By DELANIA TRIGG, Register Staff Writer
Gainesville Daily Register
Like most Chihuahuas, Irwin likes to lie in the sun.
He loves ice cream, asparagus and chicken legs and is fiercely protective of his owners.
He’s feels safe when he burrows under a soft blanket.
Unlike most dogs, Irwin was born without front legs.
His three littermates were perfectly formed. Only Irwin inherited the birth defect.
His owners, Donna and Tim Day have loved and taken care of Irwin for eight years. They said Irwin’s story isn’t a tale of suffering or sadness, and they don’t believe their decision to raise him was particularly noble. For Donna Day, giving Irwin a chance to live was an act of decency and kindness.
“When he was born my mom called me crying,” Donna Day said. “My dad wanted to euthanize him and I said, ‘Put Dad on the phone.’”
Like the character Fern in the classic children’s book “Charlotte’s Web,” Donna pleaded Irwin’s case.
She said she would raise him, help him adapt, love him no matter what. Her father relented but even Donna wasn’t sure she was making the right decision.
“We didn’t know what kind of quality of life he would have,” she said.
Still, she and her husband Tim took the puppy home.
They got up at night with him, caring for him as if he were an infant.
They named the little dog Irwin for Steve Irwin the late Animal Planet personality who died after an encounter with a sting ray.
“We thought Irwin would be a good name for him,” Donna Day said. “Steve Irwin loved animals so much.”
Things are difficult for Irwin but he’s devised methods for getting around. He walks on his hind legs, a kind of toddling gait that gets him where he wants to go.
Tim Day said he decided against making a prosthetic device such as a wheeled cart to give Irwin more mobility.
“I was afraid it would put stress on his hip and cause him pain,” he said. “Chihuahuas have problems with their hips going out of place anyway.”
Like many small dogs, Irwin’s spirit belies his diminutive size.
“If chickens or the neighbor dog comes up on the porch he chases them away,” Donna Day said.
When someone he doesn’t know walks into the Day’s home, Irwin barks a little and watches the visitor. He’s wary of strangers but devoted to Tim and Donna.
His disability isn’t much of an issue but there are things he can’t do. Stairs are difficult for Irwin.
“He fell down the back porch steps when he was real little and now he won’t try that anymore,” Tim Day said. “He can go up them but he won’t go down.”
Difficulties aside, Irwin has lived a good life, Donna Day pointed out.
“He’s been deer hunting and goes fishing every year,” she said. “On Halloween he gets dressed up. He’s just like any other dog. He doesn’t know he has a disability.”
In addition to Irwin, the Day’s Woodbine home has become a haven for various animals.
The couple raises Boston terriers and are also caregivers to disabled pets including Candy, an elderly, blind Chihuahua with hip problems.
The couple rescued another family pet — Molly — after the Chihuahua spent the first part of her life confined to a closet.
“The first day we got her she took off,” Donna Day said. “It was a while before she warmed up to us.”
The couple also gave sanctuary to a one-legged pigeon and a rabbit born without legs.
Donna Day said she’s surprised when someone asks her why she chose to raise Irwin.
“You would be amazed at the people who say ‘You should’ve put him down,’” she said. “But he’s brought us so much joy.”
Resting in Tim Day’s arms, Irwin snuggles — his eyes half closed in the morning sunlight. His expression is one animal lovers know well — a mixture of love and unmistakable gratitude.