Take Some Time To Appreciate Dogs on Wheels

Welcome to Monday.

I hate writing those three words — or even thinking them — at least as much as you hate reading them, but this particular Monday is special, even though you might not know it. Today is National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day.

Founded only two years ago by author Barbara Techel, National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day is dedicated to honoring and remembering dogs in wheelchairs.

Frankie, Barbara Techel’s inspiration for Walk ‘N Roll Day, and the namesake of the The Frankie Memorial Fund.

I have some really personal feelings for this day, and it’s not because I have a wheelchair dog myself. It’s more of a human thing. Since my partner became disabled thanks to a stroke six years ago, I’ve gotten a much better appreciation of how easily people with disabilities completely disappear in public spaces. It’s far too broad a subject to go into here, but although architecture and public transit have become more accessible in the past few decades, a lot of improvements are still needed.

Most people, when they’re planning an event, don’t think about how to make the space more accessible. To a certain extent, I don’t blame them. There’s little information available on how to make a space or event accessible, and even I tend to see these things in terms of what my partner would need, while completely missing what the needs of someone with different disabilities would need. Because disabled people usually show up in television or movies only as gimmicks, and are rarely played by disabled actors, there’s a tendency to see them as obstacles to work around, rather than members of the community.

All of that is about humans, but you can easily extend it to dogs. Most people see dogs in wheelchairs as the ultimate gimmick, rather than a potential friend or member of the family. Other people’s wheelchair dogs are cute and adorable, but that’s because a lot of people see them as exotic novelties. It’s hard for these people to see themselves owning a wheelchair dog, especially when they’re at a shelter, looking for a dog to bring home. At shelters, dogs who aren’t young, able-bodied, and well-groomed are more likely to find themselves routinely ignored by people who could give them homes and companionship. In that sense, they do have a lot in common with disabled humans.

So take this day to think about wheelchair dogs, not as charming novelties, but as dogs with human families just like any other. One of the misconceptions about wheelchairs is that they confine the animal or person who uses them. The first phrase that jumps to mind from bad television dramas or hackneyed news articles is “stuck in a wheelchair.” In fact, the reverse is true. As you can see from the pictures here, these wheelchairs allow the dogs to live much more free, active lives than they would otherwise. Wheelchairs can, in fact, be great tools for liberation.

Ruby, one of the beneficiaries of Frankie’s Memorial Fund.

With that in mind, you might want to help some of the organizations that help provide wheelchairs for dogs. Barbara Techel and her group Joyful Paws operate the Frankie Memorial Fund, which collects money to buy chairs for dogs whose owners might otherwise not be able to afford them. Note that the Frankie Memorial Fund is not a 501(c)(3), so donations are not tax-deductible. Those who want to apply to receive fund from the fund can do so here.

You can also visit the Facebook page for Red Flyer, a community for disabled pets and their owners, for both information and support.

A lot has also been published right here on Dogster that might give you a new appreciation for the lives of wheelchair dogs and their owners. Earlier this year, I myself wrote about a sixth-grade class in Arkansas that made dog wheelchairs as a project.

Eddie, a proud beneficiary of Red Flyer’s efforts.

Bobby Kleinau’s story about how his Pit Bull learned to use his wheelchair after losing the use of his back legs provides a really nice first-person look into helping your dog learn new ways of enjoying life.

This webcomic that Liz Acosta found isn’t about a wheelchair dog, but it is a very touching story about a boy learning to love a three-legged dog, or “tripod.”

And no roundup of disabled dogs would be complete without Anderson Pooper, a master of two-legged dog racing.

Once again, remember that the lives of dogs and humans with disabilities are closely intertwined. Just as we help out dogs when they lose mobility, service animals are an important part of life for disabled humans. There are huge problems with people who pretend that their dogs are service animals just so that they can take them into stores and such, but even worse are companies who sell untrained dogs, claiming that they’re service dogs.

Last week, Michael Leaverton found that some Uber drivers have been refusing to give rides to people with genuine service dogs, even though that’s blatantly illegal. That’s not just a problem with Uber, though; a Best Western hotel recently got in a lot of trouble for rejecting a family because their son had a service dog to help him with his epilepsy.

Elaine Jacobs