By Elizabeth Bokfi
In his most in-depth and candid interview in years, Keating, a certified therapy dog who was born without a right front paw, tells all about the bony road to stardom and much more.
Therapy dogs can be many things to different people. Not to be confused with service dogs, therapy dogs are specially trained to provide comfort, affection, and, in some cases, love, to people living under special circumstances. Nursing homes, hospitals, or palliative care facilities are examples of places where a therapy dog may be invited to work.
While they may provide the same nurturing services as a therapy dogs, service dogs are additionally trained to assist people with disabilities with specific activities of daily living. Opening the refrigerator door or turning on a light switch are examples of duties a service dog is trained to do. Service dogs have public access rights whereas therapy dogs only have access rights to the building or facility they are asked to visit. But therapy dogs aren’t necessarily the underdog.
Here comes THE man: all fur, no bite, and in the La-Z-Boy before I could even say, “Give me paw!” I pull a cookie out of my pocket and the panting begins, followed by a moist, doe-eyed look of adoration.
How did it feel to be rescued by humans who own an actual prosthetics and orthotics clinic?
That’s the greatest part–I live to go to work with them. I am a certified therapy dog. I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on May 19, 2014. When the local shelter was helping to place me and my siblings into new homes, a local prosthetist and her husband volunteered to make me my first plastic boot. Then they sent an email to their network of prosthetists to find someone who would adopt me and continue to make legs for me as I grew. Mark, a certified prosthetist-orthotist and owner of Miller Prosthetics & Orthotics, saw the email. He and his wife Nancy adopted me.
There’s a backstory to how you got your name.
Dad—um, Mark—watched Dead Poets Society, and the very next day, apparently this actor Robin Williams died. Mark named me in honor of his character in the movie, Professor Keating. I just go by Keating though.
You were born without your paw. That’s a pretty tough gig for a dog.
Nah. I can really run and play, just like all my buddies. It’s tough to hop across tiled or slick floors without it though, so I’m super cautious.
How has your custom prosthetic limb changed your life?
My prosthetic limb turned me into a superstar. Surprisingly though, when I visit people in hospitals and rehab centers, they usually don’t even notice my leg. They just seem happy to see me. I got really good at posing with new friends. I can even pose for selfies, but someone else needs to snap the photo. Anyway, now I have my own business cards.
Being a superstar…rumor has it that you can be difficult to work with at times. According to Rolling Bone magazine, one time you had a tour contract rider stating that chicken-flavored bone treats be separated and removed from all Milk-Bone Flavor Snacks boxes before being brought to you. How much leash do your managers let you have on that stuff? I thought all dogs loved chicken?
Actually, my new love is spicy pistachios; the shells aren’t that great though. And no matter what you heard, I actually do eat everything. You can tell by my growing physique.
As a certified therapy dog, what are your duties at Miller Prosthetics & Orthotics?
Sometimes when I go to rehab or hospitals, I need to put my chin on patients’ beds or knees so they can reach down and pet me. Sometimes I need to squeeze between wheelchairs and trays, but I manage. I actually don’t like to be petted on the head; but, scratch my back or butt and I’m in heaven!
How often do you tour?
I tour weekly to a nearby rehab joint. This summer was busy with the Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp (www.amputee-coalition.org/events-programs/youth-camp) and a few other summer camps. As a certified therapy dog, I can go almost anywhere. I loved staying at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, for the 2017 Amputee Coalition National Conference. This December, I’m going to another meeting and get to stay at the Opryland Hotel. I heard there are a lot of indoor plants….
You once turned down an interview with The New Yorkie Times because their articles didn’t represent enough diversity. How did you learn that being different is okay—lovable?
How many developers ask for your paw prints in cement or name a company after you? 3Paw is mom and dad’s property management company. Well, ours. I’m lovable enough to have my prints cemented on the back porch of the office!
How has helping other amputees—canine or human—helped you accept your own physical differences?
Physical differences? It’s all I know. My buddy Kota plays with me just as hard as he does with other dog dudes. Sometimes he goes after my residual limb, but when I’m wearing my leg, he’s the one who suffers!
I like to show kids my residual limb, and let them touch it, so they are more comfortable around others with limb loss. By the way, I shake with my right side—with or without my prosthesis on.
During dog days of summer, what’s your favorite pastime?
I love going. Going out the door. Going in the car. Going out of the car. Most of all, in all seasons, I love going to work. Sometimes I have to stay home if it’s raining, but usually I get to go to the office every day. Of course, once there, my favorite thing to do is sleep in the sun. Not sure if this is puppy-friendly or not, but after a long day at work, my favorite bar is Pawpurr’s, only 30 minutes from my place. Ohio University also has a Pawpaw Festival–it’s on my bucket list.
I’ve heard your latest indulgence is Shih Tzu shiatsu. Does it really help after a ruff day at the park?
I don’t wear my prosthesis all day, so I hop a lot. That gets to be tough on my joints and my front left paw. So yeah, a session of Shih Tzu shiatsu is absolutely the best for my sore bod.
Now, I gotta ask this—how do you really feel about wearing that stereotypical pirate-with-the-peg-leg costume? Be honest. Our readers can take it.
Well, I’ve put on some weight since my first costume contest, so I actually hate squeezing into the costume, even since it’s been altered. The wooden leg still fits though, and it’s pretty comfortable. The peg leg is legit—it’s made of willow, which is the type of wood that wooden legs were originally made from. I love making people happy, and that costume really does it. Last summer the Nina and Pinta ship replicas came to town, so I toured the boats in it. We had sword fights on deck with kids on tour and that was pretty cool.
The costume I really love is my superhero threads. Much easier to put on, and I turn fans around me into superheroes with props like capes and shields for pictures. Halloween week is my busiest time of year because we reverse trick or treat with the medical facilities in the area. Last year, I was too tired to even eat my bone at the end of the day.
Any upcoming tour dates for spring 2020?
We’re planning to head to DC this summer for the Amputee Coalition National Conference (www.amputee-coalition.org/events-programs/national-conference). It’s my favorite event, but I’m afraid to fly, so I go when we drive. So far, I’ve been to Greenville, North Carolina, and Louisville, Kentucky. I may even go in April to Hill Day at the Capitol (www.amputee-coalition.org/advocacy-awareness/hill-day)—depends on my ride.
What would you like to say to other dogs out there with differences who might be thinking they’re unlovable?
Take what you have and make the most of it. I became a pirate and a superhero. Ha! Now people don’t even notice my owners—or even recognize them—if I’m not around!
TOP IMAGE: Keating puts in a grueling day at the office. Image by Nancy Miller.