- Owners of disabled animals can feel very alone: Online communities provide feedback and hope
- Veterinary technician Christina Simpson build a dog wheelchair from PVC and lawnmower parts
- Plans for dog wheelchairs are available on the internet
Consider it an occupational hazard. Work at a veterinary clinic long enough, and eventually you will wind up falling for a patient. In the case of veterinary technician Christina Simpson, she fell for a patient that had been left behind at her roommate's veterinary clinic.
Oreo's owner surrendered the dog because the animal could no longer use her hind legs. After hearing about Oreo, Simpson offered to try laser therapy. The procedure promotes healing at the cellular level by increasing blood flow and decreasing inflammation in the injured area, and had been used successfully by Simpson's colleagues at Eagle's Landing Veterinary Hospital in Georgia. Simpson was so sure laser therapy would work that she took responsibility for the perky pooch, renaming her Hope.
"I wanted to try to get her walking again with the laser," she says. "I was hopeful I could do that and adopt her out, but once it became clear she wasn't going to walk again, it became difficult."
By that point, she had fallen for Hope. But with a roommate and a house full of pets, Simpson had no room for another addition. The vet tech decided the next best thing to taking Hope home was to move to Plan B: Build a wheelchair so the dog could get around and — hopefully — find a forever home.
How do you build a wheelchair for a dog? For Simpson, it was time to surf the Web and reach out to her friends.
Firefighter Clay Gaddy, whose wife works with Simpson, downloaded instructions to transform 1-inch PVC pipe, foam insulation and a pair of lawn mower wheels into Hope's new ride. Eagle's Landing Veterinary Hospital paid for the supplies and, a few hours later, Gaddy was fitting the dog for her new wheelchair. The first ride was a bit bumpy and required some adjustments, but soon Hope was off in pursuit of a stuffed toy.
Fortunately for Hope and other dogs with disabilities, there is no shortage of information to help people care for animals with special needs. On HandicappedPets.com, pet owners offer advice, purchase gear and share words of encouragement. Customers regularly submit video footage of their dogs thriving, and the site's Facebook fan page has more than 48,000 members. It was created in 2000 by Mark Robinson, who had sold pet supplies and wheelchairs for years.
"People who were caring for disabled animals were feeling very alone and neglected," says Robinson. "Friends and neighbors would say, 'Aww, put the poor thing to sleep,' but these people knew their dog was alive, awake, happy — they just couldn't walk. They had nowhere to go for support."
Community feedback led Robinson to invent the Walkin Wheels adjustable wheelchair, which is available in 22 countries, including Australia, France and — coming soon — Iran. A mini version accommodates dogs that weigh less than 20 pounds and ranges from $249 to $325, while the standard version works for dogs up to 180 pounds. Prices range from $399 to $529. Upon hearing Hope's story, HandicappedPets.com offered Simpson a travel-friendly Walkin Wheels to keep Hope moving in the right direction.
Now, all Hope needs is a forever home. Eagle's Landing has agreed to board her until Simpson finds the right family, one that can handle the challenges of a pet with special needs. In the meantime, Hope is adjusting to her new wheels.
"It's hard to keep up with [Hope] when she makes up her mind," Simpson says. "Her front end is all muscle so she's a great candidate for a wheelchair."
If you are interested in providing a forever home for Hope, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.