Imagine if your beloved dog suddenly lost mobility due to disease or injury. Wouldn’t you want to do everything you could to help her get it back?
For animals afflicted by conditions such as intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), suffering from partial or total paralysis due to injury, or born with congenital malformations, a lack of mobility can often equal a death sentence.
Disabled dogs are among the first to be euthanized at shelters, and sometimes owners with pets who have lost the ability to get around on their own can become overwhelmed with caring for these animals, preferring to surrender them to shelters or put them down.
But many of these dogs could live long and happy lives if only they had access to wheelchairs and other equipment to improve mobility and regain independence. A small business run by Ed and Leslie Grinnell in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, offers exactly that.
Eddie’s Wheels for Pets was founded in 1999 by the Grinnells after Ed, a mechanical engineer, had designed and built a cart for his Doberman Pinscher, Buddha, who was paralyzed from IVDD. According to Leslie, Buddha used her wheels for five months before she was able to walk again on her own as a “spinal walker” — a phenomenon seen in formerly paralyzed dogs who use reflexes, and not necessarily nerve connections to the brain, to walk again.
Thanks to years of experience and regular technical improvements, Eddie’s Wheels for Pets now offers an impressively diverse range of wheelchairs and accessories for dogs and cats, and it has even outfitted goats, rabbits, pigs, and an alpaca. The Grinnells also are the inventors of the front-wheel cart, which now represents a substantial part of their business.
“We had thought that we would be building carts for larger-breed dogs, but we do everything from two pounds to 200 pounds,” Leslie explains. “And, ironically, it’s much more delicate work making a lightweight cart for a two-pound pup. Tiny — teacup pets — have crippling joint problems that we can help with.”
Half of the company’s business is custom orders for dog breeds such as the Dachshund, Beagle, and Corgi — long-backed breeds with shorter legs that are particularly prone to IVDD. And Eddie’s Wheels for Pets regularly gets orders for dogs suffering from degenerative myelopathy (DM) — a disease Leslie says is the canine version of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — common in breeds such as the Boxer, German Shepherd, and Pug. This terminal disease does not cause pain, but will eventually result in paralysis of all four legs. Dogs with the condition can become increasingly stressed as they gradually lose function, and a specially fitted wheelchair can greatly improve their quality of life.
And improving quality of life starts with quality products and expert know-how. The carts are all made from scratch in their Massachusetts shop — they only buy the aluminum rods, wheels, and fasteners — and even the sewing is done on site and customized for each product.
Leslie is proud to say that Eddie’s Wheels for Pets is the only company in the sector owned by a mechanical engineer by trade. “This means,” she explains, “that our products meet AFSCME standards for craftsmanship. Some of our competitors’ carts are mass-produced in China and adjusted to fit multiple dogs, [but this is] something we don’t do since every dog is different and their needs change over time.”
The welded saddle design used also distinguishes Eddie’s Wheels for Pets’ carts from others. The fitted saddle supports the pelvis of each individual animal, “taking into account the angle of the pelvis and the dog’s stride.” In competitors’ carts, dogs are suspended on the soft tissue of the groin, which can lead to pressure sores and chaffing.
“Dogs don’t normally die from paralysis,” notes Leslie, “but infection is a constant threat, and avoiding skin breakdown is a top priority. [Our carts] always suspend animals in a healthy, normal posture, which allows for maximum rehabilitation as well as lessening wear on the front legs.”
The Grinnells know what they are talking about. Besides their dog Buddha, who used a cart and has since passed over the Rainbow Bridge, the couple has had many disabled dogs over the years and currently share their lives with three special needs dogs: siblings Willa and Webster, who were born without front legs, and rescue Beau, who is paralyzed from having been used as a bait dog. Each dog’s life has been dramatically improved by having a custom wheelchair to facilitate mobility.
While others may shy away from owning disabled pets, the Grinnells embrace the idea, and Eddie’s Wheels for Pets is their way of using their experience and expertise to help other animals in need of improved mobility all around the world.
“We have to get away from the idea that we have to ‘fix’ everything,” says Leslie. “One thing my animal clients do that we humans don’t is accept themselves as they are every day. They don’t usually whine, as long as their carer loves them.”
Leslie points out that Eddie’s Wheels for Pets will not accept orders for pets in pain, as they have found that these animals are not interested in moving, “so you have to deal with the pain first; there are drugs that can make a huge difference.”
And for pets like Willa and Webster, who were born with missing limbs and are not sick or suffering in any way, having a cart with front wheels, for example, can take the place of front legs and make a huge difference in the dog’s life.
“Dogs in front wheelers can sit, sniff, and play. And the amputees can walk without hopping and not have to run themselves to exhaustion,” she explains.
When asked what she loves most about the work they are doing, Leslie simply says, “Never have I done anything that paid us back with love … meeting wonderful pet owners who exemplify such love and dedication to their soul companions, and putting wags back in the tails of dogs, getting sloppy, wet kisses. It’s a joy — that’s why we do this!”
All photos used with permission from Eddie’s Wheels for Pets website or Facebook page.
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About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix and a needy Sphynx cat. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found as @PinchMom over on Twitter.