Life didn’t start out easy for Sophie Jo, a three-legged goldendoodle who will be competing on Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl” on Super Bowl Sunday.

When she was 9 weeks old, she was kicked by her owner. His wife brought the puppy to the emergency clinic, desperate for help. She admitted that her husband had beaten the dog, and that she and her daughter were being abused as well.

The puppy’s kneecap was shattered, and her back left leg had to be amputated. The mother and daughter surrendered the dog and fled their home.

“It was a heartbreaking situation, but they did what was in Sophie Jo’s best interest,” said Erika Proctor from Green Dogs Unleashed. Green Dogs, located in Troy in Fluvanna County, became Sophie Jo’s next home.

But the little ball of happiness wasn’t there for long.

Sophie Jo is a beautiful dog. She has a fluffy, soft, golden coat and a perky, easy personality. She doesn’t notice her disability, Proctor said, or let it slow her down.

When Sophie Jo’s foster parent posted a livestream of her joyfully playing to an animal advocacy website, Green Dogs was flooded with more than 190 applications from people wanting to adopt the adorable three-legged goldendoodle.

“She’s a happy-go-lucky dog. She’s very jovial. In the pictures, it always looks like she’s smiling,” said Belinda Lawthers Stevens of Henrico County’s Lakeside neighborhood.

She and her wife, Margarett Chase, were among the 190 applicants who wanted to adopt Sophie Jo. They already had two goldendoodles: Stella and Seattle. But when they saw Sophie Jo’s video, they fell in love.

“It was a no-brainer for us. We had to apply and give her a chance at a better life,” Stevens said.

Proctor said the application review was tedious.

“We strive to find the perfect fit for our dogs. We want long-term success,” Proctor said.

They narrowed the applications to a handful and invited the families to meet Sophie Jo. Stevens and Chase made the trek.

“You could just see it, from the moment Sophie met them, they just clicked,” Proctor said.

“She’s a very happy dog,” Stevens added. “She’s been on three legs for the majority of her life. She doesn’t know anything different.”

In October, shortly after she was adopted, the couple took Sophie Jo to New York for the filming of Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XIV.

“It was one of the highlights of my life, working with Animal Planet. And getting to see the behind the scenes of the ‘Puppy Bowl,’” Stevens said.

They also brought along Sophie’s friend Buttons, a deaf and blind cocker spaniel, to New York.

“On the ‘Puppy Bowl,’ they have a storyline where Sophie Jo is Buttons’ guide dog. They’re best friends on the show, and they’re on the same team,” Stevens said.

In real life, Sophie Jo and Buttons did strike up a friendship at Green Dogs. Buttons was eventually adopted by a family in Manassas.

Last year, another dog, Doobert, a deaf English pointer from Green Dogs that was adopted by a Goochland County family, appeared on the “Puppy Bowl.”

This year, the “Puppy Bowl” organizers decided to feature even more special needs dogs.

“Dogs are so resilient and they don’t let their disabilities get in the way of them having fun. They may need a bit more care from their humans, but they shouldn’t be overlooked,” wrote Simon Morris, one of the executive producers of the show, in an email.

“Up until recently, breeders would euthanize deaf and blind puppies,” Proctor said. “The perception was that there was no quality of life for them. Because of the ‘Puppy Bowl,’ people are seeing that even if a puppy can’t see, they behave just like any other puppy. There’s an alternative.”

Now 9 months old, Sophie Jo loves to run and play with her goldendoodle sisters.

“She’s very fast. She keeps up with the other girls,” Stevens said. “Walking is more difficult, but she can run just as fast as the other dogs.”

Sophie Jo is in training to become a therapy dog for domestic violence victims and amputees.

“She was meant to be with us,” Stevens said.

Chase added, “I still can’t believe she’s ours.”

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ccurran@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6151

Twitter: @collcurran

Colleen Curran covers arts and entertainment for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She writes the weekly column Top Five Weekend Events.

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