From Chicken Soup for the Cat & Dog Lover's Soul

Wheely Willy

The dog in the cardboard box was incredibly tiny. Someone had brought him, box and all, into the vet’s office. They had found him on Melrose, they said. Just one more unwanted animal in Los Angeles. But this one, a full-grown Chihuahua, was unusual in two respects.

Someone had gone to the trouble and expense of ensuring this dog would be a quiet pet by having his vocal chords surgically severed. Plus, the poor little guy had recently been in an accident of some sort, because he was paralyzed from behind his front legs all the way to his tail. But the dog had a good disposition and wasn’t in pain, so the vet decided to see if he could find a home for him.

For a year, the Chihuahua waited. No one was willing to take on the burden of a special-needs pet. But right about then, Deborah Turner heard about the unfortunate dog. Haunted by the story, she came to look.

The first moment she laid eyes on him, something in his face moved her deeply. And it seemed the feeling was mutual.

She picked up the two-pound dog and held him to her heart. He was underdeveloped from lack of exercise and strangely mute, but his eyes said it all: I will love you with everything I have and more.

When Deborah’s boyfriend saw her new dog, he was doubtful, “What are you going to do, carry that dog everywhere?” he asked her.

“If I have to,” Deborah answered. She had named the Chihuahua Willy, and he had seemed thrilled with everything she’d offered him. He squirmed with delight when she fed him, he sighed luxuriously when set in his new soft dog basket. He played enthusiastically with the toys she gave him. When she walked into the room, Willy pranced, lifting his front feet one at a time in an eager dance of greeting. He especially loved Deborah’s cat, Stevie, and rolled over trying to get as close to the large silver Persian as he could. Sometimes he tried to walk, dragging his back legs behind him, but the weight of his hindquarters was too much for his tiny front legs.

Deborah’s boyfriend had an idea. He bought three large helium balloons and tied them to Willy’s hip area, hoping it would lighten the load. But Willy was so small, the balloons lifted his front legs off the ground as well. He hung for a moment, suspended with his back end higher than his front end, before they could take the balloons off of him. He didn’t seem disturbed, just curious. Deborah could see that her dog was an exceptionally patient and trusting creature.

They tied the balloons to three of his toys and Willy batted at them with his front paws. Now this was a great game!

Not long after the balloon experiment, Deborah read about a wheelchair for disabled pets called the K-9 cart. She ordered one and when it arrived, she was excited to try it on Willy. It was delivered to the pet store where Deborah worked. She always brought Willy to work with her and so she immediately strapped him into the contraption and laid his back legs in rests built over the wheels. The instructions had warned her that sometimes an animal could be initially scared of the cart and refuse to take a step, but Willy took off like an airplane. For a full half an hour, the little dog raced around and around the store. Finally free of the limitations he’d so patiently endured, Willy’s spirit soared and now his body could keep pace with his joy.

From that moment, there was no stopping Willy. Deborah began taking him to the local hospital, to the Starlight Room, where children who were ill as a result of accidents or disease—some in wheelchairs, some sitting in red wagons with their life-support machines beside them—received visitors. When Willy first arrived, the children were wide-eyed with wonder. A dog! In a wheelchair! Just like us! It was hard to say who was more excited, the children or Willy. Soon Willy was visiting schools, convalescent homes, and senior centers on a regular basis.

L.A. reporters wrote stories, took pictures and filmed interviews about “Wheely Willy.” Deborah’s dog was a local celebrity. One day Deborah was doing errands, Willy rolling along right by her side without a leash, when a woman stopped them.

“Is that Wheely Willy?” she cried. “I saw you on TV. Your dog saved my life.”

Deborah was used to people making a fuss over Willy, but this was a first. “Saved your life?”

The woman explained, “Not long ago, I lost my job of many years. I felt helpless, betrayed and hopeless. I was sure I would never be able to find another job. I stopped bathing, I stopped going out—except to buy junk food—I guess I just stopped caring. Day after day, all I did was sit in front of the TV.

“Then I saw you on a talk show. You were talking about Willy, about this little dog in a wheelchair. You said, ‘Dogs don’t feel sorry for themselves. They do what they have to do to get what they want. Before Willy got his wheelchair, if he was across the room from me, he didn’t collapse in a heap and whine, “Oh, I want to go over there, but I can’t.” He gladly did whatever he could to make his way to me. No question—he’d just do it with everything he had!’”

The woman continued. “It was like waking up. I looked at myself and said, ‘What are you doing?’ Then I took a shower, wrote a resume and went out to look for a job. I got the first job I interviewed for, and I love it. All because of Willy.”

She bent over and petted her unlikely hero. Willy, as usual, jigged back and forth on his front legs, signaling his delight at meeting another friend.

That same year at the L.A. Marathon, this plucky Chihuahua led a group of people with spinal cord injuries. Moving along in front of the humans in wheelchairs, the small dog towed his own two-wheeled vehicle, which bore a heart-shaped sign that read: Wheely Willy. Their official mascot, red straps bright across his muscular chest, was stepping high as he pulled his cart over the finish line to the sound of thundering applause.

Deborah Turner
As told to Carol Kline
A story from Animal Planet’s Wild Rescues

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