Montreal·Video

Paralyzed dog heals on wheels

A German Shorthaired Pointer was paralyzed by a mystery virus early in his life, but his owners found life-changing adaptive pet tools to help him lead a happy, active life.

Athletic young dog in Quebec City ready for adventure - on wheels or on skis

Garmin usually wears the wheels on his walks in Quebec City. He often walks at least 8 kilometres a day. (Julia Caron/CBC)

Garmin is a curious, enthusiastic four-year-old dog, using his senses to sniff out hidden treasures buried underneath the snow. But Garmin is not like every other German Shorthaired Pointer out there.

His hind legs are completely paralyzed.

He gets around thanks to the use of a customized wheelchair.

During the winter months, the same frame can be used with skis instead of wheels.

Restaurant owner and competitive stair climber, Napoleon Woo, proudly describes himself as "being owned" by Garmin.

"I'm his human," Woo says smiling.

The pet was a gift from his daughter, Jamie-Kate, who wanted to find the right breed to accompany Napoleon on his daily runs, in addition to assisting him on duck hunting trips in the Beauce region.

Restaurant owner and competitive stairclimber Napoleon Woo proudly describes himself as "being owned" by Garmin. (Julia Caron/CBC)

The dog was leading an active, healthy life in Quebec City until one day everything changed.

"Just happened like that — overnight. Poof. Took him out to walk and he just fell." 

The family whisked their beloved dog to their local vet, and ended up taking him on a 90-minute drive to a specialized animal hospital in Ste-Hyacinthe. The diagnosis was dire. 

"They never knew, she (the vet) said there's thousands of viruses that could have been the cause." 

Quebec City pup uses skis to get around in winter 1:37

1 per cent chance to live

At first, Garmin's body was completely paralyzed.

One doctor suggested putting the dog down, or, alternately, a risky and expensive surgery.

But after veterinarians made their diagnosis, and he returned to the car for the drive home, Garmin surprised everyone by sitting up in the back seat unassisted.

"She (the vet) looked at him and she was like, 'OK, we'll see.'"

Garmin caught an unknown virus in 2016 and it left his hind legs paralyzed. Some veterinarians suggested putting him down. (Submitted by Napolean Woo)

Adapting to a new – and improved – Garmin

The family's mission began to find the right kind of customized mobility tool to help him get around. Napoleon tried to build his own wheelchair for Garmin.

The first attempt was a major #fail.

Garmin was a healthy puppy when the Woo family got him 4 years ago. (Submitted by Napoleon Woo)

"He wore it out so fast, it fell to pieces," Napoleon says.

That's where YouTube tutorials and online pet communities came to the rescue.

"I made two of them for him, I got the plans off the internet, but he was walking so much he was wearing them out. I decided to buy a commercial one."

Today, Garmin is outfitted with a Walking Wheels wheelchair frame.

Garmin turns a lot of heads on the streets of the downtown Saint-Roch neighbourhood of Quebec City, and his contraption does spark a lot of curiosity. 

"A lot of people tell me, 'Oh I wish I had known these things existed, I wouldn't have put my dog down.'"

The family has had to make some adjustments since Garmin lost of the use of his hind legs, but never regretted their decision to keep their dog.

Jamie-Kate describes him as her furry, brown-faced little brother, who remains active despite his condition.

"Nothing can stop him."

About the Author

Julia Caron

Journalist

Julia Caron is a journalist, radio-maker and art lover based in Quebec City. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Julia has lived in over a dozen military towns growing up. She has called Quebec City home since 2008, and proudly calls herself a franglophone (yes, it's a thing).

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