Rudolph the rescue dog

Seven years ago, Shea Bennett was a college student at Indiana University who just wanted to get through exams before winter break. She and her roommates took a break from studying and visited the Humane Society in Bloomington, Indiana. There, Bennett fell in love with Rudolph, a Golden RetrieverShar-Pei mix with disabled back legs. Despite his handicap, Rudolph ran and played just like any other dog. She adopted him that day.

A lot has changed in Bennett’s life since she brought Rudolph home. She graduated from college, moved at least nine times and got married. Throughout all that, one thing has remained the same: Her love for Rudolph. He’s such an important part of her life that she even included him in her wedding in a rather creative way.

We caught up with Bennett, a 27-year-old human resources professional who lives in Houston, to hear more about her pup’s inspiring rescue story.

Q: Can you tell us the story of how you rescued Rudolph?

A: It was actually just by chance, but now I think it was meant to be. Originally I had been studying for midterms before Christmas break in college, and my roommates and I were just losing our minds studying. We thought, "What can we do to just take a break?" So we went to the Humane Society.

I saw this dog, and I thought, "Oh, he has the sweetest face, and I absolutely want to take him out and play." When I started to take him out, I noticed he had a handicap. The woman at the Humane Society was like, "Oh, he’s not lame, but he can’t stretch his back two legs. He just walks a little different from every other dog.” When we got outside, he brought me a stick to throw and he just had the best personality given his situation.

We went to leave and my heart was just breaking. I was like "Here’s this dog. He has the greatest personality and people probably aren’t adopting him because of something that really doesn’t matter." So we got to the stoplight and turned around and went back and just [adopted] him. I just wanted to give him a good home. I really had a connection with him.

The sad thing is, I lived in an apartment that didn’t allow pets. We had to sneak him in for the second semester. But I lived with three other girls, so, of course, he was the prized possession of the apartment. He lived a very, very pampered life that year.

Do you know anything about his life before you found him?

He had been there for three months and no one had adopted him. He was on this list that was called The 12 Strays of Christmas. It was $37 to adopt him because they wanted him to have a home and no one was willing to pay anything.

The Humane Society found him when he was about 3 months old in an abandoned fridge on the side of the road. He had made a nest out of leaves and sticks.

What was he like when you first brought him home?

He was so happy! You never know with a dog. The second we put him in the car and drove away — and I believe this — he was smiling. He was like "Thank God I’m out of there and I have this person who will take care of me."

You mentioned that his back legs don’t stretch out. Did you take him to the vet to find out why?

As soon as we got him, I took him to the vet to make sure it was something we could help him with. Basically what happened is this: The vet said, "You know how our knees face outward? Well, dogs’ do, too." But as Rudolph was growing, [his knees bowed​​​​​​​​​​] inward, so it would hurt him to walk. He didn’t walk for a little while probably, so the muscles in his legs permanently tightened.

By the time I got him, it was too late to do surgery. If they had found him [earlier] … they probably could’ve corrected it, and he would be perfectly normal. But at this point, you can’t do anything. But he’s not in pain. If he sees a squirrel, you can’t catch him. He doesn’t know he has a disability.

You brought a cardboard cutout of him to your wedding. That’s such a cute idea. What inspired it?

I lived in Indiana, until recently, and moved to Texas. My husband and I had to go back to Indiana for our wedding. Now, I’ve had Rudolph almost seven years. We’ve moved together nine times, so he’s the most consistent part of my life. I feel like he knows me better than anyone. But I didn’t want to put him through the stress of flying. I really wanted him to be in our wedding. He’s a really big part of my life and my husband’s life, too. It would’ve just been weird for him not to be there in some way. Everybody was like, "Is Rudolph going to be the ring bearer or walk you down the aisle?" Everyone expected him to be there, so I felt like I had to have him there in some way. It went over so well. People loved it. They were doing Instagram pictures with the cardboard cutout and having a lot of fun with it.

What do you love most about Rudolph?

Oh, gosh. I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about it. It’s funny: I guess in a tangible sense, he doesn’t really do anything for me, right? I pay all the bills, I buy his food, and I take care of him. So there’s nothing tangible he can give me. But I guess he just gives me that sense that he’s always happy to see me. He always makes me feel like I’m the best person in the world. I come home at the end of a hard day and he’s waited nine hours at the door for me to get home. I don’t have children, so to me, he’s like a human being. I don’t even think of him as a dog. I’m always trying to make him happy because he brings me such joy.

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