LOGAN — There’s something about Charlie Sparkle that makes people smile.
The 3-year-old English Bulldog was born with spina bifida, leaving his two back legs useless. To get around, Charlie hops around in a pair of size 6 diapers and children’s shorts from the thrift store, using his two front legs to propel himself forward.
“His name is Sparkle because you shouldn’t let anybody or anything take your sparkle,” owner Maren Scott of North Logan said. “He’s exuberant and happy and full of joy despite the fact that he’s completely messed up. I mean, his eye wanders, his pipshoot is in the wrong place, his legs don’t work, his wee falls out, he’s messed up. And he’s the embodiment of joy. He’s Charlie Sparkle.”
Monday morning, Charlie took a lap around Sunshine Foundation’s Terrace Grove Assisted Living facility. The residents and employees there couldn’t help but laugh as Charlie scooted down the hallway in his pants, and many who were bedridden lit up as Scott lifted up the dog and told his story.
Meet Charlie Sparkle-he's a therapy dog with a huge personality. Plus, he wears pants! pic.twitter.com/7mHBTtEdPW— Anna Burleson (@AnnagatorB) January 16, 2017
Scott got Charlie as a puppy from a breeder. He had been chewing on his back legs like toys because there wasn’t any feeling in them.
Charlie now lives at home with eight cats and another family dog named Tigger. He even has his own special stroller to make it easier to get around, paired with his favorite toy, a stuffed Big Bird. Scott has considered having Charlie’s back legs removed but decided not to because he uses them for balance, and they make it easier to wear a wheeled harness.
“He’s so messed up already, why mess him up more?” Scott said. “He is what he is.”
Terrace Grove resident Bud Covert said Charlie reminded him of the many dogs he had owned throughout his 85 years of life, especially a bulldog named Sarge.
“He used to go with me to the bakery for a couple of trays of rolls. and the rowdies in town learned pretty quick, ‘You don’t mess with Covert, he’s got a bulldog.’” he said. “But ol’ Sarge was about the kindest old mutt that ever was.”
Charlie isn’t the only furry friend at Terrace Grove. The residents also care for a large, brown rabbit whose name was changed from Thumper to Thumpalina when the bunny’s gender was discovered.
Jennifer Heninger, a recreational therapy intern, said she wants to train therapy dogs for a career and will be introducing them at the center more consistently.
“Animals help release endorphins, happy hormones, when you pet them and when you’re around them,” she said. “Some people just aren’t animal people, and if that’s the case, that’s OK, but having a dog around, their lives are just so simple and happy and that can really be good for someone to have around.”
Research is ongoing regarding animal-assisted therapy. One study in Italy showed animal therapy improved depressive symptoms and lowered blood pressure in elderly patients. Another study in Mississippi showed pet therapy reduced loneliness in long-term care facilities.
Sheila Field, a 75-year-old resident who has come to enjoy taking care of Thumpalina, stopped to say hello to Charlie on Monday morning.
Field said having animals around is beneficial for her and her friends at the center.
“We love having Charlie come in, he’s so much fun,” she said.
Cherie Woods was visiting the facility Monday because she had just lost her mother, a resident there. Even she stopped to say hello to Charlie as he hopped around on the floor at the feet of his owner.
“My goodness, look at that tongue!” Woods said,” smiling as she bent down to give Charlie a head rub.
Charlie was excited and anxious upon arriving at the center, so he simply clung to Scott’s leg with his two functional legs, giving an occasional snarly bark and using the cuff of her jean as a chew toy.
“It’s not what it looks like,” Scott said, laughing as she walked, dragging Charlie with her.
Susan Gibson, who works with the Cache Valley chapter of Love on a Leash, said training Charlie and certifying him as a therapy dog was easy. She said his tendency to use Scott’s leg as a ‘home base’ is acceptable because it’s just one of the several ways he finds his balance.
“I think the name Charlie Sparkle says it,” Gibson said. “He’s a happy, happy boy.”
Gibson said Charlie passed the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program, which requires that dogs complete 10 tasks, including accepting a friendly stranger, walking through a crowd, coming when called and responding to distractions appropriately.
Gibson said she also accompanied Charlie for 10 hours of service work prior to certifying him.
“You can bring in somebody like Charlie and they really perk up, they respond,” Gibson said. “When they don’t respond to people, they will respond to an animal, which is really cool to see.”