On a recent afternoon, a burly construction worker walking up Wayne Street, fresh from the sweaty job of laying a new water main down the block, stopped and reached down to pet the little brown and white dog with the wagging tail. The attention wasn't surprising. That's what people do when they lay eyes on Matilda.

In a neighborhood of dogs, Matilda is a breed apart. Her eyes and body language exude a gentleness that draws people to her. They stop, stroke her, and exchange small talk with her owner Joseph, who sits at the top of the stoop making sure she doesn't go too far.

It isn't Matilda's beauty. Far from it. Matilda's gaunt 35-pound body is a testament to the worst in human nature, a fact that could rightly cause humans to turn away in shame. But they don't.

When she was about a year old — Joseph isn't sure of her exact age — Matilda was thrown from a car at 108th Street and Second Avenue. Her front right leg was so badly damaged that it had to be amputated.

Matilda is a Staffordshire Terrier, a breed known for being “pugnacious brawlers [that] once ruled England's fighting pits.”

“She probably had one litter, lost a fight and was thrown from a car” says Joseph.

Matilda is no fighter. Anyone can see that.

Matilda working with a senior during physical therapy

But that wasn't Matilda's first experience with torture. Her ears had been cropped with scissors, presumably without anesthesia. That's what people, whose idea of fun is to watch dogs fight, do to dogs like Matilda.

Matilda was rescued by a shelter in New York and then farmed out temporarily to a veterinarian in south Jersey where she “greeted” customers. That's when Joseph saw a photo of her wearing sunglasses online. “I didn't realize that she was missing a leg.” But he immediately knew that Matilda was special. He took her home.

“I started to go see amputee war vets and senior citizens...the numbers of letters I got from privates who were suicidal, because you see 18 to 24-year-olds missing arms and legs, and they would send me letters saying ‘please continue to bring Matilda, I wasn't able to talk to my therapist that I was suicidal and then I met her and she saved my life.'”

Such is Matilda's fame that Mexican opera singer Juan Del Bosco came to Jersey City to serenade her.

Now 14, Matilda has an adversary as heartless as her first owner; cancer. She's made it two years but the ravages of the disease are evident. She's gone from 55 to 35 pounds. To stroke her back is to feel skin and bones.

Yet, every day she can be seen shakily hopping down the steps of her stoop with her one front leg, eager to greet the people who pass. And despite all that humans have done to her, she wags her tail and looks up appreciatively.

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....