A border collie with a bright frisbee type toy, in a dog wheelchair

St. Valentine’s Day

Published 2003-02-14

I was in that kind of mood. The kind where I sit on the edge of the bed in my underoos and stare at the wall, too down to move. I exerted a great effort of will just to shower and dress. I am not like this often. And my schedule was totally thrown. I didn’t get my 6 am bike ride in, but it wasn’t so late in the morning that I could just clean up and hit the office.

So I slung Sitka into his scooter and headed to Couch park.

Sitka had a great time: fetch, chasing other dogs (well, trying to chase dogs), sniffing butts, the usual dog stuff. In a wheelchair, my dog is normal. Living with a disabled dog can be depressing as hell but this morning he was exactly the kind of dog I want. Then the most amazing thing happened.

On our way back to the apartment, I passed the Metro Learning Center. A woman stepped around the MLC from the back parking lot and said, “when we saw your dog I knew my daughter Ilana would want to meet him.”

Apprehensiveness briefly seized me. Sitka does not like children. He’s not bad with them, he just doesn’t know what to do with them. They make him skittish. But Ilana was Special with a capital S. She was Sitka special.

Ilana had, I would guess, cerebral palsy or MS. She used a wheeled walker to get around -- just like the walkers old people use, but mini-sized. I would guess she was about 7 years old, frail and curled. Just like Sitka. I tried to set her up: “Sitka is a little nervous with kids,” but she was unfazed, and she did the thing kids always want to do, which usually sets Sitka off. She reached right for his face. Sitka loved it. Ilana and her mom couldn’t get enough Sitka, and they tugged his ears (which he loves) and scratched under his chin (which he loves) and he wagged his tail so hard I thought he’d tip his scooter.

Ilana asked the obvious question: “what’s wrong with him?” to which I gave my stock reply, “he has a neurological condition that makes it hard to walk.” Which led to a discussion of the other usual topics: How long has he been in a wheelchair (about 3 weeks), will he get better (no), etc.

Ilana told me this story:
“When I first got my walker, I didn’t know how to use it. I couldn’t turn corners. I would walk in a straight line until I hit something like a wall or the edge of a door, and my mom would have to turn me.”

I said, “Sitka does exactly the same thing!”

I waited until we had said our goodbyes and I was walking back to the apartment to have the requisite Generation X post-ironic reaction. My disabled dog bonded with a disabled little girl. If I’d have seen it in a movie, I would have rolled my eyes. In the real world, it made me feel good, way-down-in-my-soul good.