The first main mode of transportation for Daisy Kisala was the front pocket of owner Pam Kisala's overalls. Adopted as an 8-week-old puppy when Pam was a senior in high school, the beagle was small enough to fit in it.
Nearly 15 years later, Daisy's once shiny black-and-brown fur has grown coarse, with much of it turned white. Her eyes are covered with the clouds of age. She hobbles and waddles from room to room in the Kisalas' Durham home. But Daisy still has that puppy-wag in her tail and, as the Kisalas have discovered, she is still always up for a ride.
Pam, a researcher, and her husband Andrew, an attorney, are launching a new business, Wheels for Waggers, inspired by the wagon they created to help Daisy get around. Daisy developed a neuromuscular ailment in spring 2010 that left her unable to walk. Just as bad as her loss of mobility, her mood changed; she became more quiet and withdrawn.
"The vet had basically given us a terminal prognosis for Daisy," Andrew says. "We had had 'the talk' about what was best for Daisy and what we could expect from her and our plans for making her comfortable."
Knowing that Daisy was sociable, the Kisalas wanted to continue to include her in activities with their other dogs. So they went shopping for a wagon to help her get around. "We looked at the traditional kid wagons and decided, 'We can make one better than that,'" Pam says.
So Andrew, also a skilled carpenter and welder, tried to build the perfect ride for Daisy.
After five or six hours of physically tinkering with the design and countless hours of going over the details—"I'd be at breakfast and suddenly say, 'Do you think this piece or that piece would work better?'" Andrew says—he finally perfected Daisy's rocket wagon.
(Why a rocket? "Why not?" responds the couple.)
The Kisalas knew the wagon had to be able to handle the terrain of their usual walking trails, so they found some air-cushioned tires. To reduce the stress on the handle and their arms, Andrew created a traditional wagon handle from PVC piping, which has the strength and flexibility to help maneuver turns. The handle detaches from the wagon and the whole piece can fit comfortably in the back of their Toyota Matrix. And for the aesthetic touches, Pam suggested purple accents to match Daisy's collar. A pillow was added for comfort.
Even though she wasn't able to get up on her own, Daisy still made it out regularly around their north Durham neighborhood, over the rugged Al Buehler trail at Duke University and the East Campus loop. Daisy rolled around downtown Raleigh and was a huge hit at the N.C. Pride festival in September. The wagon has traveled more than 100 miles.
And one day, Daisy began to improve. "I was sitting on the couch and I heard this shuffling sound. I had no idea what it was and I look over and there's Daisy wandering into the room. My jaw just hit the floor," says Andrew. "This was a dog that had not been able to walk for six months, who even had to be held to help in using the bathroom and rolling over at night. And now she was walking."
Both the Kisalas and their vet are still shocked about Daisy's recovery. Do they think the wagon helped?
"100 percent, absolutely," says Andrew. "She was so much more interested, she got out more, she wasn't left behind."
These days, Daisy's back to taking slow neighborhood strolls on all fours with her human parents and canine brother and sister. Though their pace is not as quick as before, the Kisalas—both the canine and human variety—are happy to have her back in their pack.
Pam Kisala submitted this story as a Dog Days of Summer reader's pet tale before either of us knew we were going to do a story about Wheels for Waggers for this year's issue.
In the summer of 2010, Daisy was a 13-year-old Beagle whose "brother" (a Beagle/Bassett mix) had just passed away from cancer. Not only were Daisy and her "sister," Sadie the Schipperke, quiet and withdrawn, but Daisy was having physical symptoms herself.
Daisy was unable to use her back legs at all, her front leg functioning had started to decline, and she needed to be carried outside—and held—to use the bathroom. Andrew and Pam (Daisy's humans) tried several things to try to get Daisy moving, but she didn't seem interested in trying to get around.
Andrew was convinced that being left home alone and apart from the rest of the "pack," such on the twice-daily walks, was making her feel even worse. Since Andrew is an extremely creative and talented woodworker, he decided to custom-build a rocketship-shaped wagon for her to ride in and thus keep up with the rest of the pack. Around the same time, Andrew and Pam decided to adopt an adorable brown puppy named Walter from the Durham APS.
Thanks to her rocket wagon, Daisy was able to come on Walter's first walk with the pack. Walter formed a special bond with Daisy and figured out a way to play with her. He would nudge her repeatedly with his nose until she would get fed up and howl at him. Walter got quite a kick out of her howls, and he would jump backwards each time. He would then jump progressively closer to her until she'd howl again.
The "Daisy-and-Walter-game" not only got her interacting with the world again, but also got her moving—she'd lean towards him as she howled and away from him as he jumped at her. Before long, she was able to roll over, started sitting up in her wagon, and even started to require less assistance to go to the bathroom. Daisy was able to bear more weight on her front paws and needed less support for her back legs. Daisy also started to pay more attention to what Walter and the rest of the family were doing throughout the day.
One day in October, Daisy seemed interested in going down the hall to see Andrew. Pam held Daisy up as she started to walk, and Daisy seemed steadier than ever. Pam let go and, miraculously, Daisy kept going! She walked a total of about 12 feet, playing it totally cool as if she had been walking all along. Each day she walked a little bit more, and within a week she was able to stand up on her own. By December, Daisy was able to walk the 1/2 mile around the block, and by the spring she was hiking (slowly) again. Her spunky personality and insatiable hunger both came back with a vengeance.
Pam and Andrew are very grateful for every moment they have with her, and they credit both Walter and the wagon for lifting her spirits and motivating her to move once again.