All is Bright


Wheels in MNPuppy with spina bifida has indomitable spirit

By Ellington Starks

I have fostered about 100 dogs in the last eight years. But not until Wheels did I sit in the vet’s office and hear euthanasia suggested as a serious option.

Wheels was born with a congenital defect of his spine, which caused weakness in his hind legs and an unsteady gait. A neurologist at the University of Minnesota diagnosed Wheels with spina bifida, a malformation of the spinal cord and vertebrae. He was just two months old.

In all other ways, Wheels was a healthy, growing pup. He loved playing with the other dogs, exploring the yard, chewing on sticks and squeaky toys, and snuggling at the end of the day. He would burrow his head into the crook of an arm or the fold of a blanket to sleep.

Of course, Wheels didn’t know he had a disability. He was tenacious and happy and curious. But his prognosis was unknown. He could lose total use of his back legs. He could lose continence. He could enter a life of constant pain. Or … he could continue to grow and learn to use his wobbly legs.


Because he couldn’t “go on a walk” like most dogs, I almost didn’t take him to Strut Your Mutt, a Twin Cities fundraiser walk organized by Best Friends Animal Society. But the opportunity to share him and his story with the hundreds of people who would be in attendance was too good to pass up. Our team took turns carrying him through the walk, and Wheels was showcased on stage as our rescue’s featured dog.

And that’s where Kristina, one of the event’s volunteers, saw him for the first time.

Two days after the walk, an email from her said she wanted to explore the potential of adopting this special pup.

What Kristina saw in Wheels was hope. “I know that there is no perfect dog, just like there are no perfect humans. [My last dog] Mickey taught me a lot about life and love and how precious the present is. We should not waste it by worrying about the unknown; that is something I learned from him. I am utterly grateful, because it will enable me to care for and love a new buddy, with open arms and open mind.”


We set up a visit for a Sunday afternoon. Kristina sat on the ground in our backyard. Wheels was his usual puppy self, playing and digging and running around before settling in next to her.

It was the same day as the Blessing of the Animals at Assisi Heights, so we brought Wheels to be blessed. I was happy to be a bystander as I watched the two of them in that moment with Sister Bernadette Novack.

The adoption was inevitable. Like a new mom bringing home a new baby, Kristina prepared for the arrival of Wheels. “I am already planning our days together, which is so silly. Wheels probably has his own ideas. I would like to be the forever mom he deserves.”

And, as had happened 100 times before, I confidently placed Wheels in the arms of his new mama. He wasn’t just one in the 100 foster dogs I’ve loved. He was a one-in-a-million puppy who modeled what to do when life gives you lemons.


“Wheels says hi!” said Kristina in a recent update titled All is Bright. “I don’t know what it is, but he seems to be getting around easier lately. Seems to be doing more running in the backyard and less falling in general. Not sure if it’s the confidence or the growth or if he’s simply figuring out how to balance his body better. At any rate, it’s a joy to see him romp around. He loves everything and everyone, and life is full of new things to discover and learn. He is my inspiration.”

Mine too.

Ellington Starks is editor of  The Wagazine and a volunteer with English Springer Rescue America Inc.