The pictures below have been getting a lot of exposure on the Internet in the past couple of days, and it’s easy to see why: A picture of a dog sitting in a high chair is the very definition of adorable. But it’s more than that. For people who really love dogs beyond the “cute” factor, the story behind the picture says a lot about life with rescue dogs who have disabilities.
It’s really easy to imagine Annie, the Border Collie in the pictures, lingering in a dog shelter for her entire life. She’s not sitting in the chair and eating to be cute — Annie has a condition called megaesophagus. The condition occurs when the esophagus loses tone and becomes enlarged to the point that the animal can’t get food down the throat and into the stomach. Instead, the food just stays in the throat until it’s regurgitated. Sometimes, the food can wind up going into the lungs. In order to get the food into the stomach, dogs with megaesophagus have to be in an upright position.
According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, breeds that are especially at risk for megaesophagus include Great Danes, Irish Setters, Newfoundlands, German Shepherds, Shar Peis, Labrador Retrievers, and Miniature Schnauzers.
But Elizabeth Nash, Annie’s owner, didn’t know about any of this last year when she went to the Adams County Animal Shelter in Colorado last year. She was there because her beloved dog Hollie had died the month before, and she was looking for a new dog to join her family. Annie was there because her previous owners had abandoned her.
But when Nash took Annie home, the dog couldn’t keep her food down. The next day was spent in the vet’s office, figuring out what was wrong.
Here’s where the story could have ended badly. Most people don’t go to the shelter expecting to get a dog who already has something wrong with her. They’re looking for a dog who fits their notion of cute, and dogs who are old, disabled, chronically ill, or just badly groomed often wind up living their entire lives in the shelter. It’s easy to imagine Elizabeth Nash taking Annie back to the shelter and asking for another one, as if Annie were an iPhone that didn’t work quite right.
Instead, she learned about megaesophagus, and the veterinarian’s husband built the chair for her.
“She’s been with me for a year and a half now, and she is a happy, healthy 3-year-old with a wonderful quality of life,” Nash told the Huffington Post. “While it was initially overwhelming, her feeding is now part of our daily routine, and, like clockwork, she sits by her chair when it’s time to eat. Other than her feeding routine, she does all of the things that dogs love to do.”
The chair is a big hit, but it’s not as unusual as one might think. It’s called a Bailey Chair, invented by Joe and Donna Koch for their own dog named (by a strange and inexplicable coincidence), Bailey. There are more dogs out there with megaesophagus than you might expect, enough to support several thriving communities on Facebook and Yahoo.
Annie’s Bailey chair is a pretty nice example. Maybe it’s just the geek in me, but I think that it makes her look a little like a Dalek, from Doctor Who. If you want to be precise, she looks like a very friendly, more loveable version of Davros, who created the Daleks. I think it’s the big circles on the base.
It’s pretty easy to find other examples of Bailey chairs online. Some are very simple and stark while others are quite stylish. You can find them on Amazon for almost $400, but a small company called Bailey Chairs 4 Dogs will design them according to your dog’s measurements and your own aesthetic tastes for a more reasonable $200-$300. If you’re a do-it-yourself type, you can email Donna and Joe Koch directly for a DVD on how to build a Bailey chair. (Note: I haven’t had a chance to check this out myself, but there are multiple sites referring to the address.) In the video below, you can check out a dog eating very enthusiastically while sitting in his chair.
Many congratulations to Annie and Elizabeth for making a loving home together, and we hope that more people remember that dogs with disabilities can make great family members.
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