Pet Talk: Wheelchair doesn’t slow down man’s best friend
Wheelchair-enabled isn’t a term usually associated with dogs — unless you are one of a handful of dedicated dog owners who stand by their friends no matter what.
Meet Jim Fleischer and Amanda Maslanka, two such dog owners, and their 14-year-old German shepherd, Tommy. Tommy is one lucky pooch. You see, about two years ago, Tommy lost the ability to use his rear legs due to severe, debilitating arthritis in his spine and a degenerative myelopathy. Many people would have opted for euthanasia, but not Jim and Amanda.
“Getting a wheelchair for Tommy was a no-brainer” Jim said. “I hate to be blunt, but the only other option was to kill him.”
I first met Tommy, Jim and Amanda at a park in Eagle Ranch on a beautiful fall afternoon in 2014. My curiosity got the better of me after watching him struggle to chase the ball with his siblings: Hunter, a 2-year-old setter, and Katja, a 5-year-old shepherd.
“I’m a veterinarian” I said proudly, “How long has he been walking like that? Is he on any medications?” A healer and animal advocate, whether I am on the clock or not, I just could not help but ask.
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Next week, we checked Tommy out at the hospital, and we decided prednisone could help him walk a little better. Prednisone is usually one of our last-resort drugs for guys like Tommy. Unfortunately, I relayed the bleak message to Jim and Amanda that almost 90 percent of our large- and giant-breed dogs are euthanized at the end of their lives because they cannot walk anymore. Their organs don’t wear out, their bones and joints do. We talked about just how aggressive we would get in treating Tommy; neither Jim nor Amanda wanted him too heavily medicated.
Prednisone and some holistic remedies worked for Tommy until about nine months ago. So Jim and Amanda started looking for other ways to help Tommy get around.
“He was and is still so full of life, we just could not come to grips with ending it” Jim told me.
After some research, Jim went, where else, to eBay to find Tommy a wheelchair.
“They are about $400 new, and we found one for $250 used,” Jim said. “I made a few modifications, added a seat belt and viola. … Now Tommy is the most popular dog at the park and has his own fan club.”
Jim and Amanda brought Tommy to our dog park to play and for him to show me his stuff. Tommy is indeed full of life and plays tug of war with his sister Katja while Hunter wanders around carefree, like a good setter should. Watching them play and watching Katja take care of her brother is heartwarming. Dogs represent so much of what is good about animals. I feel honored to get to take care of them.
A Few Challenges
However, living in a wheelchair for a dog is not without a few challenges. Getting in and out is the easy part, as Jim showed me. Tommy also needs his bladder emptied a few times a day, which is also not a big deal. However, Tommy needs supervision outside, as he can fall over and end up stuck in an awkward position.
“He is such a trooper, he won’t cry out when he falls over, so we never leave him unattended for more than a few minutes,” Amanda said.
He also gets hung up on things in the house, so he spends most of his time indoors out of the wheelchair. Wheelchairs are becoming more popular among pet owners. They allow dogs to play, run and get the exercise they need. Also called “dog carts,” they can help with problems such as hip dysplasia, paralysis, arthritis, recovery from surgery, amputations and spinal problems.
A quick Google search shows you can find wheelchairs at many popular places such as Amazon, Sears and eBay. You also can find online instructions on how to make one, if you have the talent.
Businesses that cater to disabled pets and their parents are growing. There are also a number of websites and support groups for disabled pets and owners. Statistics on how many wheelchair-enabled pets there are in the United States are hard to find. However, according to Alicia, from http://www.handicappedpets.com, a one-stop website for disabled pets, they have more that 100,000 followers on social media.
“Wheelchairs are becoming much more acceptable for pets,” Alicia said. “We have made them for dogs, cats, horses, cows and even a famous pig named Chris P. Bacon.”
One thing that is consistent about wheelchair-enabled pets is they all have dedicated moms and dads.
“We really didn’t even consider any other options,” Jim said. “Tommy needed a wheelchair to get around, and we got him one.”
After just a few minutes playing with Tommy and his siblings, you can tell Tommy is glad they did.