Sometimes the courage of an animal and their owner breaks through the boundaries of normal expectations and reminds us of the wondrous trust and
resiliency that our pets possess. This is the story of one such owner and her very special dog Austin.
The story of Austin
Austin was supposed to be a purebred Shih Tzu, but he is a super sized Shih Tzu, weighing in at 37 pounds! Most of that weight is love, happiness, determination and heart!
Austin will be 9 years old on April 1st. He first started showing symptoms of back problems in June of 2007. One morning in August of 2007 or 2008, he went outside and then could not get up the stairs to get back into the house. He was paralyzed in the back end. I panicked and brought him right in to Dr. Womack. He immediately started him on Prednisone and some injections. We discussed what was happening and what our options were. I chose to wait and see how he did.
When I got home with Austin, I immediately started doing research. I started very gentle massage, range of motion exercises, and floated him in a warm bathtub. I did this 2 or 3 times a day for the first two weeks, and continued with the massage and ROM exercises for the next few months. I do believe by doing these things that it helped cut down on some of the paralysis. After two weeks of lifting Austin everywhere, including out to go potty, I decided I needed to do something more permanent. I researched dog wheelchairs or “carts” as they are referred to.
There are many different manufactures of carts, but I chose Eddie’s Wheels out of Maine. His website is: www.eddieswheels.com . They were wonderful! Every cart they make is custom to each dog and their needs. There are several adjustable parts of the cart, so you can change the cart with the dogs needs and add other options. Austin is in a “counterbalance” cart. The wheels are placed differently from their conventional cart so there is no pressure on his cervical spine.
They also tilted out his wheels for ease of movement. As Austin gained back some leg control, I was able to remove the “stirrups” from the back of the cart that held his hind legs up off the ground. He still drags his hind feet a little bit, so I have to be careful to not take him on too long of walks or his toe nails wear down to the quick and he gets “road rash” on the tops of his feet. The carts are built so that both male and female dogs and urinate and defecate without being impeded by the cart.
By biggest wish for myself after Austin became paralyzed was to see him wage his fluffy white tail again. I didn’t care if I had to change diapers, bathe him, carry him around, or spend a fortune on his health; I just wanted to see his “signature” tail wave. Well, I got my wish a few months later! Not only is he able to wag his tail now, he does have some hind leg movement. Not enough to support himself, but he can use them to help “scoot” on the floors and propel himself in his cart.
Austin and I frequent the nursing homes. The residents can so relate to Austin’s cart and incontinence issues. We also go to schools to help educate kids that animals can have disabilities too and disabilities do not make the animal disposable.
There is nothing that Austin cannot do except for jump up! We go on daily walks, he loves going to the beach, on the River walk loop dirt trails, (tree roots on the path don’t stop him at all!) in the water, including the irrigation canal close to home and snow is no problem in his cart. He has only “jackknifed” once on the ice! He was going down hill and his rear end swung around. He just had to run faster with his front end to straighten himself out! I have often joked that it would be so much fun to take his cart into Les Schwab and ask to get studded tires or chains for his cart. I can just see the look on their faces!
I initially received quite a bit of flack for not putting Austin down right away. It was never an option for me. Now they have eaten their words! Austin is the happiest dog! I know that if it came to “the” time, I will have to let him go. As long as he is happy and able, he will be with me.
Caring for a disabled pet is certainly more work that a mobile pet, but I cannot imagine not doing it! It even meant doing some minor adjustments to the house and yard to accommodate him. People are always curious about him and his cart. The most frequent response I get is: “Oh, the poor thing…” and I pipe right up and tell them: “Oh no, not poor thing! He is as happy as a clam and he can do anything he wants to. He does not let his paralysis slow him down!” We call his cart his “Big Wheel, Hot Wheels or Chariot”!
I also have met people that have similar situations with their pets. So many people do not know that there are other options for pets that have mobility issues besides euthanasia. Dr. Johnson once told me: “If only more people would wait a week or two afterwards. They might have made a totally different decision”. That has always stuck with me. Once you make the decision to adopt or purchase a pet they are a lifetime commitment, good times and bad times…
Director of Community Outreach
Wenatchee Valley Humane Society
1474 South Wenatchee Avenue
Wenatchee, Washington 98801
(509)-662-9577 extension 415
1201 Walla Walla Ave. | Wenatchee, WA 98801 US