Mirabel is a senior dog with a history that is shrouded in mystery. When a Good Samaritan discovered her wandering the streets of Kentucky in freezing, rainy conditions in December 2017, the person was shocked by her appearance.
Animal control was called to the scene, and the stray dog suffering from an apparent facial trauma was taken to the Pulaski County Animal Shelter in Somerset, KY. According to the shelter, the stray dog was in great spirits despite all that she had obviously endured before being discovered.
After a quick examination revealed that the dog needed medical attention, the shelter contacted Woodstock Animal Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Louisville, KY. The dog was transferred to the Woodstock Spay and Neuter Clinic in Lexington, KY. The clinic staff named her Mirabel, which stems from the Latin word mirabilis, meaning “of wondrous beauty.”
According to the clinic, she was dirty, infested with fleas and her nails were curling under her paws. Those issues were just the tip of the iceberg.
The most glaring physical issue that the veterinary staff noticed was her missing nose and upper lip. Doctors hypothesized those conditions to be the result of a genetic birth defect, akin to a cleft palate. She also had additional dental issues, a heart murmur, an inguinal hernia and painful mammary tumors, which they believe was due to years of being bred at a puppy mill before being released on the streets.
Doctors estimated that Mirabel was between 8 and 10 years of age. However, one thing was certain, and that was that she needed several surgeries. The clinic kept the public updated on her status via Facebook posts, including one that revealed Mirabel’s beautiful nature: “She is the most loving girl and deserves so much love and joy in her life.”
“Mirabel had one of two much-needed surgeries to spay her and repair the Inguinal Hernia,” read the Woodstock clinic’s Facebook post. “If Mirabel could talk, we’re sure she would have a lot to tell us about her will to live and even against all odds, she had made it.”
As animal lovers followed Mirabel’s story on Woodstock’s Facebook page, they were also making donations to help cover her medical costs. The foundation raised approximately $6,000, which covered not only Mirabel’s medical costs, but also helped fund procedures for other needy animals in the clinic’s care.
The national media picked up Mirabel’s story, and an online report on the resilient pup by a Kentucky TV station caught the attention of Kelli Shook, a certified youth and parent life coach and counselor living in Toledo, OH.
“We were doing internet research for our compassionate leadership program, which teaches kids how to run successful campaigns on any issue that concerns them,” Shook recalled. “Our very first campaign was using animals as empathy ambassadors to teach kids that if you can have empathy for an animal that has a disability then you can have empathy for your peers.”
Shook admitted that she wasn’t looking to adopt a dog, but there was an undeniable attraction to Mirabel.
“There was just something about her,” Shook said of her reaction to her first glimpse of Mirabel, adding that she took no notice of the pup’s facial features. “She seemed perfect.”
Shook officially adopted Mirabel on April 15 and within days had already started incorporating the dog in her work. Mirabel has become an “empathy dog” with Bullfrogs Against Bullying, a youth foundation started by Shook’s daughter. Shook’s belief is that Mirabel will better enable her to teach children important lessons on kindness, acceptance and respect.
“Her main role is to make my office be a more home-like situation,” Shook noted. “She’s there to make everybody comfortable.”
In other words, Mirabel was just being herself. And the dog’s sunny disposition has had an immediate impact on Shook’s coaching sessions.
“I’ve had some kids that are now opening up a lot more,” she explained. “It seems like when they’re petting her, they kind of feel more comfortable and they develop more details of what’s bothering them than they did before. It’s kind of like meditative. They pet her and talk, and they don’t even realize that they’re talking to me. They’re focused on her and telling her their problems rather than [telling them to] me. That’s easier for kids to do.”
Although it may take the kids a few minutes to adjust to Mirabel’s unique look, they soon realize she is a perfectly normal dog that wants love and safety. Since moving to Ohio, she gets plenty of that with her new family.
According to Shook, Mirabel’s personality has changed in the weeks since she has been living in her forever home.
“She’s kind of blossomed,” Shook said. “At first she was very quiet and a little bit subdued. Since we started taking her out in public, she has become quite the little social butterfly. She runs up to people when she sees them. She wants to be petted, so we got a patch for her vest that says ‘PLEASE PET ME.’ We encourage people to pet her.”
While media outlets originally reported that Mirabel’s issues were due to birth defects, Shook has received differing theories on the cause of these medical conditions.
“We have one vet that says it’s a congenital defect,” she said. “Others say that it could have possibly happened in an animal attack or a cruelty case by a human. Of course, we’ll never know.”
Shook agrees with the veterinarians at Woodland Animal Foundation who felt Mirabel was from a puppy mill or backyard breeder. However, according to Shook, Mirabel’s personality and behavior lead her to believe that the dog comes from a backyard breeder who wasn’t necessarily abusive toward her.
“She’s not a purebred Jack Russell,” Shook said. “She has short legs, maybe due to malnutrition of mixed breeding. She’s a mix of something. She’s not exactly what a responsible breeder would want to breed.
“She has no fear of people, and she loves to go for car rides,” she continued, adding that Mirabel has had no problems with her other pets, which include two cats, two bearded dragons and a hedgehog. “Animals, especially dogs, she kind of ignores. She’s not super fond of toys. I don’t think she ever learned to play with toys. I don’t think she knows what toys are. She doesn’t chew on bones. A lot of her teeth are worn down, and there are grooves behind her canine teeth, like she had been biting on cage bars. It’s another one of those mysteries.”
Mirabel’s medical procedures are behind her, yet she still requires some specialized daily care, including the application of a salve made of bee’s wax and mineral oil to where her nose should be.
“Her mucous membrane, where her nose is supposed to be, constantly gets dried out and starts to decay,” said Shook, who added that Mirabel’s nose is fully functional. Although it appears that she has a constant runny nose, her sense of smell is strong enough that she’s a canine foodie.
In addition to the issues with her nose, Mirabel’s advanced age and heart murmur mean Shook isn’t sure how much time Mirabel has left. But like any good pet owner, Shook is committed to making sure Mirabel is loved for the second half of her life.
“I have no regrets adopting her,” Shook said. “She’s been amazing, and it’s been an amazing experience. The support and how people have been receptive to her. It’s been great. Nothing negative has come out of it.”
Shook is currently working on a children’s book sharing Mirabel’s miraculous story. The name of the book, which will include information on resources for animal rescue and children’s services, will be the same as that of Mirabel’s Instagram page: @Mirabel_A_No_Nose_Fairytale.
“The outline is completed, and we’re working on the final wording of the story,” explained Shook, although a certain amount of artistic license was needed to tell Mirabel’s amazing story. “It will go from a puppy mill to where she is now, an empathy ambassador. This is going to be her fairy tale.”