We think all dogs are amazing in their own ways, but this story of one inspirational little Chihuahua nicknamed “Wheely Willy” really tugged at our heartstrings. John O’Neill tells this touching story about our featured inspirational dog, Wheely Willy, for barkandsmile.com.
Willy the Chihuahua is affectionately known as “Wheely Willy,” and belongs to Deborah Turner of Long Beach, California. Willy was found abandoned on a busy street in a cardboard box. He had no tags, no food, no blankets, not even a note from his owner. Worse yet, he had a major spinal cord injury which rendered his hind legs useless, and his vocal cords were cut. Luckily, someone picked him up and took him to a local animal hospital where he spent the next year of his life recovering from his injuries. However, towards the end of that year, no one showed any interest in adopting him. That’s when Turner, the owner of a dog grooming business named “Doggy in the Window”, was alerted that Willy was going to be put to sleep that day. She went to visit him in the hospital and decided to adopt him which truly saved his life. What transpired over the next eight years was nothing short of a miracle.
When Deborah brought Willy home, she immediately noticed his love for life. Deborah was already the owner of many animals including dogs, cats, ducks, and a turtle. Willy immediately started making friends. Unable to walk, Willy had to be carried wherever he went. And he went everywhere, loving every minute of it. But she could tell he wanted to walk on his own. Trying to figure out how to raise his hind legs, Deborah got a hold of some large helium balloons and tied them around Willy’s midsection. Weighing all of two pounds, Willy’s hind legs were easily lifted off the ground. But there was a problem… his front legs were lifted off the ground too. Happy as he was to be airborne, Deborah knew she had to figure out a different way to help him.
Ironically, Deborah saw an ad for a contraption called the “Canine Cart,” a two-wheeled brace that would support Willy’s back and legs. Deborah was warned that Willy’s canine cart would take some getting used to, and Willy might not like being strapped into it. So she brought Willy to her store, “Doggy in the Window” and strapped Willy into his new cart. Within seconds, Willy was darting around the room like he had never been disabled. In fact, Deborah concurs… “I consider Willy “enabled,” not disabled. And so, as Willy became enabled, he began to enable others as well. Everyone who came into Deborah’s store wanted to know the story of Willy. This led to a local newspaper writing a story on him. “There was a domino effect,” says Turner. “We ended up being written up in all the newspapers, we went on morning news shows… everyone wanted to know the story about Willy.”
One place that wanted to know about Willy was the Long Beach Veterans Hospital. They called Deborah and asked if she would bring Willy to visit some fellow spinal cord victims. His presence at the Veteran’s Hospital has been a huge success. Even though Willy still can’t speak – his bark sounds more like a frog than a dog – Animal Planet deemed him Wheely Willy, the motivational speaker. Deborah was a little surprised about that moniker and says that his presence is what really motivates. The photographs featured in this article are from Kim’s visit to the Veteran’s Hospital where she had the remarkable opportunity to witness firsthand the effect that Willy had on the patients.
Eventually, other hospitals in the area started calling. Willy was soon visiting Alzheimer’s patients, mental wards, and children with disabilities. It was these children who noted that after spending time with Willy, they didn’t even notice that he had wheels for legs. A patient suffering from depression told Deborah on one of her visits that “If a dog can be this happy with such a disability, then I can get over my depression”.
When a young boy was paralyzed while body surfing, the ER requested that Deborah and Willy come and visit the boy. The boy said that Willy was one of the few things he remembers during his ordeal because he was the only thing that gave him hope. Finally, rumor has it that when Willy visited an autistic child, the child was later heard talking about Willy.
After seven years with Willy and much encouragement, Deborah realized that Willy’s story would make a wonderful book. Inspired by the work Willy did with children, she teamed up with author Diana Mohler and illustrator Rhonda McHugh to create the award winning children’s book, “How Willy Got His Wheels.” (Doral Publishing).
Amazingly, Deborah gets an occasional phone call from someone who claims that Willy belongs to them. Despite these rare phone calls, the rest of her time with Willy is nothing short of magical. When I asked Deborah to describe Willy in one word – I refused to let her use the word “Wheely”- she said… “Willy is a gift, and not just my gift from God, but a gift that I can give to everyone.”
Although Wheely Willie passed away in 2009, his books were best-sellers and his legacy and message of acceptance will live on forever in the minds and hearts of everyone who was blessed enough to meet him. You can read the rest of John O’Neill’s article here. Have you met a special dog that has inspired you? Tell us your story in the comments below!