This is the story of a amazing small dog with special needs. It is also the story of a special Coachella Valley animal rescuer who saved her. Stacey Lawler is the kennel manager at Save A Pet, a private no-kill shelter in Desert Hot Springs. Stacey has a special affinity to work with all kinds of dogs, but her heart is with those who need the most help. Part of her job is selecting dogs to pull from public shelters where they may be euthanized. At Save A Pet they get a second chance to find a home. Stacey spotted a tiny Chihuahua with two deformed hind legs in the back quarantine area of the county shelter, the Coachella Valley Animal Campus. The shelter labeled the 10-month-old animal “unadoptable” and she was scheduled to be euthanized the next day. Sadly, most potential adopters would not consider selecting a dog like Taxi. Stacey adopted the dog as her own pet.
Stacey Lawler is experienced with special needs dogs. Maggie Mae, the first of Stacey’s wheelchair dogs, provided love and comfort when Stacey went through a tough time in her life. Stacey explains, “Maggie never left my side. I feel she saved me in a sense. People don’t realize these disabled dogs are as loving as other dogs if not more so.” These dogs show us through their joy and resilience that we humans can overcome our obstacles as well.
Taxi became a favorite Facebook story as hundreds of folks followed her search for the proper wheelchair. New technology has developed a variety of wheelchairs to fit each dog’s unique needs. The dog is strapped in with a nylon harness attached to a light framework with wheels. Taxi accompanied Stacey to work almost every day, becoming a fixture at Save A Pet and enjoying celebrity status and new mobility. Imagine being able to run for the first time! The 6 pound animal became a pampered, happy and playful pet.
All was well in Taxi’s world until October 6 when tragedy struck. Stacey decided to leave her dogs, including Taxi, at home that day. She has a large fenced in yard and a doggie door that allows the pets to go in and out. She returned home after work to find that someone had maliciously opened her gates and let the dogs out. Her other dogs were waiting at the front door. However, Taxi was missing!!
Stacey was heartsick. The Joshua Tree/Morongo Valley desert is a dangerous region, full of coyotes, packs of wild dogs and rattlesnakes. The neighbors’ homes are some distance away. Stacey went out looking, combing every nick and cranny in desperation. The possibilities were ominous, including one that she had been abducted. There was no sign of Taxi.
Photos went out on Facebook and flyers were posted in the community. Stacey notified the local newspaper and radio station. Friends arrived to help search. Stacey barely slept for days, continuing to search the desert landscape on foot as hope dwindled with each passing day. Some phone calls came in, but they were from people chiding Lawler for having dogs in an unlocked back yard. Without food and water it was unlikely Taxi could survive much longer. The desert days were still warm, though thankfully the summer heat had passed. Maybe a good Samaritan had taken Taxi into her home. Stacey wondered if she would be left without ever knowing Taxi’s fate.
Taxi did not have her wheelchair attached. Dogs can only use their wheelchairs when people are present because if it tips over they cannot get up. Taxi was able to move using her front legs, but with limited mobility it was hard to fathom she could travel far.
On October 13, a call came into a local radio station. A woman who lived three quarters of a mile away from Stacey opened her front fenced gate to drive into her garage. Out of the corner of her eye she saw something pink flash by. She went over to investigate and found a small dog drinking water out of the pool. It was Taxi, still wearing the pink bandana Stacey put on the night before she went missing! Taxi beat the odds a second time, and her survival is a miracle considering the length of time she roamed the desert.
Lawler recalls, “She had obviously been in the desert for that entire time because she was extremely emaciated and dehydrated. When that woman started describing Taxi and the bandanna on her neck, I started crying because I knew it wasn’t one of those other calls. I was just elated.” Special needs animals have a will to live beyond what we might imagine.
Special needs dogs can be terrific animals. Some may need a little extra TLC, some may need medication, and others like Taxi can benefit from assistive technology. But they all touch your heart with their optimism and enthusiasm to live life every day, focusing on the good things and bestowing love on their owners.
You can see more of Taxi on her Facebook page, TAXI’S TRAVELS. These days, Taxi is happiest staying put and taking care of the new brood of tiny foster puppies at Lawler’s house. To adopt a rescue cat or dog, visit Save A Pet in Desert Hot Springs during their adoption hours, 12:00 noon until 4:00 pm daily, www.saveapetonline.org, (760) 329-8510. You can meet Stacey and Taxi in person at the shelter, although Taxi is not available for adoption!