Deaf, blind and pink: Instagram famous dog from Westport spreads positivity worldwide

WESTPORT — Four years ago, Westport resident and veterinarian Melissa Shapiro would never have guessed she would be the owner of an Instagram famous dog and now an author.

Shapiro attended an adoption event in Milford in March 2017 with her friend and fellow veterinarian, Dr. Gloria Andrews. It’s where she saw Piglet, a deaf, blind and pink dog and the rest is history.

“She knew I was interested in those special needs dogs,” said Shapiro, who has been a vet for 36 years.

Shapiro started by fostering him, but ultimately decided to officially make him part of the family. She created social media accounts for him and now Piglet’s positive mindset through overcoming his profound disabilities has resulted in nearly 250,000 followers on Instagram and 169,000 Facebook followers. They also launched Piglet International, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides educational programs to elementary schools.

A book on their journey, “PIGLET: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf, Blind, Pink Puppy and His Family,” is set to come out in August.

“He was a lot to handle at first,” Shapiro said. “He had a lot of issues, a lot of anxiety.”

One of the most anxious dogs she had ever encountered, the traumatized Piglet weighed under two pounds upon his welcome into the Shapiro household, which included her husband Warren and their three college-aged children, plus six nurturing, supportive, rescued dogs.

After months of constant reassurance, Piglet connected, gained confidence, and his extraordinary spirit emerged. Shapiro soon forged a powerful bond with Piglet, allowing the two to communicate without sound or visual cues.

When the day arrived to say goodbye to the now six-pound pink dog with the larger than life spirit, Shapiro faced a heart-wrenching decision. Could she hand him over to someone willing to give Piglet the full-time attention he required or could she adapt her schedule and her household to make a permanent place for him in her life and work? Of course, the answer was simple: love would find a way.

Shapiro always posted pictures of her dogs and children on Facebook so she created a page for Piglet within the first few weeks of fostering him.

When Piglet’s Facebook and Instagram accounts started blowing up, book publishing company Simon & Schuster contacted Shapiro about a book on herself and Piglet.

Not only is Piglet spreading his positive message on social media, but in classrooms too. They created Piglet International, Inc. in January 2020 to mainly focuses on the Piglet Mindset Educational Outreach Program, which itself started in summer 2017.

“Piglet has a positive growth mindset which is how Piglet Mindset came about,” Shapiro said.

A third grade teacher had contacted her and the two collaborated on the program, something Shapiro never expected to happen when she first started fostering him.

Piglet Mindset focuses on facing challenges with a positive attitude, acceptance, inclusion, kindness and empathy and understanding for others followed up with positive actions, according to the program’s website.

They offer nine lesson plan on their website and online educational materials can be used in the classroom, at home, with scouts, camps, counseling services, senior centers, programs for individuals with disabilities.

“I was already raising money for special needs dog rescues and then the next thing I know, I’m doing an educational program,” she said.

The program also teaches children about animal rescue and how to become effective animal advocates, conducts in-person and virtual school visits. Shapiro also raises money through direct donations and Piglet Merchandise sales to support the outreach program, as well as special needs dog rescues and related organizations.

She said she hopes people are able to find useful takeaways for their own lives from Piglet’s journey.

“This is an unexpected, unlikely story of a tiny deaf blind pink dog who has a hilarious sense of humor, and he is absolutely adorable,” she said. “If one were to guess what his life would be like when he was rescued, it would not have been the one he is living.”

gmarku@darientimes.com