ATLANTA - Malcolm Stafford is happiest when he's hands-deep in his southwest Atlanta garden.
Yet, lately when he's working in his yard, Stafford has been missing his shadow and self-imposed bodyguard, Cesar.
"I don't know how to describe love, but I care about him very much," Stafford says.
For the past few months, the 8-year old Chihuahua mix has been struggling just to get around.
"So, he hurts himself by trying to keep up with me," Stafford says.
On old cellphone video, you can see Cesar running in circles, playing in the garden with one of Stafford's two other dogs.
That was before on cellphone video. Before things changed and the playing stopped.
"One day he's fine, and the next he's dragging his legs," says Stafford. "Just paralyzed."
Stafford learned Cesar has a disc injury, and the paralysis is likely permanent.
"It was devastating, I was devastated," he remembers. "Because he's a good dog."
The tried buying Cesar an inexpensive wheelchair cart, but says Cesar hated it.
The dog began creating wounds on his legs, by trying to drag himself behind Stafford.
That is when the U.S. Army veteran realized her needed some help.
He found Lifeline Animal Project's Director of Outreach Andrea Peterson, who came to visit and assess Cesar's needs.
"He's having difficulty walking around," Peterson says. "He's using his front legs to try to get himself around."
Peterson works with a program created by the Humane Society of the Unites States called "Pets for Life."
The local program works with low-income Atlanta petowners who have limited or no access to veterinary or pet care services.
The program offers free veterinary care, spaying and neutering, vaccinations, food and pet supplies like leashes and collars.
The goal, Peterson says, is to help struggling pet owners keep their pets at home and out of crowded shelters.
"The pets are happier in their homes," Peterson says. "A lot of people don't have the means to take care of their pets as well as they would like. But it doesn't mean they love them any less."
To help Malcolm Stafford, Peterson and her Lifeline team have purchased a $200 wheelchair cart with donations.
After Peterson and Stafford adjust the device, and get Cesar comfortable in it, the dog takes off running, moving almost effortlessly.
"Oh, I can tell the difference already," Malcolm Staffrord says.
Watching, Andrea Peterson smiles.
"It was more exciting to see how happy Malcolm was, to see the smile on his face," she says.
"It's like Cesar is re-loaded, it's a new dog. it's a great day," says Malcolm Stafford.
Because Cesar is back on the move, and staying right here at home, where he belongs.
"And, that's a wonderful thing," Stafford says.
To learn more about Lifeline Animal Project's Pets For Life program, visit http://lifelineanimal.org/outreach/pets-for-life.