Life with Wheels: A new “leash” on life

A quick glance at Wheels and you would think he was just like any other Springer Spaniel puppy, but Wheels is different. He was born with Spina Bifida. A congenital defect of the spine. The bony ridge around the spinal cord doesn’t complete, leaving part of the cord exposed. 

Wheels is almost 10 months old now, but when he was only eight weeks old his foster mother took him to the University of Minnesota to get their opinion.

"He’s probably not a surgical candidate, his spine won’t ever be able to be repaired so he will have to live like this," said Wheel’s foster mom, Ellie Stark. "So one option was letting him grow and seeing how far he could get on his own, and they did explain that he may lose continence that he may lose the use of his back legs all together and so there was the wait and see approach which is what we decided. The other choice was euthanasia, and you know, I stood in the vets office, and I’m a realist, but I’m also an optimist and there was no way I was going to make that decision for him on that day or at least while he was in my care and living a healthy life, not in pain, and being a happy guy."

Wheels’ foster mother waited to see how the disease progressed for a few weeks before taking him to another vet. 

"From the mid-point of his body on forward everything is perfectly normal and that’s kind of a blessing and a curse because they can get around really well with their front legs, mentally they’re normal, but everything from where the problem in the spinal cord is back is abnormal and for him the good news is he was able to get around pretty well," said Dr. Dan Nietz of the Zumbrota Veterinary Clinic.

Wheels was given another month to see if his disease would continue to change or advance. 

"To our surprise and to our joy he turned into a dog that could manage his disability without the pain and we felt that there was no reason to euthanize him at any point," said Stark.

Wheels’ next obstacle would be adoption, but it turned out to be one that he would easily overcome. 

"I met Wheels when I volunteered for best friends animal society at the walk, last September I think it was, and I was a volunteer there, he was one of the dogs up for adoption I saw him on stage and right then I wanted to bring him home," said Wheels’ owner, Kristina Anderson.

The level of difficulty Wheels’ has had moving has varied throughout his growth spurts, but his level of happiness always continued to hit new peaks. 

"I thought of how happy he was considering his handicap because when I saw him he had really a hard time moving," said Anderson. "He was pretty much dragging himself around on the ground with his front legs but it didn’t even seem to bother him. His tail was going, he was saying ‘hi’ to everybody he was giving kisses, he was looking for things to smell, things to play with, he makes you think, maybe you’re not having a hard day after all maybe life is a lot easier than you think it is and that is so good for me, that is so good for anybody."

So why is this happy dog that happens to have Spina Bifida and all four of his legs named Wheels?

"The people that had him in the litter named him Wheels because they had that same optimism for him," said Stark. "They wanted him to be the best dog he could be and so they named him ‘Wheels’ because, it was sort of a, kind of a battle cry, you know, we would call his name and he would come running to us and so it’s a name that was kind of indicative of his condition but also a little bit of a cheer term for him. We want him to go, go, go, and be the puppy he can be."

Wheels’ could need a set of wheels one day, and if that day comes Anderson is prepared to do whatever it takes to keep him happy, mobile and pain free.

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