Meet Lefty, the three-legged dog that became a Des Moines icon

Lefty onstage during a show. — courtesy of Anne Mathey

Whether or not you’re a pet owner, you’ve probably seen a post or two from your fluff-loving friends on #NationalDogDay and #NationalPetDay. But you may not have heard of Specially-Abled Pets Day. The holiday, which is on May 3 every year, was founded in 2006 to encourage adoption of specially-abled animals from shelters.

Des Moines venue owner Anne Mathey doesn’t need a holiday to lift up Lefty, a small white dog missing his front left leg who she adopted from Animal Lifeline in 2008.

“He was the first dog at the first shelter I went to that I saw, and I was like, ‘I can’t get the first dog I see,’” Mathey recalls. “So I went to five other places and kept going, ‘Hey, I think I like that three-legged dog better.’”

Lefty wearing a sweater — courtesy of Anne Mathey

Lefty had his leg amputated before Mathey adopted him, and by the time he went home with her, he didn’t need too much wound care.

“They said he was walking on a frozen stream and the ice broke and [his leg] got caught. The Marshalltown Fire Department had to put on their wetsuits and army-crawl out to the middle of the river and get him unstuck,” Mathey said.

Once Lefty was freed, rescuers deduced that he didn’t belong to anyone since he didn’t have a collar or microchip. His injured leg was amputated and he was sent to Animal Lifeline, where they specialize in helping animals like Lefty get adopted to homes that can take care of them properly.

Venue owners Erik Brown and Anne Mathey with Lefty — courtesy of Anne Mathey

But Lefty’s miraculous rescue story is, shockingly, not his only claim to fame. Mathey and her business partner, Erik Brown, named their music venue in the Drake Neighborhood after him. Lefty’s is a Dogtown staple, and its logo features none other than the three-legged pup, drawn by MAD Magazine contributor Pat Moriarty. Lefty has been a local celebrity ever since, meeting his fans when running around the venue pre-show in his younger days.

“It’s funny because I run into people randomly, like in Walmart or something. And they pin me down and say, ‘Oh, you’re the Lefty’s lady! Tell me about the dog!’” Mathey said.

Mathey estimates that Lefty is 15 years old today. She says he likes to chase his ball, ride in Mathey’s new car with a sunroof, and like most dogs, eat.

“He used to never bark but then people started sneaking snacks into the club for him. He started to think that every person who walked through the door was supposed to have a treat for him,” Mathey recalled. “So he started just accosting everyone who walked in.”

Lefty at Lefty’s — courtesy of Anne Mathey

Mathey also remembers a day when Lefty ran away from the venue. When they found him, he was relaxing in the passenger seat of a food truck, no doubt waiting for a tasty morsel.

In his old age, Lefty now sees a nutritionist and an acupuncturist. Mathey assured Little Village that Lefty has everything he needs to be the healthiest he can be. Especially following April of last year, when Lefty needed emergency life-saving surgery, and pet bills almost prohibited him from getting the care he needed.

“It was basically, come up with a whole bunch of money in 10 minutes or put him down,” Mathey said. “The surgery was 12 grand, so I threw up a Facebook post, somebody made a GoFundMe, and my friends and the music community raised all that money overnight. I will forever be grateful for that moment.”

While Mathey said there are things owners need to watch out for when adopting three-legged animals, like keeping them lean, most of the time they are just like their four-legged peers.

Lefty dozing off at a burlesque show. –courtesy of Anne Mathey

“Dogs don’t hold onto things like people do,” Mathey said. “When he was younger, he would dig holes and run zoomies, and do everything other dogs would do. Dogs just live in the moment. They wake up and say, ‘This is happening. I guess I’ll just figure it out.’”

Lefty’s is a shining example of the full life a specially-abled animal can lead when taken in by a person as dedicated as Mathey. When she was told that Lefty was lucky to have her, Mathey replied, “We’re lucky to have him. Number-one guy for sure.”

Follow Lefty on Instagram at @leftythebardog.