Chandler residents Kimberly Elliott and Andrew Hangartner are using their special pup to encourage people across the country to embrace the unique abilities of both humans and animals.
The couple’s dog Josh is a Goldendoodle lives with cerebellar hypoplasia - an under-development of the cerebellum that controls all of his motor function.
Elliott said it’s almost like an extreme case of vertigo as Josh cannot control his movement, and suffers from spasticity, clumsiness and lack of coordination.
Elliott and Hangartner adopted the dog through a farm rescue in Mesa that was seeking foster homes for a group of three special needs Goldendoodles.
“I saw his picture and story on Facebook one morning and I immediately reached out,” Elliott said, adding she fostered numerous dogs before.
“Within about 24 hours of having him in our home, I looked at Andrew and I said, ‘you know, we’re going to have to keep this dog forever because he was just amazing.’”
Hangartner says Josh can get around the house fine because they have rugs that give him some traction.
When Josh goes outside, Elliott and Hangartner keep a close watch on him or hold onto his harness to make sure he doesn’t fall.
The two will also pick him up and take him to his water bowl, in addition to hand-feeding his breakfast and dinner.
“We just built a routine with him,” Hangartner said.
Josh will let the two of them know if he needs something by panting, making noises or slapping his paw.
A few years ago, Elliott and Hangartner decided to share Josh’s daily journey with the world – documenting the Goldendoodle with a man bun riding around in his red basket, confidently walking and running with his specially-made device, traveling around meeting people or just relaxing on the couch.
He quickly became an internet celebrity with over 91,000 followers on Instagram.
“I began receiving all these messages to my Instagram from people all over the world, Tanzania, Romania, Costa Rica, Austria, the Netherlands,” Elliott said. “They were inspired to foster, adopt or just recognize a dog with special needs.”
“Then the messages began to change and people started opening up and telling me that Josh inspires them and they’re dealing with grief or depression, anxiety, addiction, a terminal illness or a condition like Josh’s,” Elliott continued. “People have really connected with him and they see a little bit of themselves in him.”
The couple now Josh to inspire people to follow Josh’s example of living life to the fullest despite trying circumstances.
They created the non-profit “Be Like Josh Foundation” a few months ago to celebrate dogs with special needs and educate people about the beauty of special abilities.
Elliott, Hangartner and Josh are about to kick-off their very first “Josh tour” on Oct. 11.
“A huge component of the Josh Foundation is going to schools,” Elliott said. “We have a Be Like Josh curriculum where we teach the kids to embrace all levels of abilities, first with Josh and then seeing that amongst each other and amongst their peers.
“Josh’s challenge to the kids is to go out and make a new friend, genuinely make a new friend that’s different than you.”
Elliott added, “We teach the kids that different is okay, kindness is cool and compassion and inclusion is the way to be like Josh.
The couple’s goal for 2020 is to visit at least one school in every state.
Elliott they also team up with shelters and rescues to make it an adoption event as well as a Josh meet.
The act of providing a foster home and later adopting a Goldendoodle with special abilities not only has made a substantial impact on the couple’s lives but on thousands around the world.
“He’s helped us meet a lot of new people, a lot of special people have come into our lives,” Hangartner said. “When we’re out and about, a lot of parents with young children come up to us and want to meet Josh. They sense there’s something special about him.
“All the love and kindness that has come into our house and our lives has been the best part for me at least.”
Elliott added, “He’s taught me so much. It’s hard to articulate and it may even sound a little strange that an animal can be so life-changing. For me, being his main handler and being his mouthpiece and connecting with the rest of the world, how they feel about Josh has just really softened me.
“It’s softened all my edges. I’ve always kind of been a tough chick and Josh has rounded out all my hard edges and I’m grateful for that.”