11/24/2009 at 10:33 AM EST
When Lynne Ouchida (Maty3leggeddog
) and Troy Kerstetter met a 9-year-old girl named Sushma in 2006, they thought she was like many of the other children that would fawn over their canine, Maty
, a championship disc dog.
Sushma was different, though – she was missing a leg and both her hands – but she wasn't so different from Maty, who only has three legs. The girl and the dog played together that day, and Ouchida and Kerstetter went about their lives.
Then, Sushma's adopted grandmother, Helen Zappia, reached out to the couple, saying that the 9-year-old, who had been adopted from India four months before, had cried almost every day since coming to the United States. But after meeting Maty, little Sushma smiled and laughed for the first time since her arrival.
"Maty has been a great model for me because she tries hard in lots of things even though she only has three legs," Sushma wrote in a letter. "Just because Maty and I are missing certain body parts doesn't mean we should be looked down on because we are just as special."
Maty (pronounced like Matty), a black-and-tan shepherd mix, almost didn't have a chance to show her enormous potential. Abandoned in a motel when she was 3 weeks old, Maty was taken in by the Humane Society of Central Oregon, where Ouchida, 47, works in community outreach. Maty was almost ready to be placed with her new family, a local nursing home where she was to be a resident therapy dog, when a staph infection in her leg became so severe that Ouchida and Kerstetter considered euthanizing her.
"She just looked at us with these big brown doe eyes and wagged her tail, and we just said, 'We can't do it,'" Ouchida tells PEOPLEPets.com.
The couple worked with the nursing home and veterinarians to amputate Maty's leg. The surgery was successful, and the 9-year-old dog hasn't slowed down since. Though she ended up being adopted by Ouchida and Kerstetter, she continues working with the nursing home as a pet therapy dog, and is a canine ambassador of the Humane Society's education program, through which she visits grade school children along with Ouchida.
"One of Maty's absolute favorite things in life is getting a nub rub," Ouchida says. She loves school visits, where the children are allowed to touch Maty's nub and ask lots of questions about her. "We tell them that we treat her as if she is a normal four-legged dog. Everyone deserves that opportunity in life, to bring out their potential."
To keep Maty physically fit and mentally stimulated, Ouchida and Kerstetter began taking Maty to agility training courses. When Maty was 9 months old, the couple let her run after a Frisbee, and she "instinctively went for it," jumping to catch the disc.
Since then, Maty has placed in the 2006 and 2008 Skyhoundz Worlds Canine Disc Championship. She almost retired in 2008, when she faced a setback from moderate osteoarthritis, but yucca supplements gave Maty her bounce back, and she was able to avoid retirement and make it to the world championships.
Sushma, who missed seeing Maty compete in the 2006 event, got to go to the 2008 show, where she was "treated like royalty" by the event's sponsors. Sushma also finally got a dog to call her own, a black and tan mix just like Maty. She named the dog Maggie.Click here to become friends
with Lynne Ouchida on PEOPLEPets.com! To keep up with Maty, follow her updates on Twitter (@Maty3LeggedDog
). Meet more members of the PEOPLEPets.com community:Meet a Member: Ada Nieves's Talented Chihuahuas Lead a Hollywood LifeMeet a Member: Boots the Rescued Chicken Becomes Beloved Family Pet