Patti Mauldin cried the first time the toy fox terriers sat down.
It’s not that she’s an emotional woman, but that one seemingly simple act signified the start of a somewhat normal life for the dogs, who were born without front legs.
Now, with the help of Olympia-based Sound Prosthetics, Honey and Badger are cruising around with wheels instead of front legs.
“These guys are such amazing dogs and now that they’ve got their wheels, they’re pretty normal little dogs,” said Mauldin, who runs Valhalla Canine Rescue in Graham.
People stop Mauldin at gas stations, in parking lots and outside stores to gawk, take pictures and ask about the pups.
They were brought to the rescue center more than a year ago after a shelter in Lancaster, Calif., determined they could not care for the terriers.
Volunteers initially named them Scoot and Slide because that’s all they could do. Without front legs, their hips and back legs were weak and splayed outward so they slid across floors or tried to jump through grass.
Mauldin, impressed with their resilience and upbeat demeanors, went online to seek help. She posted the dogs’ story on Craigslist and asked for help building doggie wheelchairs.
What she got was hate mail. People were angry she was allowing the dogs to live, arguing that their quality of life was compromised.
But one look at Honey and Badger play wrestling in their pen was enough for Mauldin to know she was doing the right thing. She enrolled the dogs in hydrotherapy classes at Paws-Abilities Dog Training Center in Tacoma and worked on building strength in their back legs.
“The goal was to get them to hop like kangaroos instead of frogs,” Mauldin said.
A Langley company made the dogs wheelchairs to increase their mobility while they finished growing, a necessary step before molds could be taken for prosthetics.
Although Sound Prosthetics had never worked with animals, their answer to Mauldin’s request was an immediate yes.
“I knew we should do something because I don’t know who else would do it,” prosthetis Random Owens said. “We are in the field to do that kind of stuff. Besides, I have dogs.”
Owens and owner Garth Knapp did the work pro bono.
It had its challenges – squirming dogs don’t listen when told to hold still for casting – but they finally fitted the dogs and made a foam and plaster frame of Honey and Badger’s chests.
Then they started testing wheels, which took months.
A single, unicycle-style wheel caused the dogs to flip over; skateboard wheels were too heavy; miniature wagon wheels were too big. Once they settled on remote control car wheels, they had to place them in just the right spot.
“First the wheels were a hair too far forward so (the dogs) would bend in the middle,” Knapp said. “Then they were too far in back so they’d flip over backward.”
Through trial and error, Owens and Knapp created a padded device the dogs seemed to like that wraps around their chests and holds in place with two Velcro straps.
It took Honey and Badger only a few minutes to get used to rolling on front wheels.
They stood still for long moments, not sure how to move. They lifted the wheels off the ground as they jumped and wriggled. Then they figured out how to roll forward, though they sometimes still flip over.
Now, they wear the wheels eight to 10 hours a day and aren’t shy about letting Mauldin know when they’ve had enough and want to lie down.
The prosthetics have required some adjustments.
The dogs’ food dishes are placed on a small stand so they don’t have to lean too far forward and risk tipping over to reach the ground. They’re now being house trained since they have the ability to move faster off their piddle pads. Stairs are still out of the question.
The biggest change, however, is that Mauldin is training them to be therapy dogs. She eventually hopes to adopt them out to someone who will take them to children’s hospitals or senior homes.
“Everybody that sees them feels good, so we figured this is their purpose,” she said.Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653 stacia.glenn@ thenewstribune.com