Getting Their Lives Back: The World of Wheelchairs for Pets
There’s a special place in Amherst, New Hampshire where a passionate man named, Mark Robinson, leads the way for Walkin’ Pets, a company created to support the caretakers of elderly, injured, and handicapped pets.
Founded in 2001 as Handicapped Pets, this organization has gone global providing support and products to animals in need and caretakers who only want the best for their beloved pets.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with Mark Robinson and Lisa Murray, Public Relations Director for Walkin’ Pets, and get an in-depth look at how this company is chaning the lives of so many.
JSG: Tell me about Walkin’ Pets. What’s your mission and how did it start?
MR: Many years ago, before the internet was even popular, my Keeshond, Mercedes, started snapping at my infant son. The vet diagnosed Mercedes with Canine Epilepsy and said he couldn’t guarantee that during a seizure my son would be safe. He recommended euthanasia. I agreed. Years later, when a friend was diagnosed with epilepsy, I researched it thoroughly online. I realized that if I had had the online resource when my dog was sick, I would have made a better decision. So I created the resource I wished I had had, and people flocked to it. All over the world, people were providing extraordinary care for their pets — treating them like family — and they were getting scoffed at and ridiculed by their neighbors. ‘Why don’t you put the poor things out of it’s misery?’ they would hear, again and again. Here was a place they could be accepted and get the information they needed, from alternative treatments for canine epilepsy to ‘how to cut a tail-hole in a pampers without all the stuffing coming out.’ Then, as I listened to the communities concerned, I realized there were some important products and services they needed.”
2. Who did your organization make its first wheelchair for?
LM: A girl named Courtney, who is now a nurse, adopted a dog named “Lucy” from Puerto Rico. Ten years later, you can still see Courtney and Lucy running across the home page banner of our website.
3. What types of animals can your organization help?
LM: We help disabled, injured, and aging pets — mostly dogs, but also cats, goats, pigs, rabbits, and sheep, and we’ve even helped a fox, skunk, miniature horses, deer, and an opossum.
4. Do you help shelter pets?
LM: Yes! We give a discount to all shelters; when a disabled pet is in a shelter, a wheelchair can make all the difference as to whether it can get adopted. We often help out with shelter fundraising events around the country by donating items for raffling/auction, and we encourage customers to donate their used wheelchairs to shelters.
5. How are the lives of animals transformed when they receive their wheelchair?
MR: If a picture speaks a thousand words, then a video speaks ten thousand. Just take a look at the videos on the website and you see disabled animals having the time of their lives playing, running, jumping, swimming, exploring . . . basically being a dog again!
The Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair allows an animal to experience freedom and independence again. A dog will go from dragging its back legs to being able to run and play again, do its business, and all the usual things it used to do! A wheelchair very often gives it life itself, because people are often faced with whether to put their dogs down when they have mobility challenges; the wheelchair gives them a great option to give their dogs a high quality life. This can add weeks, months, or years to a dog’s life.
6. Is there training that is involved, or do the animals get the hand of it pretty quickly?
MR: “I designed the chair based on the fact that most rear-end disabled pets get around by dragging their rear behind them. Often, the front legs are healthy and strong. The wheelchair frame is designed to be like an external skeleton, supporting their spine and putting wheels where their rear legs would be. Most dogs find that when they try to move the way they have been moving — with their front legs — suddenly they’re zooming! We have to warn people to keep a leash on when they first put on the chair. It’s not always like this, of course. Sometimes dogs, faced with the unfamiliar, need a little time, and we have a manual with training tips and a help and support line if needed.”
7. Do you help animals all over the world?
MR: “Yes. The animal caretaker community is global, without heed to politics or cultural boundaries. All over the planet, mankind is is more and more treating their pets as family and giving them the extraordinary care they need to live happy healthy lives. I love that we’re selling more in China. We have a vibrant Taobao store (their Amazon) and see a growing love of animals. It is in the early stages there, but coming fast.”
8. How can people inquire about your wheelchairs?
LM: Just go to WalkinPets.com! We were known in the past as HandicappedPets.com; that web address still works fine, but we’ve changed our name in order to let people know that it not just handicapped pets that we help — we serve aging, injured, and disabled pets — and we want to keep them Walkin’!
9. Can you tell us about some local superhero animals that have benefited from the wheelchairs?
LM: Ruth Dodge lives in Loudon, N.H., with five rescued dogs and five rescued cats; two of the dogs use Walkin’ Wheels (Beau and Nani Pua). Ruth says the Walkin’ Wheels are not wheelchairs, they’re “just wheels!” She is a huge advocate of helping disabled dogs live normal, happy lives. Ruth’s whole story is in a press release on our website here: https://www.handicappedpets.com/special-needs-dogs-and-cats-find-love-in-loudon/ and she is also featured in a video we made here: https://youtu.be/Ablj70JBFyo
10. What are their lives like now?
LM: Beau is a double amputee (rear legs) — a Chihuahua who would have been euthanized by the shelter if Ruth hadn’t taken him in. This little spark plug is a joy to behold; he is full of a zest for life — just looking at him run around makes you smile!
Nani Pua is an Australian Cattle Dog who also would have been euthanized by the shelter; she’s had rear leg paralysis from birth. Nani Pua is sweet as the day is long and full of affection.
Both dogs live full, rich lives — lots of activity, lots of love, both given and received! Watch this video to see how their lives have been transformed by the wheelchair: https://youtu.be/RwXFJGKjaDM. These dogs are thriving!
11. What are your plans for the future?
LM: Walkin’ Pets continues to look for new ways to help pets live happy, healthy lives. We just came out with a Blind Dog Halo to help visually impaired dogs navigate. A local dog, Sterling, from Londonderry, N.H., helped us out by being our main product tester. He had suddenly lost his vision due to SARDS. He has since crossed the rainbow bridge, but we are so grateful to him for helping to help other dogs. You can read more about Sterling and the Blind Dog Halo in this blog post: https://www.handicappedpets.com/blog/new-blind-dog-halo/
We are constantly listening to our customers to discern any unmet needs, and then work on ways to meet those needs. In addition, we are always looking for ways to improve on products we already carry, such as our harnesses, adjustable splints, wet/dry aids, and of course, our Walkin’ Wheels. *