“What is wrong with your dog?”
It is a question I get to often to count and the truth is, no one knows for sure other than it is neurological in nature, and it is progressively getting worse. What I do know is that we have met some amazing people along this journey that continue to support and encourage us along the way. If you know me you know I refer to these people as part of “the Baxter Parade” and leading the parade is the team at Eddie’s Wheels.
In the spring of 2009, after some encouragement from my dear friend Jacqueline and inspired by her journey with her dog Samuel Jacob, I began researching wheelchairs for dogs. Baxter was losing strength in his hind end and needed support. The idea of getting a cart was overwhelming, and the choices where far more than I had expected. Some instructed to send in a few measurements and a cart would come ready made off the shelf, while others were custom made per your measurements. Many seemed to be for “rehab” purposes, or for dogs that had clearly defined medical issues. And I had no idea what was wrong and what I should choose. Interestingly, the cart prices were all relatively the same and were shipped from distant states.
In the end, I chose Eddie’s Wheels in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts for several reasons. The first being that we could drive there and get measured, so I would not have to tackle that important task on my own. The second was I liked the idea of a custom made cart just for Baxter, and I had great visions of a metallic orange powder coated cart that would look “cool”. I had no idea then that this was the start of a long lasting partnership, or what custom made really meant – it goes far beyond fancy colored paint.
Baxter and I made the 2 hour trip to Shelburne Falls and I was filled with sadness at our situation. Many people thought I was crazy for even considering putting Baxter in a wheelchair, and I myself was very unsure. Maybe physical therapy and diligence could “fix” him and I was taking the easy way out. But we had by now exhausted the possibilities medically – there was no surgery, medication or veterinarian that could diagnose nor “fix” him and I was alone to find a solution. Jacqueline’s advice was constantly on my mind “don’t wait too long”.
I had seen many photos during my research of dogs in carts and for the most part they looked happy enough but made my heart break at the same time. I cannot recall actually seeing a dog in a cart in person. We were greeted by the happiest girls upon our arrival at Eddie’s Wheels, Sweet Pea the Pitbull and Daisy the Dachshund – what a sight they were, happily roaming about in their carts, not a care in the world. Leslie expertly took Baxter’s measurements and offered to let him try out Sweet Pea’s cart. I look at that photo now and remember that amid my heartache there was a feeling this was the right decision. He was standing there on the porch of Eddie’s Wheels, tall and proud in Sweet Pea’s cart – standing all by himself with no assistance.
Two weeks later, on June 8th 2009 (Baxter’s 7th birthday) his cart arrived. I brought him out into the yard with a bag of “highly valued” treats to practice getting used to the cart. I had no idea what I was doing, but managed to get him in it and within minutes he had the hang of it – I don’t think we ever opened the bag of treats, his enthusiasm for the freedom to run unassisted was enough motivation.
If those wheels could talk, they would tell the story of all the places they traveled – sandy beaches, ocean water, snow, mud, grass and pavement – they became a part of Baxter and were the method in which he traveled to enjoy life as a dog. He could outrun me if allowed off leash, and seized every opportunity to go “off roading”, going off trails and getting into messy situations. What a sight it must be to see a person running after her dog in his wheelchair to save him from jumping a curb or prevent him from being tipped by getting to close to a fence.
Baxter’s condition continued to deteriorate and he lost a great deal of muscle mass during the first year he had his cart. Our physical therapist contacted Leslie at Eddie’s Wheels for guidance to provide padding and support for his custom cart as his body continued to change. Leslie asked for measurements and offered to make a new frame for him so that he would be comfortable and remain properly positioned in his cart. I was amazed at this level of commitment and service from such a small company. We picked up a new cart in June of 2010 – complete with reinforcements of the frame for a very active Baxter.
Spring 2011 brought more changes in Baxter’s physical abilities, this time his front legs were weakening and it was a challenge to move about in his cart. An E-mail to Leslie describing the situation quickly led to an offer to upgrade Baxter’s cart to a variable axle cart where the wheels can be moved to accommodate his front end weakness, and so I made an appointment for that very week to bring the cart in for an “upgrade”.
Spending the morning at Eddie’s Wheels is indescribable. Baxter’s cart was whisked off to the workshop for his upgrade, and we sat in the showroom watching the day’s activities. To see the team answer phone calls from worried owners needing help, taking measurements of dogs in all shapes, sizes and conditions and to witness a dog picking up their very own custom made cart is an experience I will not soon forget. Each client is given the time, encouragement and compassion they need by a member of the Eddie’s Wheels team. It is amazing to watch a group of dogs in their carts – front wheels, rear wheels, four wheels and every other configuration – run around the yard in their carts carefree, some needing encouragement to take their first steps and finding it among the pack. There were many tears that day – tears of joy for the new found freedom these dogs had found thanks to their carts.
I had become pretty proficient in adjusting Baxter’s variable axle cart, and as his condition changed we moved quickly through the progressive steps of adjustment that this cart offered. In a few short months it became clear that he was still struggling to support himself with his front legs even with the adjustments of his cart. I started looking for other alternatives, researching dog strollers and wagons in order to still be able to take Baxter out on the adventures that he loves. I had seen some training wheels that Eddie makes to attach to the front of carts and wrote an E-mail to Leslie inquiring if this could be a solution for Baxter to get a little more life out of his cart.
I sent the E-mail late on Sunday afternoon, preparing myself for the answer from Leslie, knowing in my heart that there probably was not much left we could try to keep Baxter mobile. We had a good two years with the three carts that Eddie’s Wheels built for Baxter, and I was thankful for that time of carefree running and the adventures we were able to have. A few hours later I received a voice mail from Leslie. After my surprise as receiving a call from a company on Sunday evening, I really dreaded listening to it. Leslie has seen and knows more about disabilities than most veterinarians I have worked with, and I felt sure that she too had run out of ideas for my boy.
I worked up the courage to listen to Leslie’s voice mail, and was once again amazed at the ability she has to find a solution and provide encouragement. We could certainly try the training wheels, but she wanted me to call her with his cart measurements because she had another idea. A quad cart. She had a client that she built a quad cart for that sadly passed away before he could use it. The cart was built and ready to go, she felt sure it would be a match for Baxter, no wait time necessary. The following day I spoke with her and the cart was indeed a good fit for Baxter, so I could drive out any time for him to try it out.
Once again my mid rushed through sadness, this time at the thought of a quad cart for Baxter. All the photos I had seen of dogs in quad carts had lost the ability to walk at all, or were at the end stages of illness. I could not imagine Baxter in a quad, with its head rest and tow handle necessary to help a dog that can no longer walk. Were we really at this stage in his illness? Sometimes the heart does not want to admit what the eye sees, and I needed Leslie – with her kindness, compassion and understanding of my dogs needs to help me see what was right for Baxter. Where just a few days ago I had been looking at wagons and strollers to push him in, I now could not fathom putting him into a cart where he could use his legs but have the support of four wheels instead of two – it took a moment to think of it in that logical manor. I studied the pages of Eddie’s Wheels website and saw for the first time the photos of dogs in their quad carts, with no headrest and no tow handle (both are removable from the frame) and with all four feet on the ground, looking every bit as happy as Baxter and others are in their two wheeled carts. A quad cart, which will once again be able to be adjusted to the changes that we will go through along our journey.
Just three short days after my conversation with Leslie, we were back at Eddie’s Wheels trying out what is now Baxter’s fourth cart. While this cart was custom made for a different dog, with some adjustments that were done while we waited it was a great fit for Baxter. Once again he was measured and everything was checked and double checked until it was a perfect fit for him. While waiting, we were treated to a very special tour of the shop by Eddie, and he showed us how a cart is born. From the design drawings, thousands of them all of which are done by hand, to how each part is made right there in the shop. To say these carts are custom is just not enough – every tiny detail is thought of. With the exception of the wheels, each and every part of the cart is made in house. Eddie showed examples of some of the variations and customizations of carts in progress, and often told the story of the animal the cart was being built for. In the shop for an upgrade was the cart for Spin the Lamb – she has had many carts and upgrades as she has grown into a 175lb. sheep. Sprinkled throughout the workshop are photos of happy clients in their carts. The passion for helping animals is clearly evident in the work that is being done by the entire team at Eddie’s Wheels which we felt first hand by watching a new harness being sewn to fit Baxter’s quad cart while we waited. His cart and every other one that leaves the shop does not go until it is perfectly suited for its new owner.
When I think back to the choices I had when first choosing a cart, I worried about what would happen if Baxter’s custom cart stopped being effective in helping him. I now realize that in choosing to work with a company that builds these carts for each dog and their situation that I actually gained the expertise of a team of people that care for their clients and find solutions to fit their needs well after the initial sale. It has been necessary for us to have a series of carts due to Baxter’s ever changing condition and we have been helped in ways that have far exceeded my expectations. It is fitting that his fourth cart has four wheels, and with practice I imagine he will be walking again without assistance in no time. And if he can no longer run, I will help him with the tow handle and add the headrest so he can still be out and about and sniffing the breeze, living like a dog.
There is a quote within a group of our dog friends, part of which is – “Never give up, never give in”. I try to live by and make decisions for Baxter with this in mind. It is my promise to him that for as long as his mind, body and spirit want to continue, I will do everything within my power to provide ways for him to enjoy life comfortably and as independently as is possible. I rely on the “Baxter Parade” team that includes his veterinarians, physical and hydro therapists, our close friends Jill and Dede and the Eddie’s Wheels team among others – these people know and love my dog and remain our biggest supports throughout the challenges we face. When I think of them, I picture a seesaw – with Baxter and I on one end, and this group of amazing people on the other. They balance us. When we are low, they lift us up again – providing honest opinions, solutions, encouragement and support each and every step of the journey.
With gratitude to Eddie, Leslie and the team at Eddie’s Wheels
To see the various carts Baxter has had and see Eddie working on each one of them visit this album – http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2329737885328.2138103.1306168327&type=1
First visit to Eddie’s Wheels – May 2009
First moments in his new cart – June 2009
Eddie working on cart #1 August 2009
Cart #2 – Eddie deciding it needs reinforcements May 2010
Cart #2 May 2010
Cart #3 – variable axle May 2011
Cart #3 – May 2011
Cart #4 – Eddie adjusts the quad cart – August 2011
Cart #4 – first moments in a quad – August 2011
And here’s the video I took to record his first walk in his quad cart: