DENVER (CBS4)– Adopting a pet with disabilities can be a challenge. When Alicia Cuello saw a two-legged, two-wheeled dog rolling outside MaxFund Animal Shelter, she knew his challenges could help others.
“Everyone knows him as Mad Maxx because of his mad driving skills,” laughed Cuello, strapping the terrier-mix into his wheelchair.
Cuello knew she wanted a rescue dog, but she had no idea how rescued Maxx had been.
Maxx was hit by a car in Merida, Mexico and abandoned by his owners. The animal protection society of Tulum, Mexico arranged for Maxx to come to the states where he could receive life-saving treatment.
“He dragged himself on the streets of Mexico until the point where his bones were showing. At night he’d sit on the porch of the family that threw him out on the street,” said Cuello.
Maxx’s journey brought him to MaxFund Animal Shelter. At first, Cuello only planned to foster a dog, but ended up adopting Maxx. She gave him more than a home – Cuello gave Maxx a purpose.
“He’s got such a sweet disposition; I realized he’s a comfort dog! They might be broken in body, but they’re not broken in spirit,” said Cuello.
Cuello knows the power of therapy animals, it wasn’t long ago she needed one herself.
“In December 2015, I was flown to San Bernardino to work on an investigation for the company I was working for. I wound up being 70 yards from the San Bernardino shooters,” said Cuello. Shortly after returning home, Cuello began suffering from PTSD.
Her therapist suggested she go for long walks in the park with a dog. Her Chihuahua at the time, Bacon, brought Cuello the comfort she needed. After Bacon died, Cuello started searching the shelters and found Maxx.
“I said, ‘Oh my God. That’s the dog,’” remembered Cuello.
After the shooting, Cuello became a disaster recovery speaker. She thought if she could connect with victims after a tragedy, so could her dog Maxx.
“I can talk to people after an incident and they’ll open up to me because we’re connected through this horrible tragedy. Maxx reaches a level in people that I’m never going to be able to reach,” said Cuello.
For the last few months, she’s been driving Maxx to Colorado Springs where he’s training to become a disaster recover dog, or a comfort dog.
Maxx recently received his K9 Good Citizen Award.
“They watch and see what the dog’s disposition is and how he reacts in difference situations. From there the dogs have to get different certifications,” explained Cuello.
She said the cost of certification training is steep, but knows its value to others will be priceless.
Maxx will soon begin the two-day, 20-hour long test to qualify for his certification. When he passes, Cuello and Max will travel with volunteers to locations of natural disasters and mass shootings to provide comfort for victims.
While Maxx can’t offer words of comfort, Cuello hopes they’ll see his message: keep “rolling” along.
“He has every right to be bitter and want to crawl up in a ball and melt away but he doesn’t. He embraces life and he reminds us that you’ve got to overcome obstacles and you’ve got to give back and help people feel better,” said Cuello.
When Maxx finishes training, Cuello plans to bring him to local places where his comfort is needed like Craig Hospital and Ronald McDonald House.