By Tim Giles. Trustee Broken Biscuits
I was not a doggy person. I grew up on a farm, where dogs were working animals. Well treated, but there was always a separation. Told not to play with them too much, so they don’t lose their training, and it was a given that they’d never be allowed inside. That was the realm of the cats. So, the idea that a crippled dog could have any sort of life, was quite foreign to me. It was not till I met my wife, Cassie, in the UK, and started working in rescue, that I realised how narrow my perspective was. Dogs are incredibly resilient animals. I learned that the secret to their happiness is mobility, and was surprised at just how simply this could be achieved.
I guess I am a dog person now, and it’s hard to imagine our lives without a furry companion or two, (or 6), in it. Adding disabled dogs to the mix was a challenge at first, but I soon realised that it is simply a mindset adjustment. The biggest obstacle to a disabled dog is often, not the restrictions placed on them, but rather the misunderstanding of their owners, and even vets, as to what is possible. Mobility is the key. Everything else is manageable.
When your dog is hit by a car, or whatever, and becomes paraplegic, it is incredibly traumatic. You think about what your dog can’t do, or more to the point, what you can’t do with your dog. This needs to be the penny dropping moment. It is not about you, it is about your dog. If you can get your dog stable and no longer in pain then there are a host of options, the key is finding out about them, as there is a lot of bias in the vet industry that must be navigated. I guess this is sort of like what paraplegic humans have had to overcome in the last few decades. Ableism. A mindset that if you don’t meet some benchmark ideal regarding a family pet, then a dog has no value, that somehow, it’s quality of life is diminished, when really the issue is whether the owner is willing to make, the often minor, adjustments to their life, to enable their dog once more. Don’t get me wrong. I am not wanting to make a judgement on owners and vets who find themselves confronted with a disabled animal, sometimes people are genuinely unable or unwilling to adjust. What we want is that in those situations these dogs are given a second chance through organisations such as ourselves to assist, or find new homes where they can be given this chance. So that euthanasia is not the default.
Of course, having the right kit is critical. Good intentioned improvisations can sometimes do more harm than good. That’s why we only use and recommend officially vet sanctioned wheelchairs and accessories. These have the appropriate support, and freedom of movement, as these dogs often have ongoing spinal conditions that must be managed. Once in their chairs though, they become normal dogs, and play, and fetch, and interact with other dogs almost like they did before. So, the kit needs to be robust. Keeping in mind, many of these dogs are not fragile, just incapacitated.
Since we have been working with pet parents, rescuers and vets, we have noticed an increased awareness in the potential of disabled dogs. Over the past couple of years, we have been invited to give talks to undergraduate vet science students (at NESCOT), participated in many events and TV programs (including Animal Rescue live with Noel Fitzpatrick on Channel 4, the BBC One Show, and ITV), as well as continued to roll out our education program through selected UK schools, and community organisations. We look forward to the opportunity to continue this work and advocate for the potential of handi-capable pets.