Disabled Canine Rescued From Dog Meat Trade Donates His Free Time to Help Others as Therapy Dog

After getting rescued from a truck heading to a dog meat slaughterhouse, Ichabod the Malamute is working to make others' futures brighter

Disabled Dog Meat Rescue Canine Becomes Therapy Dog
Photo: Liza Kue for Friendship Circle

Ichabod the dog has had an eventful life, and now he is using everything he has learned to help others by providing comfort as a therapy dog.

The caring Malamute recently received his certification from Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD), which "provides testing, certification, registration, support, and insurance for members who volunteer with their dogs in animal-assisted activities," ATD told PEOPLE in a statement.

It didn't take long for Ichabod to put his certification to work. The calm canine, who resides in White Lake, Michigan, has already comforted students affected by the recent Oxford High School shooting and made visits to Friendship Circle — a charity dedicated to supporting children with special needs.

But it wasn't long ago that Ichabod needed help. The rescue pup was saved from a truck heading toward a dog meat trade slaughterhouse by No Dogs Left Behind and was brought to the United States to find a forever home.

After getting Ichabod under their care, No Dogs Left Behind discovered the Malamute had luxated patellas. With this condition, a dog's kneecaps move from their regular positions, affecting the animal's movement.

None of this has slowed Ichabod down, especially after meeting Gayle Ellias. A lifelong animal lover, Ellias came across the dog on No Dogs Left Behind's adoption page, "and there was just something about him that drew me in," she told PEOPLE, adding that she was impressed by footage of the canine from shortly after his rescue, which showed Ichabod getting along with other dogs and moving confidently on his own.

Disabled Dog Meat Rescue Canine Becomes Therapy Dog
Liza Kue for Friendship Circle

After meeting Ichabod for the first time, Ellias brought the pet home to her five other canines and was moved by how playful and friendly the new dog was despite his disability and exposure to the dog meat trade.

"I thought, "Oh, he's going to be the best therapy dog," she said. "I saw Ichabod's temperament as he's so solid and unwavering. He loves meeting everybody. He's calm, and he is so non-reactive."

Even though Ellias had never cared for a therapy dog before, she followed her hunch and signed Ichabod and herself up for ATD's certification program.

"ATD has a unique testing process. It starts with a background check for the handler and then involves a handling test for the dog and handler. After the handling test is passed, the applicants go on three observed visits with one of our Tester/Observers (T/O's). Our testing is designed to make sure you and your dog have a good relationship with each other and that your dog has the right temperament and manners to do therapy dog work," ATD shared in their statement.

Ichabod and Ellias completed the certification on their first attempt, proving to ATD that they had the skills necessary to provide emotional support to those in need.

Disabled Dog Meat Rescue Canine Becomes Therapy Dog
Courtesy of Gayle Ellias

"I can read his body language. I know what he's thinking. I know when he is stressed. I kind of know what he needs," Ellias says of what makes up their dynamic duo. "And he wants to please me, and I think that's what really makes good therapy teams."

Ellias has seen Ichabod's natural gifts at work, especially among the children they visit at Friendship Circle.

"Kids move quickly, they may jump up and down or make noises, and he doesn't react to any of that. And I think that feels safe for kids," Ellias said. "And they will then acclimate to petting him and getting close. For some kids, it's a win if they just get closer to him."

Learning about Ichabod's past is also a critical moment for many of the people the therapy dog visits.

"They'll learn a little bit about his story, and then he'll get up and move, and they see that he's disabled. And it's really powerful," she added. "And I think it's so encouraging."

Ellias hopes that after learning about Ichabod, others decide to help animals meet their full potential, especially pets who have encountered a few obstacles along the way.

"Dogs can witness and experience the unimaginable and still give back to the human race. Dogs have unconditional love, and they're survivors, and they share," she said of what Ichabod has taught her, adding that all animals can be "so forgiving."

Disabled Dog Meat Rescue Canine Becomes Therapy Dog
Liza Kue for Friendship Circle

"Certainly, the miracle of Ichabod being saved and being brought into a loving family was a great story in itself, but what really stood out is how Ichabod and his new family are paying it forward and helping others. It's awesome he is such a loving soul after all he's been through. Ichabod being a special needs dog himself, allows him to connect on a deeper level with those who are a part of The Friendship Circle," ATD wrote of the impact Ichabod has had in his first few months as a therapy animal.

Ichabod's journey from dog meat slaughter truck passenger to therapy dog all-star was made possible by a team of people who believed in the potential the pooch had to offer. Ellias, No Dogs Left Behind, and ATD all played a role, along with pet food company Canidae.

According to Canidae, the company's mission is "to create a sustainable world of goodness to 'Pets, People and the Planet!', so when Canidae noticed an increase in "the emotional need for pet companions," the chose to "partner with an organization that honors the people-pet connection."

This decision led the company to donate $20,000 to ATD to help "build-out ATD's network of trusted volunteers and canine companions to more cities nationwide." Additionally, "Canidae has donated more than 800,000 pounds of pet food to the San Antonio Food Bank, helping to keep pets in their homes instead of being surrendered to shelters due to financial hardships."

As for Ichabod's future plans, the dog and Ellias hope to comfort and empower even more pet lovers with an upcoming children's book.

"It will be called Ichabod, Where is The Glory?" Ellias said. "It's going to address animal mistreatment, animal rescue, disability, adoption, and animal welfare loss."

These are lessons that Ellias has already learned from Ichabod in their brief time together.

"He is one big lesson. He's been a life lesson for me, that's for sure," the proud owner shared. "It's been an honor knowing him and adopting him, and I've learned so much from him."

To learn even more from Ichabod and see what he is up to next, follow the therapy dog's Instagram @ichabodndlb.

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