By Tom Long and Stacy Milbouer
Fiddlehead Contributing EditorsM erlin is a lucky duck.
The wobbly white quacker with a mobility-limiting leg deformity was fitted with a wheelchair by Walkin’ Pets in Amherst.
“It was really amazing to see the duck walk,” said Jennifer Pratt, a project manager at Walkin’ Pets, also known as handicappedpets.com.
The damaged duck was rescued by Rebecca Hurst after neighbors in Pennsylvania found him in their backyard. Hurst welcomed Merlin into her apartment and cared for him for two months, but he did not take to apartment life like a duck to water.
Hurst knew Merlin couldn’t stay in her apartment forever; he needed more care than she could give him. So, she found him a forever home at Goats of Anarchy, a sanctuary in New Jersey that is home to ruminants with special needs, many fitted with wheeled carts by Walkin’ Pets.
One thing led to another and Walkin’ Pets created a wheeled cart for the afflicted bird.
“When Rebecca discovered that we helped Merlin, she called to thank us,” said Pratt. “She was so thankful, she was crying.”
Walkin’ Pets conceives and creates mobility devices for disabled and injured animals.
“Since we started in 2001, we have helped about 50,000 animals, mostly dogs and a lot of cats,” said Pratt, although she said cats were a little more involved.
“They’re a little tricky because they’re Houdinis who like to escape from anything,” Pratt explained.
She said the frame size of the wheelchair is based on weight with four categories: mini, for 2 to 10 pounds; small, for 11 to 25 pounds; medium, for 26 to 69 pounds; and large, for 70 to 180 pounds. Then adjustments are made for height based on the width of the animals back leg.
A pet wheelchair can run from $150 to $500 depending on the size of the animal – a small price to pay, according to the many customers who credit the devices for preventing them from making the excruciating decision to euthanize their pets.
In fact, the business was inspired by just such a circumstance. The company was created in 2001 by Mark C. Robinson in memory of his slightly epileptic dog, Mercedes, “who was put to sleep before her time because Mark didn’t know any better and had no way to find out more,” according to the company’s website. “Now,” it states, “there’s a way. We have all the products you’ll need to care for your aging, injured, and special needs pets.”
“Part of our mission is to let people know what is available, a lot of people just don’t know what is possible. Merlin has been a great help in that regard. He has raised awareness. All disabled pets are family, and all pets deserve to stay safe, happy and always on the go,” said Pratt.
For a while if it walked like a duck, talked like a duck and rolled like a duck, it had to be Merlin, but when word of the wheeled waterfowl got out, other web-footed bird owners, including those of chickens and geese, beat a path to Walkin’ Pets’ door.
Q, a Muscovy duck from Tampa, FL, made the long trip north to be fitted with a cart. Beatrice, a Pekin duck from Canterbury with a neurological disorder, got a set of wheels, too.
Perhaps the most inspirational story is that of Hope, a 2-year-old Pekin from Buxton, Maine, who was abused by her flock until she was unable to defend herself. The Phinney family nursed her back to health, and when they saw a story about Merlin on television, they sought Walkin’ Pets’ help and their duck was fitted with a wheeled cart.
Pratt said Hope took to her new wheels right away and ran around flapping her feet with joy. Hope is now a therapy duck, inspiring and entertaining patients at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, Maine.
While the majority of the company’s wheelchairs have been for dogs and cats, the company has made devices for barnyard animals – mostly goats and sheep. That is, until Merlin, and now more and more people are inquiring about their waterfowls.
“With every duck we’re learning,” she said.