A passion for caring born in childhood has inspired the life and work of Connecticut’s Melissa Shapiro. She’s a veterinarian, pet foster and loving pet parent who with her husband Warren has created an unlikely social media star—Piglet, a deaf, blind pink puppy—who has nearly 260 thousand followers on Instagram and whose joyful approach was dubbed “The Piglet Mindset” by Melissa.
Piglet, however, is just the latest project Melissa has undertaken. She refers to herself as a “veterinarian and mom to Piglet, and I also have a husband, 3 kids, 5 other rescue dogs, and 3 birds!”
She is also a compassionate, determined, no-nonsense, inspiring, kind, naturally calming, unassuming, loving soul. You would never hear her say any of those things about herself. In fact, during our interview, she often referred to her family, clients, and animals as the reason she continues her work. Especially during the pandemic, her work allowed her to be the last source of hospice and comfort for pet parents for at-home euthanasia. She understands how important this service is and the emotional issues surrounding end of life care for a pet, particularly during COVID.
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.
Melissa’s work today is a continuation of her lifetime of caring and devotion to pets. 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. “And from that point on, I knew I was going to be a veterinarian” she says.
“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!”
After graduating and 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 eight years ago, she started Your Senior Pet’s Vet.
“I really do cater to people and their pets,” she says. She is keenly aware of the emotional scope of losing a pet and the issues surrounding that loss and how important it is to honor the final moments of a beloved pet’s 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.”
When Piglet came into her life, it was just the next step in a career built on compassion and looking out for (pardon the pun) the underdog. Melissa met Piglet by way of Colbert Veterinary Rescue Services. Piglet was rescued from a hoarding situation in Georgia along with his mother and three litter mates. He is a Dachshund Chihuahua mix and is the result of a type of breeding for color that can result in disabled puppies. Piglet is deaf and blind. In Piglet’s case, and others, it is also the result of hoarding, not spaying or neutering, and irresponsible pet ownership.
When Piglet entered her life, Melissa and her husband Warren had been married for 26 years, had three grown kids, 6 rescue dogs, and 4 birds! Melissa and her family were experienced disabled pet owners. Some pets were partially blind, and some were some deaf, but Piglet was their first deaf and blind dog.
Piglet was initially a foster, and their plan was to find him a loving home. He was 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.” As fosters, Melissa and family quickly grew concerned that they would be able to find a forever home where Piglet would be safe, loved and well cared for. It became clear fairly quickly that Piglet’s permanent home was with the Shapiros.
“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.” In fact, the plucky pup has inspired a movement called 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
Teaching this mindset provides a continual opportunity for people to expand their perceptions. “When people say, ‘I wish he could at least see,’ we respond, “We don’t know he’d be any happier.”
Piglet 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.
Piglet has given her an opportunity to share and advocate for animals in ways she was never able to do, including educating kids about diversity, inclusion, and kindness. There is an extensive school program where kids can learn about this and even meet Piglet in person. A web site, pigletmindset.org, includes curricula that teachers all over the country have used to teach critical lessons in empathy, inclusion, and acceptance. There are t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats, too.
“I really hope Piglet’s legacy will reach as many kids and adults as possible to live a Piglet Mindset,” she says. 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.”
Piglet’s story is told in a new book, Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf, Blind, Pink Puppy and His Family from Atria Books, and is available everywhere. You can also follow Piglet on Facebook and Instagram, sharing his adventures and inspiring, heartwarming stories.
By Renee DiNino