I remember first hearing about Barbara Techel and her dog Frankie a few years ago when I began researching the possibility of purchasing a doggie cart or wheelchair for one of my friend Joan’s pugs, my own Vader’s brother, Zig. We had seen a dog in a doggie cart and as Zig began losing the use of his rear legs, I decided to do an Internet search to explore the possibilities of getting him one. My search led me Eddie’s Wheels in Shelburne Falls, MA. From there I stumbled upon Frankie’s story as Techel had gotten Frankie’s wheelchair from there. As a writer, I was especially drawn to Frankie’s story as Techel had written some children’s books about her.
Joan and I ended up traveling to Eddie’s Wheels and buying a cart for Zig, but unfortunately, he was too far along in his illness by that time and got little use from his chair. Little did I know that only a few years later I would be returning to Eddie’s Wheels to get a cart for my own little pug, Vader.
Vader like many dogs didn’t take to his cart right away, but with lots of coaxing and snacks he soon learned to move around from kitchen to living room and a little bit in the backyard. Our visit took place in November and from November until March, Vader had some last months of mobility in his doggie cart. Unfortunately, by March, his front legs started to go as well and he could no longer support himself in his chair. Like Barbara Techel, I dealt with the struggles of caring for a paralyzed and incontinent dog, but even more so I experienced the grace and delight. If I had my way, Vader would have remained on all four legs until the end of his days, but he didn’t and because of this I felt a special bond in caring for his needs. He was gentle, unassuming, seemingly content to have me care for him. He didn’t bark or whine, seemed to love his daily baths, and looked forward with gusto to his meals.
One of the first times I ever visited my friend Joan, Vader’s breeder at Pugdom, I remember seeing her bathe a disabled dog. As she caressed his fur with a cloth and a gentle touch, the bond between them was indescribable and visible. He looked up at her with liquid brown eyes that seemed to emote gratitude and love. Skeptics can say I was reading my own human emotions into this scene and the love looks that Vader in turn gave me. Let them naysay – I washed my little man’s limp body and saw in his tender form a love and gratitude that I believe is universal. It was reflected in both our eyes.
I recognized this same bond when I recently read and reviewed Techel’s book Through Frankie’s Eyes. The two of us connected online via Facebook and my blog and I immediately remembered hearing about Frankie’s story and was eager to read the book. Frankie’s story reminded me of Vader and I empathized with Barbara Techel’s emotions. Our respective journeys in caring for these special dogs taught each of us numerous lessons about ourselves.