Children learn about disability from a dachshund

PAT FRIDGEN
Frankie, a Dachshund, stood patiently while her owner, author Barbara Techel, demonstrated how a little wheelchair helps the paralyzed pooch get around, using her front legs for power.

Barbara Techel, an author from Elkhart Lake, Wis., had never heard of a wheelchair for dogs. But when her dachshund Francesca succumbed to a disability predisposed to the breed, Techel found out about the remedy for paralysis from the veterinarian. She shared Frankie's story with students of Jeanette Monteith, Heidi Cummings and Rachel Olson at Greencastle-Antrim Primary School on Oct. 27 through Skype, essentially a videoconference over the Internet.

Frankie suffered from a ruptured disc because of her long, low back. At age 6 her hind legs became paralyzed. After surgery, she was fitted with a custom wheelchair, which uses tires from a model airplane. "She now has one fantastic life," Techel told the students.

Monteith played a video of Frankie in action, running rapidly down the sidewalk. At home, she had learned to maneuver the rooms, including backing up, Techel added.

She explained a delicate aspect of Frankie's life she knew the children would wonder about. Since the animal couldn't sense when she had to go to the bathroom, Techel feels her belly to determine if the bladder is full. She then takes Frankie outdoors (and in the winter, over the toilet), and squeezes it.

"She magically goes tinkle."

A massage works for the other function too.

Frankie has become famous, named to the Wisconsin Pet Hall of Fame. She visits nursing homes, hospitals and hospices. She is the subject of Techel's first children's book, Frankie, the Rock 'n Roll Dog, which has won a number of awards. Now 12-years-old, Frankie is a "grandma dog," sleeping most of the day.

The youngsters had questions. Do her legs hurt? Is she a good pet? Does the wheelchair ever have flat tires? Does Frankie like deer meat?

Techel's message to the students was, "Challenges can be negative or positive. When you are positive, it's easier to get through them."