DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A young boy who has a dog with an unusual number of legs made an unusual birthday request.
Owen Sherman, who turned 7 years old Monday, asked friends and family to not give him gifts for his birthday. Instead, he asked them to donate the money they would have spent on him to the animal shelter that provided him with his dog Eli.
Owen, a first-grader at SeDoMoCha Elementary School in Dover-Foxcroft, has bilateral fibular hemimelia — a congenital absence of the fibula bones in both legs. His legs were amputated below the knees when he was 8 months old. He now wears prosthetic legs, which he was walking on as early as 13 months old, according to his mother Barbara Estabrook Sherman.
After the family dog, Sparky, died last year, Owen and his father, Shane Sherman, went looking for a new dog.
“My husband and he went behind my back and searched over the Internet and found Eli,” said Sherman. “[Owen] fell in love with Eli sight unseen.”
Sherman said Eli, a boxer-lab mix, had to have one of its hind legs amputated.
“We believe he had been abused and somehow an infection set in,” she said. “He was given up and he had to have that leg amputated.”
Underhound Railroad Rescue, which provides foster homes for dogs through a series of volunteers until a permanent home is found, transported Eli from Georgia to Maine. The organization paid for Eli’s medical care and amputation. Volunteers coordinate through the organization’s Facebook page, said Sherman.
“They’re like any other boy and dog. They love each other,” said Sherman. “He even has a song called ‘Eli is a good dog.’ He sings it to him all the time. His dog is his best friend. They’re unstoppable together.”
Sherman said her son told her he had received a bunch of gifts for Christmas and couldn’t think of anything he wanted for his birthday. Inspired by his new best friend, Owen asked friends and family to donate to the animal shelter instead.
“I was just so proud of him,” said Sherman. “I said, ‘Owen, that’s really nice. Daddy and I are so proud of you.’”
So far, $120 has been collected for the Underhound Railroad Rescue based in Connecticut.
Owen drew a picture of Eli to illustrate what he wanted for his birthday instead of presents.
“I love Eli so much, I knew I had to do something for the Underhound Railroad,” said Owen Sherman.
An email sent to a representative for Underhound Railroad Rescue was not immediately returned Monday afternoon.
Owen’s charitable ways were likely influenced by his grandfather, Amasa “Stubby” Sherman, said Barbara Estabrook Sherman.
Though Owen’s birthday was Monday, his family celebrated it Saturday. But, it turned out to be a somber occasion.
Stubby Sherman, 75, died on Saturday. He was a Shriner and led fundraising efforts for children’s hospitals. Barbara Estabrook Sherman said she was proud of her son to be able to carry on his grandfather’s tradition.
Owen’s surgery had taken place at the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Springfield, Mass.
“They started seeing my son before he was born,” she said. “We were so well prepared. They did an amazing job.”
Stubby Sherman’s fundraising efforts ended up benefitting his family, said Barbara Estabrook Sherman.
“I can’t stress enough the influence his grandfather Stubby was,” she said. “Over all those years he raised money for the Shriners, never thinking his grandson would be the person who’d really need it.”
Barbara Estabrook Sherman said she will be writing a check for the Underhound Railroad Rescue soon.