The below is excerpted from the prologue of PIGLET: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf, Blind, Pink Puppy and His Family by Melissa Shapiro with Mim Eichler Rivas, where Melissa describes her first classroom visit with Piglet, and how she got the idea to write her book.
The children stayed seated in sheer amazement, barely making a sound, so as not to miss anything. We began with the basics, demonstrating “sit”—which each dog would do, one by one. I would say, “Zoey, sit!” and she would. “Susie, sit!” and “Evie, sit!” Next, I said, “Sit, Piglet!” even though we all knew he couldn’t hear me, but at the same time I tapped him lightly on his lower back, right above his tail. Piggy responded to this familiar tap signal with an impeccable sit, lifting his head for the cookie that he knew was coming.
“Piglet can do just what the other dogs can do!” one little boy exclaimed. A chorus of agreement followed.
We moved on to demonstrating “wait” and how I could call each dog to come to me by name—Susie, Zoey, and Evie. Piglet sat waiting until I offered his tap signal to come to me, a gentle swipe under his chin. He came right over to join the other three dogs in a sit, at which time each got their treats. Next, we did a brief Q&A; I could not have been more impressed by the thoughtfulness of the questions from the third graders. Hands shot up in the air, and each question showed a striking amount of empathy and the desire to know about what it was really like to be Piglet. All four dogs sat looking out at the children, as though they were answering questions right along with me.
After the Q&A, I sat in a chair with Piglet in my lap, wrapped in a blanket, and all the kids lined up so they could come and meet him—one by one. Each child had a story to share. “I have a blind dog too.” “We just adopted a puppy from a shelter.” “He’s very smart!” One of the last children to approach us was a little boy with a blond crewcut and a big smile. He put his hand on Piglet’s head and then on his own. I asked, “What are you doing?” and he said, “We have the same haircut.”
Toward the end of this amazing day, I thought of something our daughter Rachael had said the first time she met Piglet when he was so much tinier, and so anxiety-ridden, and so very, very pink.
We had gone to help her move from one apartment to another in New York City, and we had brought Piglet along. Rachael, brilliant and beautiful, and a formidably gifted pianist, who was getting ready to start a promising career in the field of international finance, had lovingly taken tiny baby Piglet in her arms. She looked down at him all snuggled in her coat and then looked up and said, “I feel like I gave birth to him.”
I totally understood how she felt. Holding him and caring for him is unlike my feelings for any of my other dogs. It’s not that I love him any more. It’s that I actually feel the tug of protectiveness and pride that I can only associate with motherhood. It’s just an inexplicable, almost embarrassing emotion that he elicits.
That was what I was feeling during the end-of-the-year Pink Party for Ms. Fregeau’s third graders. It was a rite of passage for Piglet, the deaf blind pink puppy. He had come so far, unexpectedly, and had touched so many lives in ways I never would have imagined.
In those moments, I like to think this book was born—a reminder to the world of how much we can accomplish by caring for our fellow beings, human and nonhuman, whether disabled or not, or simply an individual searching for a little extra consideration and kindness. There will always be too many abandoned and neglected animals in need of rescue or just overlooked and unwanted. But Piglet definitely came into our lives to teach us lessons. Just when you think you can’t open your heart any more than you already have, something can happen to help you discover that you have more to give. And what you get from being open to the unexpected in animals and in humans is the greatest gift you can ever receive.
There’s a Buddhist saying most of us have heard at one point or another that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” In my experiences and observations—certainly with musical training and in my educational/professional journey—that proverb has been right on the money. But with Piglet, the unexpected twist was that ours was a case of “when the teacher is ready, the student will appear.”
Piglet, the deaf blind pink puppy, was that very student who showed up with such a capacity to learn, he put me on notice.
How did it happen? How did Piglet make his way into our lives, and was now getting ready to spark a global movement? The craziest part of the story is that, statistically speaking, it’s a miracle that he even made it into our care alive.
That’s the story I decided to write that day in Plainville—about a miracle puppy who dared to live.