Service dog with prosthetic leg lends a paw to community

Dec. 11, 2012 at 10:33 AM ET

Service dogs are known for helping people with disabilities. But what happens when the dog is the one in need?

The team at Canine Assistants – a nonprofit that trains service dogs in Milton, Ga. – confronted that question when a golden retriever was born with only three paws last year.

Employees at the center suspect the umbilical cord was wrapped around the dog’s foot in utero, preventing him from growing a fourth paw. The team at Canine Assistants named the newborn “Pirelli” after the tire company – referring to his need for a "retread."

Jennifer Arnold, the nonprofit's founder and author of "In a Dog's Heart," told TODAY: “You could see in Pirelli... something very special."

So Arnold and her team found an alternative way for Pirelli to help others: They brought him to schools to promote a message of acceptance and overcoming obstacles. NBC affiliate WXIA tracked the dog's journey, and soon donations for a prosthetic leg flooded in.

When the first prosthetic proved less than successful, Hanger Clinic, which specializes in prosthetics for people, stepped in to create a carbon-fiber foot – similar to the one worn by Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius.

Pirelli, who will receive the new leg in the next few weeks, is an inspiration to all.

"It doesn't matter what your body looks like or how it functions,” says Arnold. “What makes you important as a person is what you are on the inside."

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