09/26/2011 AT 3:50 PM ET
She began her life in a garbage bag, sentenced to death because she was deformed. Luckily, someone wanted her to live.
Harper, a pit bull, was born with swimmer puppy syndrome, a rare disorder that causes dogs to lie on their chests with their legs splayed out, unable to walk. She was tossed into a plastic trash bag and left there while her owner tried to sell other puppies on a Sanford, Fla., street corner for $50 each.
A concerned passerby noticed movement and sound coming from the bag and took it from the man on the sidewalk. Once she saw the 9-week-old puppy’s condition, however, she realized she needed help and took the dog to a nearby shelter. The shelter then called Erica Daniel of Dolly’s Foundation, which rescues and rehabilitates pit bulls, especially difficult cases.
Daniel’s understanding of swimmer puppy syndrome was limited, but she was told that most swimmer puppies don’t survive longer than three weeks. She thought euthanization was the most likely outcome for Harper, but at the very least, Daniel wanted to give the puppy a day of love and affection. Hours later, however, Harper started showing dramatic improvements in her range of motion, giving Daniel hope for the dog’s future.
“I knew that if we couldn’t improve her quality of life, we would have to make an unfortunate decision,” Daniel says. “But we couldn’t give up on her. We couldn’t say that we didn’t try.”
Working with the University of Florida, a massage therapist and a canine hydrotherapist, Daniel has seen Harper go from not being able to lift her head off the ground to walking on grass, carpet, concrete and tile in just three weeks.
Now about 12 weeks old, Harper is a “survivor,” and not only that, she’s an outgoing and quirky character who’s not afraid to bark when she wants something.
“She kind of runs goofy and funny, but she’s running,” Daniel says. “We did not expect this whatsoever, that she would even survive – and she’s doing great.”
[RELATED_TEXT “Can’t get enough pet news? See more on PEOPLE Pets