THE WASHINGTON POST – Eleven golden retriever puppies were born in one litter on Barb and Russ Felt’s Minnesota farm in February. One stood out from the rest: A sleepy 12-ounce pup that was missing its right paw.
The Felts’ veterinarian team speculated the puppy’s umbilical cord was wrapped around its leg in the womb, preventing complete growth, said Barb Felt, who has raised golden retrievers on the 200-acre farm, Rolling Oaks Goldens, for 40 years.
She and her husband named the pup Marvel, and they had an idea of what to do with her, Felt said.
“We decided it would be wonderful to place her with someone who also has a limb difference,” said Felt, 61. “Our vision was that she’d be a perfect companion for just the right child.”
That day arrived sooner than expected. On April 9, Felt posted a video of the all-girl litter on Facebook, along with news about the charming three-pawed pup they wanted to put up for adoption. One of their clients, an occupational therapist, saw the post and reached out to Felt.
“She said that she worked with a boy who has a right leg limb difference and she wondered if we’d like to make a connection,” said Felt.
Soon afterward, she was on the phone with Blaine and Stephanie Williams who live in Waconia, Minnesota, near the Twin Cities, with their three children, Evelyn, Paxton, and Dawson.
The Williamses told Felt that Paxton had been born premature, and while he was in the newborn intensive care unit, he’d developed an infection in his right femur that eventually caused slow growth in his leg, they said.
After Paxton turned four, his right foot was amputated, and he was fitted with a prosthetic foot, they told Felt.
She told them she had a puppy with a similar challenge, and the Williamses were instantly intrigued. The following weekend, in mid-April, they decided to make the one-hour drive with their kids to the Felts’ farm and meet Marvel.
“We were hanging out in a living room in the kennel area, and when they brought Marvel in, the kids immediately started rolling around on the floor with her,” said Blaine Williams, 38. “It was love at first sight.”
There was a lot of playing and giggling going on, said Stephanie Williams, 36.
“Marvel kept jumping on Paxton’s head,” she said. “It was so emotional and heartwarming for all of us. He kept saying, ‘Sweet girl.'”
On April 30, the Williams family adopted Marvel after one final vet check.
“You could just see the special bond Paxton has with Marvel,” said Blaine Williams. “As soon as he sat down, Marvel was all over him, licking his face.”
While watching their son play with his new three-footed pal, the Williamses said they thought back to the day when he was born. They wondered at the time if he would be able to thrive and lead a normal life.
When Paxton was born at 24 weeks, he was one pound, 10 ounces, a micro preemie who didn’t weigh much more than Marvel did at birth, said Stephanie Williams, who works as an accounting manager.
“He was a fighter from the start – they had to do 10 surgeries to get all of the infection out of the bone and he was in the hospital for four months,” she said.
Because Paxton’s right leg didn’t grow at the same pace as his left leg, mobility became more difficult as he grew older, said Blaine Williams, an Army veteran who is now a global education manager for an industrial automation company.
“The difference was so significant that the doctors we were referred to at Shriners recommended that we amputate his foot and get him a prosthetic so he’d be able to walk,” he said, adding, that “it was a hard decision, but ultimately, it was the best thing for Paxton.”
The Williamses gently explained the reason for the amputation to their son.
“He took it pretty well – Paxton has always been a really easy-going, ‘go with the flow’ kid,” Stephanie Williams said.
Once he’d been fitted with a prosthetic foot, he was able to move around more quickly, added Stephanie.
Marvel, now 11 weeks old, will also be fitted with a prosthesis when she reaches eight months, to give her more mobility.
“Paxton is so proud of her – he tells people that she’s missing a paw and she’s ‘just like me,'” said Stephanie Williams.
Her son’s leg difference doesn’t bother him now, she said, but as he grows older and becomes more aware of it, he will hopefully take comfort in having a pet with a similar condition.
His older sister is also happy about that.
“Marvel is like a miracle, she’s a really good match for our family, especially Paxton,” said Evelyn.
The Williamses’ new family member takes frequent naps after frolicking on three legs and chasing after three kids, said Blaine Williams. “She’s very determined – just like Paxton,” he said. “They’re a perfect match. And Marvel is a great ice-breaker for Paxton to talk about his prosthetic leg with other kids.”
Paxton, who is now finishing first grade, said he can’t wait to play with his pup first thing every morning after he wakes up.
“Marvel is the cutest dog ever,” he said. “She’s just so soft, I can’t stop petting her. And she loves me.”