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3-year-old girl without feet finds perfect match: Puppy missing a paw

A Tennessee toddler with prosthetic legs has found a friend in a puppy who was born missing a paw.
/ Source: TODAY

A Tennessee toddler with prosthetic legs has found a friend in a puppy who was born missing a paw.

Three-year-old Sapphyre Johnson, a patient at the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Greenville, South Carolina, got to take the dog home after meeting him this week. Sapphyre, whose family lives in Greeneville, Tennessee, was born with only two fingers on each hand and one toe on each foot due to a congenital condition. Doctors decided to amputate her feet as a baby so that she would eventually be able to walk with prosthetics.

Sapphyre Johnson, 3, and 9-week-old puppy Lt. Dan.Courtesy of Greenville Shriners Hospital

She met the puppy, named Lt. Dan after the “Forrest Gump” character who lost his legs, through an employee at the hospital who had been contacted by someone who wanted the dog to be with a child with a similar situation. Lt. Dan, a white German shepherd, was born missing his front right paw.

It was love at first sight for Sapphyre, mom Ashley Johnson told

“It was amazing to see Sapphy and her puppy,” she said. “She pays attention to hands and feet on everyone and everything, I guess because she realizes hers are different. So she loves him. She took her prosthetic feet off to show him her feet, and he held his little paw up and it was so cute.”

Courtesy of Greenville Shriners Hospital

The family, who live about three hours from the hospital and often visit for Sapphyre’s prosthetics fittings, have breeder Karen Riddle to thank for their new pet. Riddle contacted the hospital after Lt. Dan was born, hoping she could find him a new home.

Specialist Elaine Hardin, who works with Sapphyre at the hospital, decided to put Riddle in touch with the Johnsons after seeing how well the young girl reacted to therapy dogs who had visited the hospital.

“Elaine gave Karen our phone number and we emailed and did pictures and talked on the phone, and they kinda fell in love,” Johnson said.

Courtesy of Greenville Shriners Hospital

Lt. Dan is 9 weeks old and has lived with his new family only since Monday, but “he acts like he’s been there forever,” she added.

“He’s the best puppy, he doesn’t chew everything up,” Johnson said. “He’s good-natured, calm.”

She hopes Lt. Dan helps Sapphyre daughter embrace her differences as she grows up.

“I always want Sapphy to know that everybody is different, and some of us are more obviously different,” Johnson said. “Like, people can see Sapphy’s differences. I think it’s good for her to realize that even animals, everyone is different. We’re supposed to be.

"It would be really boring if everyone was the same.”

Courtesy of Greenville Shriners Hospital