In this episode, Barbara Techel talks about the joy that caring for disabled dachshunds in wheelchairs brought to her life.
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MJ: Do you believe in fate? That some things are just meant to be? Well, even if you don’t, when you hear this amazing story of Barbara Techel and the three pets that have entered her life, I’m sure you’ll at least be able to agree with one thing: dachshunds are dogs that can truly change our world.
I’m Mitchell Jordan, and you’re listening to Love Is A Doxie. Let’s find out how, even in the toughest of times, these dogs show us that we must never give up.
Depending on where you’re listening from, you might be aware that the dachshund goes by many different names. In some parts of Europe, like Germany and Italy, they are also known as teckel. And, with a surname like Techel – that’s t-e-c-h-e-l, Barbara knew there was a reason she was drawn to these dogs, despite her allergy to canines.
BARABARA: I had cats before that but I just had wanted a dog. Growing up, we had dogs but had to give them away because I was allergic, but the desire was so strong – I started out with a chocolate lab and then I just have always admired weiner dogs; I can’t even really say why. They just are this little dog with a huge personality.
And so she welcomed Frankie into her life. Even if the allergy remained, the first few years with her dog were near-perfect. The pair went for walks and met up with many other dachshund owners. But, when Frankie was six and a half, Barbara and her husband went away on a holiday, leaving her at a boarding kennel. That was when things started to go wrong.
BARBARA: She was staying at a kennel, my husband and I were on vacation and, the best we know, that we can piece together, is she tried to jump up on this container that was within the kennel and fell down and she was immediately paralysed, her disc ruptured. Luckily, my sister-in-law got her to a vet, they did surgery but her chances of walking again on her own without a wheelchair was only ten to thirty per cent.
MJ: Being so far away from her dog and not knowing the full extent of the damage was particularly stressful for Barbara.
BARBARA: It was a very frightening time, very hard to be so far away from her and never having cared for an animal with a disability and even now knowing this even happens to animals. I remember we got in the car and started heading back home and I just didn’t know what was going to unfold.
MJ: Even tougher was the decision of what to do next: should Frankie be put in a wheelchair? When the vet assured Barbara that she could still lead a good life this way, that’s what she decided to do.
Having a wheelchair-bound dog was something Barbara had never experienced, and she had no idea what to expect, either.
BARBARA: One of the things I realised once we had the wheelchair for her was training to walk in it, I had no idea how that was going to go. I’d end up training her with little treats, I’d place them on the sidewalk, a couple of inches apart. At first, she just stood there, she didn’t quite know what to do. It didn’t take her long at all and she started going after the treats and pretty soon, she’d run down the street – she just took off like you wouldn’t believe. I’d never had children, and if I had to explain that experience, it was like watching your child walk for the first time it was so beautiful. But the other part to was, in the home, she had to learn how to navigate around the furniture and at first I would move the furniture when she would get stuck, but then I just left her to figure it out and she eventually learned how to back up. The other part, which was a little more frustrating at first was the fact that she did not have feeling in her bladder or bowels – that would just come out. So I would end up, sort of, make-shifting this little bag that I put on the back of her wheelchair, sort of like a horse has that on the back by their tail, so if she did have a bowel movement, it would go right in the bag instead of all over the house, so those were some of the challenges we faced.
MJ: But Frankie had a fighting spirit, she wasn’t going to be fazed by this challenge.
BARBARA: Dogs are so amazing, I just put her outside and I was outside with her and she just did all the dog things she did before, smelling the grass, running around, happy as can be and for me that was so beautiful to witness. I used to be a very shy person and I didn’t have a lot of confidence and just watching this short little dog in a wheelchair just go on with life like, you know, I used to tell kids and adults: it’s like she doesn’t even know she has a wheelchair, she’s just happy to be this dog and get on with life and do her dog things.
MJ: So inspiring was Frankie’s will and determination, that Barbara began writing kids’ books about her, and talking to children about the power of not giving up. She remembers these days with great fondness.
BARBARA: Oh boy did we have the adventures, yes we did! I mean our biggest adventure really was visiting schools and libraries and educating children about dogs in wheelchairs, helping kids to see they could overcome their challenges. And it was such a joy to watch little Frankie walk through the doors of the school; she knew she was there for a reason and she would bound down those halls, happy as could be, umm, just waiting to be with those kids. She soaked up all the attention and she came here for that very purpose, I have no doubt in my mind.
MJ: Frankie passed away six years she was put into a wheelchair. Losing her taught Barbara a lot about grief.
BARBARA: I believe in feeling all our feelings and losing her was very difficult because my identity was so tied to her and I absolutely loved my work with her, I’m so grateful for it, I feel so blessed. And a big part of me felt like it left with her, and I did, I grieved deeply – I grieved very deeply for her, I cried probably for four months every day. You know, when you love an animal, to grieve is just another way in which you honour them and what they brought to your life so I’ve learned so much about the grieving process with animals and to not have another dog because of the grief doesn’t feel right to me because who wants to miss out on all that joy, too.
MJ: And from there, she got Joey, who also needed a wheelchair. Poor Joey the dachshund didn’t live for very long, though Barbara was by now so attached to dachshunds that she went on to adopt Gidget, who was her companion for five years.
During this time, Barbara confronted a childhood trauma she had kept secret, something which she accredits to the company of Gidget.
Currently, Barbara has no dogs in her life, and she’s unsure if that will change.
BARBARA: Because I cared for disabled dogs for 13 years, my husband didn’t always appreciate the fact – though he learned a lot from it as well, we just decided to take some time out just for ourselves. Yeah, I don’t know if another dachshund will be in my life at some point, I am being completely honest about that; I do have some reservation just because they are so prone to the disc disease that I get a little nervous about that now. But I love the breed, I will always love the breed, and they will always be my favourite. Every time I see a wiener dog, I have to ask the owner if I can pat their dog and learn more about their dachshund.
MJ: And, no matter what, the three dachshunds that have passed through her life have all taught her a very important lesson.
BARBARA: They’re such a little dog with this huge personality, like I said before. They carry themselves so big and it, just, they helped get me out of my shell. I’m a tiny woman too, actually, I can carry myself big too, and I can be proud of who I am – I think that’s really what they brought to my life, to stand tall and be who I am.