Unless you don’t like dogs, there is no disputing the old adage that a dog is man’s best friend. They are faithful companions and give a lot of pleasure to their owners. Since pre-historic times the history of man and dogs has been inter-twined and there is no reason that nowadays those confined to a wheelchair should be denied the comfort of a canine companion.
But what dogs are most suited for wheelchair users? Look at any forum and you will find a bewildering array of suggestions from little dogs such as Yorkshire Terriers to bigger dogs like German Shepherds. There are pluses and minuses for every breed so here Chartwell, the specialist insurance broker for all aspects of the world of those with disabilities, takes a look what to consider when looking for a dog for a wheelchair user.
Firstly there is exercise to consider. Do you intend to walk the dog yourself from an electric wheelchair or do you have a carer, friend or family member to do this for you? Paradoxically, it doesn’t follow that the smaller the dog the less exercise it needs. Some small dogs such as Jack Russells can run around all day. A bigger dog such as a retired Greyhound is remarkably lazy and can be content with one good run a day. They are not known as the 40mph couch potatoes for nothing!
Then there’s eye contact and communication. A smaller dog can sit in your lap, but a bigger dog’s head will be more likely to be a similar height to you making for better empathy between the two of you.
Grooming is another consideration. Are you able to groom a long-haired dog such as a Rough Collie, or would you be better suited with a short-haired breed that requires less heavy and frequent brushing? Of course there are professional dog groomers who could help you out if your budget stretches that far.
And your dog can help you. Some dogs can be trained to help with routine tasks such as taking clothes out of the washing machine, grabbing hard to reach items and helping open doors. Labradors are often used in this way but they do have a tendency to run to fat if not exercised properly. Dogs for the Disabled is a charity that trains and places assistance dogs.
Where will you find your ideal dog? There are many rescue dogs throughout the UK waiting for suitable homes. Some are older dogs whose owners have died or can no longer care for them and these make excellent pets for wheelchair users. All breed-specific mentions here link through to the relevant rescue organisations. Sites like The Dog Rescue Pages have links to rescue centres. If you contact a reputable rescue organisation they will have vetted the dog before rehoming so they know its faults and failings as well as its redeeming characteristics. Someone from the rescue will visit you and make sure you and the dog are ideally suited before the rehoming takes place. They also offer back-up for the settling – in period and beyond.