Lessons from a deaf blind pink puppy
If there has ever been a dog that will wiggle their way into your heart, it’s Piglet, the deaf blind pink puppy. With the help of his compassionate family, he’s beaten the odds and thrived. Now, he inspires others by harnessing the power of social media to share his daily adventures and spread his message of acceptance, empathy, inclusion, and kindness—otherwise known as The Piglet Mindset.
Piglet was rescued from a hoarding situation, weighing only one pound and exhibiting signs of severe distress. The rescue reached out to one of their foster volunteers who specialized in caring for animals with unique needs, Melissa Shapiro, DVM. The initial thought was that Piglet would be under Dr. Shaprio’s care for only a few days until a more permanent foster placement could be secured. When Dr. Shapiro met Piglet for the first time, he was literally kicking and screaming. He was not a quiet, cuddly puppy. In fact, he was frightened of his surroundings because he was blind and deaf.
PHOTO © MELISSA SHAPIRO»
Dr. Shapiro knew that the first obstacle was to find a way to connect with him, soothe him, and make him feel safe. During the first few months of caring for Piglet he needed to be held all the time. Without the sense of hearing or vision, touch was the first way Piglet connected to his family. This connection deepened over the first few months, giving him the confidence to explore and learn and fall into a routine. Touch was also the tool the Shapiros used to train Piglet. Teaching him a series of tap signals, Piglet has learned basic commands including sit, stay, go to your bed, and more.
As they got to know Piglet better, Dr. Shapiro began documenting his habits, playtimes, care routine, and milestones on her personal media page. She knew that Piglet would require extraordinary care and knew social media was the best way to connect with potential adopters. The only thing was, she was falling in love with Piglet, and the feeling was mutual. Piglet had grown so much in her care, integrating easily into their pack of pets, and she and her family couldn’t image their home without him. So, they made it official and adopted him themselves.
A Very Piglet DayPHOTO © MELISSA SHAPIRO»
One of Piglet’s favorite activities is snuggling up with Warren, his “Favorite Dad”—a title earned in the early days of fostering because snuggling with dad was one of the first things to truly calm Piglet. But don’t think that snuggling is all this pup does—he is a very active, busy, and social guy!PHOTO © JOAN CARRUTHERS PHOTOGRAPHY»
His Instagram and Facebook pages are stocked full of videos highlighting his zest for playing with toys, exuberant running around his yard, and playing with his siblings, Annie, Evie, Zoey, Dean, and Gina (meet them in the side bar). Piglet and his pack play outside every day under the careful supervision of their humans. They also go on walks around the neighborhood and at the beach, where Piglet will walk on a leash alongside his pack or, if he gets too overstimulated or tired, ride in his stroller.PHOTO © MELISSA SHAPIRO»
“From the start, Piglet became our whole life—it was like having an infant in the house. Every second we were watching him, and we still do. We are always watching out for his safety, to see if he’s processing things okay, if we are understanding what he is trying to say to us about a particular activity or an environment we are in. It is non-stop, but we couldn’t imagine it any other way.” — Melissa Shapiro, DVM
Another favorite activity for Piglet is getting social. Not only does he love to play and interact with his own pack, but he also enjoys accompanying his mom to her veterinary office, visiting his friends at the animal hospital, and popping in on his buddies at the bank and other stops around town. His wagging tail and excitement brings joy and smiles to everyone he encounters throughout the day. After a busy day of being Piglet, he is happy to be home, snuggled up in his bed or with his Favorite Dad for a snooze.
At home, the Shapiros use gates to keep Piglet safe from steps and other risks, and this allows him the freedom to walk around the house on his own. He is quite independent and knows where the water bowl, toys, beds, humans, and siblings are and how to get to them. He uses his sense of touch and smell to navigate his surroundings in and out of the home; for example, mapping out a path by nudging the wall, barriers, or other landmarks around him. Because he’s small, though, he can’t do everything on his own, simply because it’s too dangerous. For example, Piglet can go up the stairs but not down. Going down the stairs is too difficult for him to navigate and puts him at risk for falling, so he isn’t allowed to do that. Instead, he gets a lift from his parents.
The Piglet Mindset is Born
Animals doing extraordinary things usually have an extraordinary human by their side, and that is certainly the case with Piglet. His mom, Dr. Shapiro, has been practicing veterinary medicine for more than 30 years As a child her love for animals ran deep, and throughout her life she was never without a companion animal in her care. She has always volunteered with animal welfare and rescue organizations in various capacities, including educational outreach around veterinary medicine. When Piglet became a permanent member of the family, it was only natural to create a program around him.
The Piglet Mindset Program is an in-depth program that teaches children and students of all ages about empathy, acceptance, inclusion, and kindness. It was initially created as an online series of presentations and videos around various topics, including Piglet’s story, his adventures with his pack of pets, how he navigates the world, and other topics. Thorough and impactful, it’s used in classrooms nationwide.
In addition to the free online resources, there is a live component as well. Dr. Shapiro offers live Zoom presentations with Piglet and his pack, as well as in person classroom visits. Whether online or in person, both experiences are enriching and engaging to the students. Among the highlights are the demonstration of how Piglet responds to his “tap commands,” how the other dogs respond to hand and voice commands, and how to teach both.
Sharing Their Story
In a new book, Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf Blind Pink Puppy and His Family, available this summer, Dr. Shapiro chronicles her life, her career working with animals, and the transformational power of welcoming Piglet into her family. The story gives a firsthand look at the Shapiro’s daily care of their pack and Piglet’s journey from rescue to role model, and provides humor and other surprises along the way.
When asked what lessons Piglet has taught her, Dr. Shapiro responded, “Piglet has allowed me the opportunity to do something so important—to inspire people to exceed their limitations, either real or imagined. And to share the inspiration of his story, of positivity, inclusion, empathy, and kindness. I have, in turn, certainly been inspired and guided by this tiny dog’s perfect example.”
Meet the entire family, learn more about Piglet, Piglet’s Pack, how to get involved, and how to bring Piglet to your classroom by visiting his website www.pigletmindset.org, and be sure to follow Piglet on Facebook and Instagram @pinkpigletpuppy.
Piglet Mindset poster»
Piglet International, Inc., a non-profit organization founded in 2019, is supported by donations and merchandise sales through the Piglet Shop. However, prior to it becoming its own entity, Dr. Shapiro focused her fundraising efforts on giving to other organizations. In the last four years, Piglet’s supporters and followers raised more than $100,000 through merchandise sales, which was then donated to animal rescues that specialize in special-needs animals, groups serving people with disabilities, social justice organizations, and more. And Piglet International, Inc. shares this philosophy of giving—in addition to its own efforts, Piglet and his family continue to fundraise on behalf of other worthy causes.
Even though Piglet is the one with the popular social media accounts, it doesn’t mean his packmates don’t share the spotlight. When you tune into Piglet’s daily adventures, you’ll usually catch at least one packmate in the mix. In fact, his pack continues to teach him how to “dog around” like a pro. Some of them also join him and his mom at educational events. So who are Piglet’s packmates? Let’s meet the crew!
Annie is an exceptionally sweet, very shy, tan Chihuahua poodle mix rescued from a shelter in California. She was very sick with pneumonia when she joined the family, but she recovered after weeks of antibiotics. Annie loves to snuggle with Dean and Susie (two other packmates) on the couch, she loves to take walks at the beach, and she has a lot of fun racing around the yard with Evie and Zoey (even more packmates). Annie is 9-1/2 years old.
Evie is a little white poodle mix rescued from the same California shelter as Annie. Evie was left in a taped-up box outside the shelter when she was about 6 months old. She loves children and is an outstanding demo dog for the Piglet Mindset school visits and veterinary workshops for kids. Evie also loves to take walks at the beach, race around the yard with the other little dogs, and she loves to visit the vet hospital with Piglet and Zoey. Evie is 9-1/2 years old.
Zoey is a 6-pound, chocolate Chihuahua Yorkie mix from Arkansas. She was advertised on Craigslist, along with her 5 littermates. Thankfully, a rescue group was able to take them in and place them carefully into loving forever homes. Zoey spends a lot of time hanging out and playing with Piglet, because they’re the same size. She loves doing tricks with the other dogs, taking walks in the neighborhood and at the beach, and she looks forward to visiting the vet hospital with Evie and Piglet. Zoey is 6-1/2 years old.
Dean is a 9-1/2-year-old black Lab mix found wandering on a county road in Arkansas when he was about 5 months old. We adopted him a few months later, after he had traveled to Connecticut to be fostered. Dean is lucky to have been adopted. Black dogs have a much lower adoption rate than dogs who are lighter colors—the phenomenon is called Black Dog Syndrome. Dean is a very friendly couch-potato dog. He loves to hang out with Susie and Annie, who adore him. But he also loves to ride in the car and go for walks at home and at the beach. He’s usually the favorite of visitors who come to the house to meet the dogs.
Gina is an 11-year-old double merle Australian shepherd/ border collie mix who was adopted from a rescue group in Georgia. Gina and Piglet have a lot in common—double merle and double dapple are different names for the same genetic issue that causes the white coat and congenital ear and eye defects that they both have. Gina has a white coat, minor peripheral vision deficits, and she is deaf in one ear, all the result of double merle breeding. Being deaf in one ear, she can hear but she can’t always tell where the sound is coming from. So, she commonly will run away from her parents’ calls, looking in the wrong direction. They keep her safe using a leash and harness when she isn’t in a fenced yard. Gina loves to do group tricks, practice her agility jumps and weave poles, go for walks, and travel to work with her mom. Gina is much bigger than Piglet, but she understands that she needs to be extra gentle with him.
Susie was adopted in May 2007, and sadly, she passed away just this year. A sweet, gentle, and friendly gray terrier, she was rescued from a shelter in Tennessee. She loved other dogs, children, and everyone she met. In fact, she is the reason the family has so many dogs! She warmly welcomed each of the other six dogs into what she considered her dog family. Susie loved to take walks, ride in the car, and participate in school visits. She was especially gentle and nurturing to Piglet.
Keeping Piglet Safe
Keeping Piglet safe is a big priority. Because he can’t see or hear, his family takes great care and extra precautions to secure his environment. Some of the tools they use are gates,fences, harness and leash, stroller and plenty of supervision.
Although Piglet gets around quite well on his own and carefully maps out where he is in a new environment, Dr. Shaprio’s family knows it’s important to have these safeguards in place in case the unpredictable happens.
Piglet & The Senses
The five senses are hearing, vision, taste, touch, and smell. While Piglet does not have the senses of hearing and vision, he has a keen sense of taste, and a nose that can search out treats in an instant! His sense of touch is very important, as it is how he connects to his environment and the people around him. Piglet also has what is known as the sixth sense: proprioception—the sense of balance and orientation in space. Piglet has an exceptional sense of balance, and that contributes to him knowing where he is in his environment. His human parents also point out that he shows uncommonly good “common sense—he’s a very sensible dog and usually proceeds with caution, confidence, and calm when faced with a new situation.”