LivAbility Magazine

Edition 19 | Winter 2020

PHOTO: A German Shepard-blue heeler mix stands in a grassy field. The dog wears a harness that connects to a two-wheel device that he uses to get around. The dog's hind feet have boots on them to prevent his feet from dragging on the ground when he goes. Photo by Jesse Friedin.

Providing equipment and education for paralyzed pets

Story by Laura Stack
Photos by Jesse Friedin

Maxwell, a German Shepherd and blue heeler mix, is just like any other dog. He’s got infectious energy and a smile that would melt anyone’s heart.

Every day he ventures into the backyard of his Santa Fe home waiting to hear the coyotes howl from Arroyo Hondo Canyon, so he can howl right back.

He goes on walks with his owners Becky and Barry Menich, sporting rubber booties on his hind paws and a pair of off-road wheels to help him navigate almost any terrain.

“We don’t call it his wheelchair, we call it his hot rod,” Becky Menich said.

His “hot rod” is adorned with a license plate that says “Max” on it. It gives him the freedom to run around outside and get much-needed exercise.

Maxwell is named after a mathematician. His full name is Sir James Clerk Maxwell Menich Ph.D., and he has degenerative myelopathy (DM). It’s a common disease among his breed, and for Maxwell, it means weakness in his legs that may eventually lead to paralysis.

The Menichs spent thousands on medical bills, searching for any option to help improve Maxwell’s mobility. That’s when the couple, who lived in Arlington Heights, Ohio when they adopted him, found Rescued Rollers.

The Ohio-based nonprofit was founded a few years ago by John Lizotte. It began when he tried to donate his border collie’s old wheelchair through Facebook.

Lizotte immediately got a lot of feedback from others on Facebook asking if he could collect and reuse their dog’s wheelchair.

And that’s how Rescued Rollers was born.

Since then, Lizotte has donated hundreds of wheelchairs a year and has volunteered his time to educate local shelters. He educates dog rescuers in Ohio on how to accommodate dogs in need of mobility devices and to address options beyond euthanization.

He also works closely with local animal shelters.

Most of the shelters that Lizotte helps lack equipment. So, Lizotte sends the essentials: wheelchairs, lifting harnesses and boots to prevent their knuckles or the affected limbs from scraping the floor while being held up in a wheelchair or lifting harness.

Another important part of the organization is wheelchair recycling, refurbishment and reuse.

Whether his clients keep his donated wheels for three weeks or 10 years, they agree to send them back to Rescued Rollers for reuse. They have a lifetime-loaner program for anyone who receives donated wheels. They can recycle the wheels back through the organization so that he can continue to refurbish and re-donate.

“One wheelchair only helps one dog, and then it sits in somebody’s garage or basement or gets thrown away,” Lizotte said. “I now have wheelchairs in my program that they’re helping 46 dogs, because we recycled.”

In the future, Lizotte said he hopes to expand Rescued Rollers to offer more resources such as access to rehabilitative equipment to loan out to his clients, and teaching more shelters and rescues on how to accommodate animals with disabilities.

Laura Stack

Laura Stack

Laura Stack is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She grew up in Buffalo, New York and loves food, traveling and power naps.

Read more by Laura Stack.