And This Little Piggy Found a Home

Meet Connecticut’s own Warren and Melissa Shapiro, devoted to each…

October 1, 2021
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Article By Renee DiNino

Meet Connecticut’s own Warren and Melissa Shapiro, devoted to each other, and wonderful parents of humans and pets! We’ll take you on a journey with Melissa and share how their little dog, Piglet, who is deaf and blind, came into their lives. Through his story, Piglet is inspiring inclusion, acceptance, and perseverance to overcome challenges, no matter what obstacles stand in your way. We’ll also encourage you to read, Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf, Blind, Pink Puppy and His Family, a book by Melissa Shapiro and Mim Eichler Rivas, which is now available.

To tell you the story of Piglet, you first need to know Melissa.

Melissa, in her own words, humbly refers to herself as, “Veterinarian and mom to Piglet, the deaf, blind, pink puppy, and I also have a husband, 3 kids, 5 other rescue dogs, and 3 birds!”

But to many in Connecticut and beyond, she’s so much more than that. She is a compassionate, determined, no-nonsense, inspiring, kind, naturally calming, unassuming, loving soul. She has a natural gift for showing animals the love and compassion they deserve.

Especially during the pandemic, her work allowed her to be the last source of hospice and comfort for pet parents for at-home euthanasia. This is a role she does not take lightly and one that has been nothing short of a godsend to those who needed and continue to need her services.

Melissa is also the CT State Representative for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and serves as a resource on animal welfare-related issues for the veterinary community. She also acts as an advocate on legislative initiatives and animal advocacy among other responsibilities. * See www.hsvma.org for more information.

So, where and when did Melissa’s love of animals start?

She explains, “I was born with an attraction to animals of all kinds, fur, feathers, or scales! My parents were keyed into that, but neither of my parents grew up with dogs. They supported my passion and took me to animals, farms, zoos, and the circus. Looking back on that now makes me feel bad because of how I know some of the animals were treated, but no one knew back then. They were just being supportive parents.”

At the age of 6, her parents brought home her very first dog.

She notes, “And from that point on, I knew I was going to be a veterinarian. All through school, everything I did was geared toward going to veterinarian school. I knew I had to get good grades, be community-minded, and when I got to college, I got so determined!”

After 3 years of college, she applied to and was accepted to Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in Indiana.

“That day, if you can believe, was more exciting than my actual graduation! Because once I knew I got in, I knew I was going to be a vet!”

For Melissa, this was a lifetime realization come true.

After a few years of interning and working for others, she decided to open a house-call practice in 1991, Visiting Vet Service, which is celebrating 30 years this year (2021) in Connecticut.

“It was important for me not to open a brick and mortar business, but more of a personal practice to be involved with people and pets. Of course, it was a juggle, being a wife, and then kids came and more animals, but it all seems to work.”

In addition, about 8 years ago, she started Your Senior Pet’s Vet.

“I really do cater to people and their pets, especially during that last phase, where compassion is at its utmost importance. Giving that final loving last respect to honor the final moments of their beloved pet’s life, by going to their home for that final moment of their life. At this point in my tenure and as a result of my love for working with senior pets, this has been a joy to not only myself, but my clients – even those who just use my service for in home euthanasia.”

Fast forward to 2017 when Melissa met Piglet by way of Colbert Veterinary Rescue Services. This is an incredible story told now for the first time in its entirety in her book, Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf, Blind, Pink Puppy and His Family.

Piglet was rescued from a hoarding situation in Georgia along with his mother and three litter mates. He is a Dachshund Chihuahua mix and the product of two dapple-colored parents (marbling-colored coat pattern, also known as merle and Harlequin patterns). This double dapple gene combination is linked to mostly white hair coats and congenital ear and eye defects that may result in partially or completely deaf/blind puppies. Sadly, oftentimes dogs that come as a result of this breeding are abused, abandoned, put in dangerous situations, and many times, put to sleep.

Thankfully, Piglet found his way into Melissa and Warren’s loving arms. Piglet is deaf and blind. Melissa is committed to speaking to other veterinarians and rescues to offer hope and options instead of putting these animals to sleep.

When Piglet entered her life, Melissa and her husband Warren were already 26 years married, had three grown kids, 6 rescue dogs, and 4 birds!

*Side note, birds were never in the plan, but there’s a whole chapter devoted to that in her book!

Melissa and her family were experienced disabled pet owners. Some pets were partially blind and some were deaf, but Piglet was their first deaf and blind dog.

Piglet was initially a foster, and their plan was for him not to stay and instead, find him a loving home. He was so tiny, and needed 24/7 care.

“It was not a decision made overnight, and he created quite a lot of change in our home. Luckily, our pets quickly and happily accommodated Piglet.”

There was an underlying tension amongst the Shapiro’s task of finding Piglet a home they would feel confident he would be safe and loved in.

“Once we decided to keep him, in ways, it became easier, and we all adjusted our lives to having another addition to our family. While this may not be for everyone’s lifestyle, this is our life, and we gladly accept all of it, everything.”

“He has taught us so much.” This leads us to the “Piglet Mindset,” which Melissa says has made her live more in the moment and be more patient and relaxed.

A Piglet Mindset is:

  • Facing challenges with a positive attitude.
  • Focusing on what you have and moving past what you don’t.
  • Accepting individuals for who they are and including them despite their differences.
  • Having empathy and understanding towards others and following up with positive actions.
  • Being kind to all people and animals.

Piglet has given her an opportunity to share and advocate for animals in ways she was never able to do. Through the Piglet Mindset Educational Outreach Program, Piglet visits school classrooms, both virtually and in person, to educate kids about diversity, inclusion, and kindness.

Using an animal model to educate kids is one of the most effective ways to engage them in learning about differences and teaching them to relate to all people and pets. It gets them to listen, and hopefully, implement what they learn through Piglet into their lives.

Melissa explains her hope: “I really hope Piglet’s legacy will reach as many kids and adults as possible to live a Piglet Mindset. We encourage empathy, inclusion, kindness, and to accept people for who they are and to face their own challenges.”

A typical day in the life of Piglet, which is also essentially the Shapiro routine, is all about inclusion, teaching, learning, and fun! He has a life for himself including events, travel, friends, and “everybody should be as happy!”, says Melissa.

“When people say, ‘I wish he could at least see,’ we respond, “We don’t know he’d be any happier.”

He uses his nose and sense of touch to map his world and to connect with whoever is there. He knows his world around him and he’s very confident. He loves to meet new people and go to new places, and he knows his mom will keep him safe.

“He’s an extremely happy and confident dog!”

Seeing what Piglet has done with those he has come into contact with is all positive, and that is what we need right now. “I know he is making a big impact and creating change. It’s so rewarding to hear from teachers that students have reacted in such a positive way from our visits,” Melissa notes.

Piglet is also working on a children’s book, hopefully to be realized in spring of 2022.

Currently, Piglet, affectionately called Piggy, has 5 dog siblings Gina, Dean, Annie, Evie, and Zoey, and three birds, Lukita the Parakeet, Sunny, and Betty. Melissa and Warren are celebrating 30 years of marriage, and their children Rachael, Daniel, and Ellie have all graduated from college!

To follow Piglet and his adventures, you can read Shapiro’s new book and also visit www.thepigletmindset.org. And, of course, you can join their ever-growing social media family on Facebook with over 180,000 followers and Instagram with over 256,000 followers.

As I always like to end my articles with this phrase, it fits perfectly with today’s article.

“People and pets, when we’re kinder to animals we’re kinder to people.”

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