By Kelly Yuen
I’ve had my 13 year old Pug, Pork Chop, since he was three months old. Pork Chop was always a really active dog, but about a year ago, I noticed he was starting to slow down. It was really just the little things––walking behind me instead of beside me, a sudden unwillingness to walk up the short hills that were part of our usual routine. I took it as a sign of him getting older. Reflecting back on it, he was trying to show me he was losing strength in this hind legs.
Whether it’s due to age, injury, congenital or neurological issues, disease, spinal problems, or surgery, many dogs face mobility issues. These can curb their quality of life, limiting their ability to walk, run, play, and get the exercise they need. In Pork Chop’s case, increasing age and spinal disc problems led to hind leg mobility loss. I knew that even though he was a senior dog, exercise would still be essential to maintaining his strength, and it became my mission to make sure he is always able to walk.
In the beginning, I viewed a wheelchair as a last resort. Efforts were placed on strengthening his working limbs and enhancing sensation and mobility in his hind legs. I ventured on the route of rehabilitation and restorative therapies, couples with a combination of a leash harness and sturdy pet shoes to protect his hand paws during our daily walks. The alternative therapies and the leash harness and shoes improved his quality of life, and, it turns out, simultaneously provided him with the ideal preparation for when he did eventually need a wheelchair.
Though I hadn’t wanted to consider a wheel chair for Pork Chop, eventually it became a conversation that couldn’t be avoided. Eventually, it was time to get him ready for it.
Preparing a dog for wheels takes time and patience. The first thing I did was measure Pork Chop carefully––since most wheels are custom, being an inch off can make a huge difference on how comfortable the cart will be for a dog.
Once he was fitted with his wheelchair, he had to get comfortable. It took a lot of treats and coaxing to get him wanting to move around on his new set of wheels. We started slowly, building up the length of time he stayed in the car per day. At first we kept him in it for 1- minutes, gradually increasing over time. A month later, Pork Chop is able to spend upwards of an hour in his cart.
Along with the wheelchair I also use a Help ’em Up combo harness to support the front and back of Pork Chop’s body. I lift his hind legs enough for him to feel traction with the earth as he scampers along with his front legs with a sense of natural ease. I alternate between these two methods daily on his walks.
I also mix in holistic health and therapy, with weekly hydrotherapy sessions at A Well Adjusted Pet at the Rex Center in Pacifica. Pork Chop happily enjoys the water treadmill sessions, which are designed to be a joint relieving, low-impact workout that boosts circulation and strengthen the muscles of his front and hind limbs (all while Pork Chop gets to chase his favorite treat: peanut butter!). Every session is a testament to Pork Chop’s commitment and unwavering, positive attitude.
Amplifying the benefits of hydrotherapy, Pork Chop has begun doggie massages at Happy Hounds Massage. He loves the “pets,” and I can see an immediate effect on his wellbeing as the massage works to increase circulation, stimulate lymph glands and fluids, and release tension and tightness in his working muscles. Each session leaves him relaxed, calm, and at ease.
Through our daily walks alternating the use of his wheels and his combination body harness, while supplementing his routine with alternative therapies, Pork Chop is a happier, healthier, stronger pup. I know I’ve done everything in my power to fully prepare his body (and mind) for transition into a doggie wheelchair. Recently, we were lucky enough to be given a Walkin’ Wheels adjustable wheelchair by the attending veterinarian overseeing his therapy, and I look forward to watching him enjoy the benefits of full mobility once again.
Kelly Yuen lives in San Francisco with her two pugs: Pork Chop (senior) and Murray (puppy). She is the CEO of Truly Pawsome, a monthly subscription box which donates a percentage of sales and boxes to Rocket Dog Rescue.