Okay, so you're probably thinking, gladiator, right? Well, no. Labrador Retriever actually.
There is a dog in my neighborhood; a beautiful golden lab, like the one in the above photo. His name is Maximus.
I remember, just after we moved into this house nine years ago, his owner playing with him when he was a just a puppy. He grew quickly, and she bought one of those plastic ball launchers to make throwing easier for her and more challenging for him. She would throw the ball for him and he would take off after it, his body a flurry of muscles and tendons and eager puppy energy.
Then there was a period of time that I didn't see him. I didn't really wonder that much about it. I figured perhaps they had moved or were on vacation or something. Until, one day, when I was walking in the area, I saw the owner, along with a group of neighbors, maneuvering a very weak and seemingly paralyzed yellow lab into a framed sling, so that his body was supported and his legs hung down. I stopped and watched very briefly as I didn't want to be a gawker. Then I moved on. Could that be the same dog? I wasn't sure. But the more often I saw this paralyzed dog as its owner and the neighbors attempted to rehabilitate it, and didn't see the Maximus that I had been familiar with, the more I was convinced that it was him. What had happened??? I was too shy to ask at first. I simply watched as, over weeks and months, this lovely dog, with the diligent encouragement of a group of dedicated people, regained the use of his legs and body. He will never be what he once was, but he is able to get along with a crazy list and a lazy leg or two. He looks, when he moves, as if he'd had too much to drink. I did eventually find out that it was a stroke that caused the paralysis. His owner went on to bring two other dogs into her home, as companions/motivators for Max and pets for herself. She trains her dogs well and obviously gives them lots of love and attention.
Then I found myself struggling with my own issues of disability, as I suffered through some mysterious symptoms and was subsequently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I often think about Maximus, who does not care a whit what other animals or people think about the strange movements he is forced to make as he pulls his injured body along. He is friendly to everyone, an angel with the children, and makes the best of the life he has. No self pity. Just determination to enjoy everything that life still has to offer - like a sunny day with a gentle breeze, a group of laughing children coming over to pet him, or a short walk with his doggy 'brothers' and committed owner.
I hope that, no matter what I have to face in the future in regard to my state of health, I will convey the same dignity and carefree attitude that is expressed daily by this beautiful creature.