Big love for little dog with wheels

RoiLie the dog running in his wheelchair
An injury changed RoiLie’s life, but his huge personality and a whole lot of love keep him going strong.
By Sarah Thornton

As RoiLie sits on his person’s lap and haphazardly shakes a favorite stuffed toy, one thing is perfectly clear: This is a happy dog. And when he shakes a bit too vigorously and tumbles to the side, he flops with all the grace of a pup who knows someone’s going to catch him. Right now, RoiLie doesn’t have a care in the world — except for, perhaps, when dinnertime is.

That’s just the kind of dog he is. With his larger-than-life personality, there’s no slowing him down, no matter what obstacles he may face. Even when an unfortunate encounter with a larger dog left him mostly paralyzed in his hind end and unable to go to the bathroom on his own, RoiLie persevered with pluck, as well as the love and help from the people around him.

It was a life-changing event, and when it happened his family at the time did everything they could for him. They got him a stroller so they could still take him out on walks to enjoy the outdoors, used diapers and belly bands to keep things tidy, and started taking him to physical therapy. But the family was already struggling, and soon RoiLie’s medical needs became overwhelming.

Fortunately, RoiLie landed at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where he was wrapped right back up into a foster home full of love. And before too long, a new family would find exactly what they were looking for in the little white-and-brown dog.

Small dog, big personality

The moment RoiLie met his foster-person-to-be, Laurie Shute, she says he tried to jump into her lap. He could scoot along with his front legs and occasionally got his back feet underneath himself while standing, but jumping was a bit beyond him. He was more than happy to be helped up though.

He’d not been at the Sanctuary very long, but RoiLie had already gotten over the new-place nerves and started speaking up. He wasn’t afraid to let people know how he felt — asking for attention or space as he wanted them. He was wary of other dogs (understandably) and strangers, especially when there was a barrier between them and him. But once he decided he liked someone, they were in.

At Laurie’s house, once RoiLie and Laurie’s own patient, pony-sized pup came to an agreement that they weren’t a threat to one another, the smaller dog settled in just as quickly as he had at the Sanctuary. And he definitely thought of himself as top dog.

[Once-paralyzed dog finds her footing with family’s help]

“He’s a sassy little boy,” Laurie says with a laugh. “If you were holding him, or he was on your lap, he wanted to be with you, and he didn’t want anyone else to share.” When he went on stroller rides, she says he was like a little prince, head held high as he enjoyed the sights and smells.

RoiLie’s big personality was already unstoppable, but when he was fitted for a mobility cart, he could fly — right down the driveway with Laurie hot on his heels. Running was the best, and with his cart he could get up to top speed in no time.

Much like RoiLie across a clear stretch of ground, the days flew by. “He was just such a bright spot, making us laugh all the time with his personality and antics,” says Laurie. She hadn’t known when she took him home how long he’d be with her and expected it might be a while, given the extent of his medical needs. But in a quick six weeks, that big personality of his caught the attention of a family searching for someone just like him.

Just who they were looking for

Jeff and Mary Ann Miller were looking for a dog with moxie. The year before, the couple had said a difficult final farewell to their 17-year-old Chihuahua, LeRoi (after whom RoiLie was eventually named), and the house felt too quiet without him.

Years ago, Mary Ann had found LeRoi on the side of the highway, hopping around with a twisted back that made it difficult to use his hind legs. She’d spent half an hour carefully herding him out of traffic and trying to guide him back to her car, and he’d only acquiesced when it looked like she was leaving. LeRoi had filled their home with joy every day after that, and losing him had been tough for the whole family.

When Mary Ann and Jeff finally decided it was time to welcome a new furry family member into their lives, they wanted a pooch with an equally sizable personality. So they began a search that would eventually lead them to the Best Friends website.

“Seeing RoiLie — that he had challenges and was in a chair, that he didn’t walk — it reminded me of LeRoi, just reading about his personality and everything,” Jeff recalls and then chuckles. “We put in an application for him and didn’t know how long it would take to hear back, so we actually ended up calling.”

They knew right away he was the dog for them, and that resolve only strengthened as Jeff and Mary Ann started talking with Laurie. She shared pictures and videos of RoiLie with them, and they talked about the sort of care he needed. Soon Jeff was making travel plans, looking up flights and travel information. It would be a two-hour drive from their home in Virginia to the airport, a five-hour flight across the country to Las Vegas, and then another three-and-a-half-hour drive to Kanab, Utah, just 15 minutes south of the Sanctuary. And that was just one way. But it was worth it.

Because RoiLie had a tendency to bark at strangers and try to protect whomever he was currently “attached” to, when Jeff met RoiLie in person for the first time, Laurie immediately handed the small dog over. “I didn’t want him to start barking and make a bad impression,” she explains. But there was nothing to worry about. “He loved Jeff. I just felt like it was the right thing. I could step back and let them bond, which they did.”

After a lesson in how to help RoiLie go to the bathroom, Jeff and his new canine companion (along with RoiLie’s favorite blanket and belongings) turned right back around and headed for home. And RoiLie only complained a little bit on the flight — at least until he could rest his head on Jeff’s lap and snooze the rest of the way.

Home sweet home

From the moment RoiLie arrived in Virginia, he was home. When his new feline family members crowded around to check him out, he was unperturbed and perfectly at ease. And when he met his two doggy siblings, there wasn’t much more fuss. It was like they’d all been together forever.

After a week or two of trial and error, RoiLie’s special medical needs just became part of the day, and Jeff and Mary Ann had the routine of expressing his bladder and bowels down to a science. The pooch was in good company, too; most of the other pets in the family also need medication or special care, and Jeff and Mary Ann joke about having their own in-house pet pharmacy. “It takes about 45 minutes in the morning to get them all processed,” Mary Ann says. “They all get what they want. They all get 100%.”

Of course, the most exciting thing for RoiLie was having a lush, green, grassy backyard to run around in. And as soon as he got a new cart (his old one couldn’t fold down for travel), he was all over it. “He loves his cart,” says Jeff. “Especially on weekends, he’s out there with us for hours. His back legs are always moving in the straps in the cart, so his brain is telling him to move; he’s getting those synapses firing. He’s constantly moving, so getting him walking would be nice.”

[FAQs About Dog Wheelchairs]

And walking doesn’t seem out of the question these days. Jeff and Mary Ann have been working RoiLie through physical therapy exercises, helping him stretch and kick his legs, massaging his toes, and even looking to do some hydrotherapy in their pool.

They’ve caught RoiLie getting up on all fours when he’s moving through the house without his cart, he stands at his water dish, and he’s been gaining strength every day. Mary Ann says their veterinarian even thinks it’ll be possible to get him really walking on his own in some fashion.

But whatever the future holds, right now is just right for RoiLie and his family. He’s exactly the kind of big, bright personality they needed, and they are the caring, loving people he needed. And as he sits in Mary Ann’s lap and wildly shakes his favorite toys, one thing is perfectly clear: This is a happy family.

RoiLie the dog on a wooden floor at home
Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller

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