Merry, my 14-year-old male long-haired dachshund, enjoys life to the full despite having been disabled for over 8 years. Merry suffers from a condition called Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) which affects many breeds of dog.
The condition is caused by degeneration or rupture of the cushioning discs between the vertebrae in the dog’s spine. It can range in severity from mild back ache to causing the dog’s back legs to become paralysed. The condition is especially common in breeds with long backs like dachshunds. As many as one in four dachshunds suffer from the condition at some point in their lives.
When Merry’s disc ruptured back in 2012, I was faced with a difficult decision. The vet felt that the outlook of him recovering from surgery, followed by an intensive period of rehabilitation therapy, was poor. Whilst Merry was undergoing bed rest in the hope that this would help his spine recover, I researched options for dogs who lose the use of their back legs.
I was amazed to discover what a common problem it is. It was encouraging seeing photos of American dachshunds using special wheelchairs to get around. I even watched a heartwarming video of several disabled dachshunds enjoying racing each other in a friendly contest.
Fortunately, I found a UK maker of dog wheelchairs and measured Merry up for a custom built wheelchair. When the wheelchair arrived it took him a day to get used to it following him about and to adjust to the extra width at the back as initially he kept bumping into the door frames. After that point he was on a roll and it was fantastic to watch him recovering his sprightly, determined personality.
Merry never lets being a wheelchair user hold him back. He loves charging about in his wheelchair playing ball for half an hour each evening. He has become an expert in reversing backwards after retrieving his ball when it rolls behind the sofa.
When he’s not playing, Merry gets around the house well by pulling himself along with his front legs like a seal. I make sure there are lots of dog beds with low sides for him to curl up in when he fancies putting his paws up.
The best thing about having the wheelchair is that Merry is still able to go on lovely long walks. He easily keeps up with his silver dapple dachshund sister, Muffin, who is from the same parents but a year younger than Merry. Fortunately, she has never suffered from IVDD. The most Merry has ever walked (or should that be rolled?) is 5.5 miles, quite a record for a disabled dachshund! He especially enjoys whizzing down hills in his wheelchair, although I carry him up some hill and over steps to avoid putting any strain on his spine.
When Merry goes on walks he moves his back legs back and forward in the back leg slings on the wheelchair, building up his muscle strength. By using the wheelchair, Merry has regained a lot of movement in his back legs. Most importantly his tail rarely stops wagging!
Merry had great fun chasing his ball on holiday at the beach until his wheelchair got seized up due to the salt water causing it to go rusty, so I had to get him a new, improved model. Merry tells me that next time he needs a new wheelchair he hopes for one that also has a helicopter rotor so he can fly up into the trees when he’s chasing squirrels!
I’ve found a special harness that fits over Merry’s back legs especially helpful as it is easy to put on when I quickly take him out for toilet trips. It also allows him to walk over rough terrain like gravel or longer grass where his wheelchair might get stuck. Merry never wants to stop on his walks when he is wearing his back leg harness, especially when he is climbing mountains on holiday in Snowdonia.
He is quite an adventurer and thrice he has dragged me on a walk half way up Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales, pulling ahead in his back leg harness eager to explore. Fortunately most of the track is sloping and easy for him to manage and I only have to carry him in a few places.
Merry loves socialising with doggy friends of all ages on local dachshund group walks. His placid temperament makes him especially welcoming for nervous puppies to meet. We enjoy the themed costume walk events and Merry once dressed up as a pumpkin chariot for a Hallowe’en walk. At Christmas I decorate Merry’s wheelchair with tinsel.
Since getting his wheelchair, Merry has turned into a celebrity and we never go on a walk without someone stopping to ask about him. Often people take his photo and tell him how happy he looks. He’s been called inspirational, amazing and a hero. He gets a few intriguing questions too, like does he go to the vet for a check up or to the garage for an MOT?
Once Merry’s popularity got me worried. We were sitting on a bench on a train station platform on the way to visit my grandparents when I looked up to find myself surrounded by three policemen. They had seen Merry on the station CCTV and wanted to come over to admire him, fortunately not arrest us, so luckily he’s still merrily rolling along.
It’s great to see how spotting Merry brightens the day for so many people and it’s wonderful when I can give advice to other dog owners whose pets would benefit from using a dog wheelchair.
I hope that Merry’s amazing story will encourage other dog owners to see that with a few adjustments disabled dogs can lead long and happy lives. Despite IVDD being initially a frightening diagnosis, seeing Merry taking his disability in his stride and remaining his active, bright and happy self is a constant source of joy and inspiration to me.