Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hiking with dogs: Haven in Idaho gives injured dogs a second-chance at adventure

By Angela Schneider For The Spokesman-Review

Otis is in constant motion.

At 8 months old, he has all the exuberance of a husky puppy. He’s just a little different than some dogs.

He uses a wheelchair to get around.

Otis has had a rough start to life. He was born in Kansas to a family that abused him badly. He was abandoned at a refuge that couldn’t care for his injuries, a pelvis broken in several places and left to heal incorrectly.

The refuge found Heath’s Haven Rescue & Sanctuary in Athol, Idaho, and Otis found his way to the Inland Northwest, the perfect place for a dog in need of adventure.

“These dogs, they’re just dogs and that’s their superpower,” Heath’s Haven co-founder Jolene Schiller said. “They want to be like every other dog.”

An adventurer who missed summiting Mount St. Helens last summer by a few feet thanks to a shaky-looking snow cornice, Schiller said the dogs in the care of Heath’s Haven are more than able to keep up with the average day hiker and explorer.

“They thrive on a regular schedule, so routines are important,” she said, noting many of the Heath’s Haven dogs are incontinent and need help doing their business. “They need adventures to stimulate their minds and their bodies. Their day-to-day care may be a bit more complicated, but they can get out and adventure just like any other dog.”

Otis and his good buddy Jake, a Papillon who also uses a wheelchair, bumped and bounced their way along the muddy, rocky Yellow Trail at Post Falls Community Forest last weekend.

They struck a chord with other hikers, who regularly stopped the small pack to ooh and ah over the puppies and ask Schiller plenty of questions about their lives.

Many were surprised by the sight of dogs in wheelchairs hiking.

Of course, it’s an uncommon sight, Schiller acknowledged with a smile. And these dogs, she said, are easy to underestimate.

“Otis is a dog that can probably go rock climbing,” she said, noting he undergoes physical therapy several times a week to strengthen his hind legs in the hope he may one day walk on them. “He just wants to go and run. He’s fearless.”

A potential adopter – yes, Otis is in need of a forever home – might have to adjust their lives a bit to include a wheelchair dog. He wouldn’t be much fun to have on an overnight backpacking trip.

“A day hike is great because you don’t have to worry about urinary incontinence or fecal incontinence,” Schiller said. “But taking him overnight, sleeping in a tent with an incontinent dog might get a little smelly.

“They usually poop when they’re relaxed and sleeping, so he’s not really a backpacking dog, but he will go on adventures all day long, every day.”

Cheyeanne Murphy has to go on adventures all day long, every day with her superpowered dog, too.

Notorious isn’t exactly the sit-still-and-chill kind of dog a lot of people expect in a paralyzed corgi, and she has driven Murphy into the woods for hikes and adventures.

They go places Murphy never before imagined she’d go.

“I liked being in nature before I got Notorious,” Murphy said, “but she pushes me to go further. She had so much energy as a puppy that if I didn’t go the extra two miles, we weren’t sleeping.”

Murphy also never imagined adopting a special needs dog until she saw Notorious and her little wheelchair on the Heath’s Haven website.

She fell in love.

“I just thought, ‘We’ll figure it out,’ ” Murphy said. “I have the kind of lifestyle that gives me time to manage a dog with special needs, and I don’t see any difference except that Notorious can’t jump onto my couch or into the car.”

Notorious knows no limits. She can tackle the rocky, dusty trails of Beacon Hill and pop over roots in the woods no problem. Sometimes, she gets high-centered and Murphy has to give her a helping hand.

“There’s not a lot she can’t do,” Murphy said, noting Notorious also serves as a guide dog for her blind chihuahua mix, Shady.

Murphy, who chronicles her dogs’ adventures on Instagram at @notoriousandfriends, said Notorious and Shady inspire her on a daily basis.

“These dogs don’t know that they’re handicapped. They have no idea,” she said. “Notorious will take a running leap at my couch almost daily, and I can’t tell her that she’s never going to make it, that she’s never going to be able to jump on my couch.

“But she still tries. And it’s five or six years later, she still thinks she’s going to make it someday. And maybe I think someday she’s going to be able to jump.”

She cautions adopters of special needs dogs must be willing to adapt to new challenges. Every dog owner has to make adjustments along the way, whether they have a puppy that chews on shoes or a senior dog that may need help getting up or down the stairs.

The extra time Murphy has put in has paid off – in more ways than just becoming more active and adventurous.

“When you’re lucky enough to get a special needs dog, you’ll understand why they need love, and why you’re lucky enough to get the love that they have to provide,” she said. “I think they have the biggest hearts of any animal, because they’ve seen the dark side and they know what you’re giving them. I think they love harder and bigger than anyone else.”