When 7-year-old Paxton Williams’ occupational therapist told his family about a puppy born with a limb difference, the family wondered if they had room for a new dog. But they figured it wouldn’t hurt for Paxton — who has a limb difference in his right leg — to meet Marvel, born without a right front paw.
“They just immediately fell in love. ... They were just kindred spirits,” Blaine Williams, 38 of Waconia, Minnesota, told TODAY Parents. “It was amazing to see that connection right away.”
Paxton was born at 24 weeks and five days, weighing 1 pound 10 ounces, “about the size of your palm,” Williams recalled. The newborn struggled to breathe and needed to be resuscitated before being rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit. A few weeks later, Paxton developed a bone infection in his right leg. He underwent surgery after surgery — 10 in total — in an effort to treat the infection.
“That infection stunted the growth of the leg so it affected his hip joint, his knee socket. The lower part of the leg — his foot and ankle and heel — all that was fine,” Williams explained. “He was just a little bit slower to crawl and things, and he just had his own style of getting around.”
For a while, shoe lifts helped Paxton walk by making his legs about the same length. But his right leg developed so slowly that the lifts stopped being a feasible solution.
While Paxton tried a brace for a while, the family realized that he’d need a prosthetic leg with a mechanical knee to help him. He underwent amputation when he was 4 and got fitted with a device. When he gets older, he’ll get a knee with a microprocessor in it. Paxton knows he’s different than other children, but he adapted quickly.
“He was just most excited about getting a wheelchair so he could cruise around,” Williams said. “That frame of mind explains a bit of his personality.”
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After Marvel was born at the end of February, breeder Barb Felt of Rolling Oaks Goldens, noticed that the pup was missing her front right paw.
“It was closed. It wasn’t bleeding. There just wasn’t a paw,” Felt, 61, of Litchfield, Minnesota, told TODAY Parents. “I immediately sent a photo to my trusted veterinarian and said, ‘What do you think happened?’”
The vet suspected that the umbilical cord wrapped around the paw in the uterus and cut off circulation, stunting its development. Marvel didn’t seem to notice.
“She has really great coordination and so she may never need any kind of prosthetic,” Felt said. “That is yet to be determined.”
Felt wanted to find a “special” home for Marvel, especially after she saw a social media story about a girl with a limb difference who had a pooch with a limb difference.
“It was just a really sweet story and it really gave us a heart to do that,” she said. “Marvel is a special little dog and she’s got to go to a special little person.”
Much like the Williamses, Felt could tell at the first meeting that Paxton and Marvel were a perfect match.
“It was about as sweet as it can get,” she said. “Paxton just got down on the floor and Marvel just gave him a little puppy attack, licking his face, and Paxton just kept giggling. We all just kind of looked at each other, all teary-eyed, like, ‘This is it. It’s a match.’ It almost makes me choke up because it’s just really sweet.”
Since going home with the Williams family, Marvel and Paxton have cemented their friendship. And, Marvel has helped Paxton come out of his shell.
“A puppy is super approachable,” Williams said. “People will say, ‘What’s wrong with her leg?’ and then Paxton will step in and he’s like, ‘Oh, she’s like me. She’s got three paws and I’m missing a leg, too.’ And it’s just awesome to hear that he’s got a louder voice now and he’s able to make friends a little easier.”
Williams said he hopes his son’s story will teach others to embrace people with differences.
“At the end, we’re all the same,” he said. “Paxton is a boy. He can just go out and play like any other kid. Don’t think of (his limb difference) as a limitation.”