With his back end in a doggy wheelchair, Wheeler the Shih Tzu–Poodle doesn’t sit still for long, but before he got his wheels, this dog didn’t get around much, despite having such a determined personality.
“Wheeler’s incredible,” says Melyssah DeVrye, who brought the special-needs dog into her home in early 2014, just days before he was scheduled to be euthanized.
An experienced animal rescuer, she heard about Wheeler after his first owner found herself unable to keep the four-year-old dog, who had been losing control of his back legs for years.
“The lady who originally had him, had him since he was a puppy,” explains DeVrye, who was told that Wheeler started losing mobility in his hind quarters when he was five or six months old.
According to DeVrye, Wheeler’s former owner needed to move to a larger apartment after having a child, but was unable to find a dog-friendly rental. The woman then tried to rehome Wheeler (then known as Wheezy), but couldn’t find anyone willing to adopt a dog who couldn’t use his back legs.
“When I heard about him, I reached out to a couple of rescues, but no one was able to take him,” says DeVrye. “After months of trying to rehome him, it was going to come down to euthanasia.”
DeVrye knew she could not let that happen, but wasn’t ready to take on Wheeler herself. At the same time as she was trying to help Wheeler’s owner rehome him, DeVrye was also in the process of moving. She was moving from a house to a sixth-floor apartment, while caring for three rescue dogs and a couple of cats. It soon became obvious to her that apartment living was not a good fit for one of the dogs — a shepherd named Dallas, who DeVrye had been hoping to make a permanent member of her pack.
She worried Dallas’ hips would not be able to withstand the constant stair climbing and began interviewing potential adopters. Although she was heartbroken, DeVrye also knew that finding a more appropriate home for Dallas meant Wheeler could come live in her apartment.
“I sacrificed rehoming probably the best dog ever to be able to care for Wheeler,” she says.
When DeVrye was confident she would have the space to accommodate Wheeler, just a week before his scheduled euthanasia date, she called the woman seeking to rehome him.
“I told her, ‘Use me as your last resort, not euthanasia,'” DeVrye recalls.
Soon Wheeler was in her care, and DeVrye began pouring over his old vet records, looking for some clue as to why his back legs stopped working. She says the vet records show that while Wheeler’s first owner took him in for his shots, she declined the vet’s suggestions of neurological consults and X-rays.
DeVrye believes Wheeler’s first owner declined the vet’s suggestions due to financial concerns, and adds that while her own financial situation is not vastly different, she’s been able to provide for Wheeler’s medical needs through self-sacrifice and outside support. Some of Wheeler’s medical bills have been paid through a sponsorship by Bialy’s Wellness Foundation, an organization that helps special-needs animals.
“He’s had X-rays done now, he’s been neutered, he’s going to have a neurological consult this month,” she says.
While Wheeler got a chance to catch up on his vet visits when he came to live with DeVrye, he also got to use a wheelchair for the first time.
“I don’t think he was so used to being able to move about the apartment freely,” says DeVrye, who carries Wheeler up and down half a dozen flights of stairs to take him out for walks. While he gets assistance on the staircase, once outside it’s all up to Wheeler.
“I don’t baby him — if he wants to go over a curb, he’ll go over a curb,” says DeVrye, who is aiming to help Wheeler develop confidence and independence.
While Wheeler is getting used to using his wheels, he’s also getting used to living with other animals. “He had to adapt to cats and dogs,” says DeVrye. “He’s never alone anymore. I think that helps with his anxiety.”
According to DeVrye, Wheeler’s former human used to keep him in the bathroom at night and whenever she was out of the apartment, in an attempt to calm his separation anxiety. “He understood right away that things are different here. If I’m home, he can go anywhere he wants,” says DeVrye, who keeps Wheeler safe behind a baby gate when she’s away from home.
All the exploring Wheeler has been doing at home and outdoors has helped him get stronger — he’s so strong his back end is now lifting up out of his wheelchair. “He’s gained a lot of mobility in his back end and built strength in his core muscles.”
While Wheeler keeps getting stronger, DeVrye and Wheeler’s vet worry about a two-pound weight loss. Further testing is required to determine if Wheeler’s weight loss is due to a GI tract disorder, which could be preventing him from properly absorbing proteins.
Despite his ongoing health issues, Wheeler maintains a sunny disposition. “He’s the happiest dog you would ever meet, and he doesn’t think he’s any different than a dog who can walk on all fours,” says DeVrye. “Honestly, Wheeler has changed my life.”
DeVrye says she isn’t the only human this determined dog is having an impact on. “Wheeler’s helped a lot of kids — they look up to him. There’s a child in my town who is also in a wheelchair, and Wheeler is his hero.”
DeVrye hopes Wheeler continues to inspire people, particularly people who are considering adopting a pet.
“A lot of people have more cons than pros about adopting a disabled dog,” DeVrye explains. She says that life with Wheeler isn’t about what he can’t do — but what he can.
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.