Abandoned to loved: Sibling dogs with neurological issues find joy every day

You don’t have to know anything about Kit or Caboodle to see and feel the joy these two dogs radiate. But if you knew the challenges they’ve faced, you’d be cheering on the day Kit, in a fit of happiness, rose to her feet and raced across the grass in her own bunny-hopping way.

Kit the dog moving in the grass like a bunny hopping

Puppies with neurological disorders come to the Sanctuary

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, so the two dogs came to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

Today, Kit and Caboodle, who both have a rare neurological disorder, can run for short distances. They chase after sticks and tennis balls. They wrestle and play with each other. They go for stroller and golf cart rides. And they take walks using their specialized carts. They greet people on Sanctuary tours and play with fun dog toys.

Sure, they are wobbly and they fall down a lot. But they get right back up again and enjoy their lives, just as much as any other dogs.

The cause of neurological issues in dogs isn’t always apparent, and that is the case for Kit and Caboodle. When they arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in late 2016, people rallied around them, although no one knew quite what to expect on the road ahead. They soon discovered that Kit and Caboodle, who will celebrate their third birthdays in September, each have a will, spirit and zest for life that far outweighs their physical limitations. And right from the get-go, they’ve benefited from a huge outpouring of support from Best Friends staff, visitors and volunteers — all of which have combined to make their lives amazing.

Caboodle the dog walking in the grass with woman holding Kit the dog behind him

Support and progress for special dogs

From the moment they arrived, the siblings have been given everything they need to succeed. A team of volunteers helped them settle in at Dogtown and provided them with a rigorous physical therapy routine to help their bodies grow as healthy and strong as possible.

Kit and Caboodle have specially-modified rooms and yards and custom-made carts to help them get around. Dogtown caregivers and volunteers have spent countless hours helping the dogs develop the strength and skills to be more independent. Most important of all, the dogs have a Best Friends family (at the Sanctuary and elsewhere) that loves them and will not stop accommodating them to make them happy.

Learn more about Dogtown at Best Friends

Kit the dog in a wheelchair next to a man who is smiling at him

“One thing I’m really proud of for them is all their progress in eating,” says local volunteer Carol Casperson. “It was especially difficult feeding Kit, because she wanted nothing to do with food presented in a regular dog bowl. And we had to try many different methods at mealtimes to get her to eat anything. Now, Caboodle can eat independently while standing at his raised bowl. Kit eats great from the same kind of bowl while standing in her cart, as long as someone holds the bowl for her.”

Over the years, all the physical therapy, hydrotherapy and exercise provided for the two dogs have paid off. The siblings may not move like other dogs, but they are standing and walking consistently, and their bodies are as lean, muscular and strong as athletes.

“They get stronger every day, and we’re never going to say they can’t do anything they want to do,” says Dogtown caregiver Tim Dempsey. But doing a “simple” thing like Kit did when she stood up and hopped across the lawn or when Caboodle chases a tennis ball or races down a dirt road in his cart takes incredible strength, courage and perseverance.

Outings as a trial run for future adoption

Recently, Kit and Caboodle’s family at the Sanctuary took them on several special outings. While the outings in part celebrated their progress, they also helped expand their world by showing them how much more they were capable of doing and tested how well they might do in a home of their own.

One of those outings was to Angels Landing, a natural amphitheater at the Sanctuary, and one of the few places with grass. That’s where Kit got her silly zoomies and Caboodle chased after his tennis ball as eagerly as any dog who’s really into playing ball. Another outing was to the Best Friends cottages with Dogtown volunteer Caroline Lynch. Like many volunteers who return year after year, Caroline is amazed at the progress Kit and Caboodle have made since they arrived at the Sanctuary.

Caboodle the dog with a ball in his mouth while lying in the grass

“I had the idea of taking Kit and Caboodle on an outing because I saw how much they’ve progressed physically,” Caroline says. “They were ready for the next step, and I thought an outing to the cottage would be perfect.”

This outing was a big deal, because it was like a trial run for the day that someone brings Kit and Caboodle home. An entire entourage followed Kit, Caboodle and Caroline from Dogtown down to the cottages. The team lined the main room of the cottage with blankets and pillows so that Kit and Caboodle could move around safely. After sniffing every inch of the room, they seemed satisfied and tired. But they also seemed very interested in the couch, so their friends helped them up and snuggled with them for a while. The big smiles on the dogs’ faces said it all.

Man sitting on a couch next to Kit and Caboodle the dogs

Come meet Kit and Caboodle

The people who know and love these dogs never doubt for a moment how happy they are. But for those who haven’t seen rare neurological disorders in dogs up close, it can be a bit surprising at first to see a dog stumbling or falling when walking. That’s why caregivers and volunteers working closely with these special dogs will occasionally invite new people in to see them and experience some of their joy, or they will bring Kit and Caboodle out to meet them.

Penny Nelson-Newman, a local Best Friends volunteer, says: “One of their favorite activities is meeting Sanctuary tours. There are diverse crowds, and sometimes people are at first taken aback by the dogs. But after only a few minutes, when they see Kit and Caboodle standing, walking and interacting with people and with each other, they start smiling and they get it.”

If local volunteer Ed Paschal is working with the dogs in their room or their yard and notices curious volunteers, he invites them inside to meet them. “Kit and Caboodle have improved tons, and they are just a joy to work with. It’s easy to see the happiness they have.”

Cassie Rowell, a housekeeper at Dogtown who often takes Kit and Caboodle on car rides, says it’s impossible to see the two dogs and not smile with sincere happiness. “Kit and Caboodle are the happiest dogs,” she says. “They have such a zest and love for life that it's contagious. It is a blessing to be one of their friends.”

Virgil Barstad, Best Friends co-founder, senior accounting analyst and another one of Kit and Caboodle’s car-ride buddies, acknowledges that people who don’t know the dogs might wonder just how good their quality of life could be. “But once you see them wrestling (ineptly but happily) with each other or, even better, see the joy with which they greet someone they know and love, it’s impossible even to think that,” he says. “They’re having a great life — perhaps not on our terms, but on their terms.”

Woman holding Caboodle the dog up with a sling so he can walk on the grass

The joy of dogs

The word “joy” comes up again and again when people talk about Kit and Caboodle. Linda Shooer, a longtime Sanctuary volunteer who donated strollers for both dogs, a custom-made cart for Kit and the dogs’ favorite kibble, says she has always gravitated towards dogs with special needs.

“Kit and Caboodle’s ability to live in the moment with determination and exuberance is astounding to me,” she says. “They are goofy, affectionate, determined, stubborn, silly, hysterical and adorable. They are happy. They are proud when they can stand, and to them it means the world. The specialized cart I purchased for Kit enables her to stand securely in the correct position for muscle strength and placement. The reward that I receive from being witness to such happiness and true joy is more than I could ever wish for.”

Their friends call them amazing, inspiring, brave, strong, curious, determined, sweet and loving, and they often refer to them as “a gift” and “absolutely the best.” But if they all had to agree on just one word to describe these dogs, it would be summed up, simply, by the look on their faces on their most recent outing.

Wrapped safely in the arms of two of their very best friends, Kit and Caboodle rode in a golf cart, slowly up and down the road in Angel Canyon. Along the way, they stopped to visit curious horses and a friendly donkey. Their eyes were wide with wonder, their noses twitched in the breeze, and their faces were simply blissful.

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Woman giving a kiss to the top of Kit the dog's head

Photos by Molly Wald and Linda Shooer