Caboodle

Volunteering with puppies is pure joy

A comfortable place to stay and good physical therapy is only the beginning. Chris says, “We are always looking for creative ways to enrich Kit and Caboodle’s lives. We focus on three things: utilizing their strengths (they have great noses), keeping them safe and, above all, allowing them to just be puppies.”

That’s where the real fun begins. Kit and Caboodle’s dedicated fan base has grown. Local volunteers and more Best Friends staff members have taken to the puppies, and are now spending time with them, too.

What sticks with the people who get close to Kit and Caboodle aren’t the things that make them different from other puppies or the challenges they face. It’s the love and joy that radiates from them both.

Lori Bernath, who works with Best Friends volunteers and volunteers her spare time with these special pups says, “When we come for their physical therapy sessions, they immediately start smiling, their ears perk up and their tails start wagging as they race to greet us. They live in the moment and it is pure joy to be part of their journey, watching them get stronger every day.”

Carrie Smith, another staff member who’s spending her spare hours giving them extra TLC says, “They love to wrestle with each other, play with toys, meet new people and go for walks. Because their bodies don't work the same as other puppies, these activities have to be managed a bit differently. For example, their walks consist of a stroller ride, or Caboodle’s special cart built specifically for him. They still enjoy doing all the things other puppies do. They truly love life.”

Local volunteer Craig Lalonde says, “Kit and Caboodle get excited for visitors and even attempt puppy zoomies. They have the minds and silly personalities of puppies. Their bodies just don’t allow them to express it in the same way other puppies do. They wrestle each other with the same enthusiasm as all the other puppies at the preschool, get jealous over toys and play tug with each other.”

Another one of the pups’ friends, Deborah Carman says, “It's so much fun for me to walk in and say hi, and they immediately stop what they're doing, tails thumping against the floor as they power-scoot to the door to climb all over me, get love and give kisses. They are also getting to be pros at their physical therapy, and you can see how much progress they are making.”

Lori volunteers free time to work with Kit and Caboodle

Physical challenges won’t stop them

Adulthood is right around the corner for Kit and Caboodle, and the puppies will have lots of support as they learn to balance more weight on even longer limbs. In the next few months, the siblings will graduate from puppy preschool and move into a different area of Dogtown. And someday, these incredibly special pups could pack their bags, leave the Sanctuary for good and adjust to life in their very own homes.

Their journey will have obstacles along the way. But if the first six months of their lives are any indication, they’ll weather those storms, too. The unstoppable Kit and Caboodle haven’t met a challenge yet that they couldn’t overcome.

Chris says, “These two happy pups don't know they’re different. Some days, they even make me forget, too.”

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Caboodle undergoes hydrotherapy several times a week

Photos by Molly Wald and Kurt Budde