Ask almost any child who’s attended a parade or school in Long Beach if they know of a little dog who uses a wheelchair to propel himself across the room, and he or she will call out, “Wheely Willy!” or some childlike permutation of his name. Willy, who last year received City Council recognition on his 20th birthday from Mayor Foster (he didn’t get the name right either), is the love of “mom” Deborah Turner’s life. He is the subject of several books written by Turner; the first book, How Willy Got His Wheels, tells the story of how Turner found Willy, his back legs and tail immobile, at the office of her vet, who’d rescued him. The book omitted the most heartbreaking part—Willy had been discovered in a garbage can, thrown out in a cardboard box, but the story of how he overcame his handicap with the help of Turner and a specially-made wheelchair won the book a Caldecott nomination for the best children’s picture book and the 1998 Maxwell Award for Children’s Literature.

Willy, now nearly 21, has since become a symbol of overcoming obstacles and living life to the fullest. Besides the many classroom appearances, where Willy and Turner teach humane education, he regularly visits hospitals and convalescent homes, particularly Miller Children’s Hospital and the spinal cord injury unit at the Long Beach VA. He walks in the Belmont Shore Christmas Parade and the Veterans Day Parade, and was the Grand Marshal at many Friends of Long Beach Animals WALKs.

In early January during the heavy rainfall season, Turner took a bad fall down the stairs at her home and broke her leg. She was carrying Willy, who also was seriously injured.

“I hydroplaned to the bottom and was knocked out,” Turner said. “A neighbor helped me, and I saw blood all over, and it wasn’t mine. Willy was still in my arm, just lying there. I told my neighbor, please pick my dog up and lay him on the cushion on the porch.”

Although in pain, Turner’s tears were not for herself. Despite her injuries, Willy’s in the driver’s seat when it comes to her heart. Turner’s close friend and Web site designer, Bob Carlton, got her to the hospital, and another friend took Willy to emergency, where he was found to have a broken leg and be bleeding from the mouth, nose and teeth. H was given a full body scan, which found nothing else wrong. Turner said that her vet, Dr. Joel Rumm, DVM, of Belmont Heights Animal Clinic, said that he couldn’t believe that a dog that old could be in such good health.

“It’s the same thing that gives people better life,” Turner said. “Good food, exercise [which Willy gets in his wheelchair] and active participation in life.

It’s been touch-and-go for Willy for several weeks. He had trouble swallowing the soft food that Turner had to feed him through a syringe. He has been going with her everywhere because he’s happier with her than at home, and so is Turner. Children are now only allowed to pat him on the head.

On Thursday, however, Turner was overjoyed when Willy ate his first solid meal without assistance. He will soon make his first personal appearance since his injury, at a humane education class in Lakewood. He has lost a pound since the accident—troubling in a four-pound dog—but we hope that he’s wheeling himself down Recovery Road.

Characteristic of Turner, the heavy uncomfortable cast is secondary to her desire to “get my life back” and for her love for Willy and all animals.

“Who cares?” she said of her broken leg, which will be in the cast for God knows how long. “When this dog is looking determined, I’m determined!”

Both Turner and Willy would love get-well messages. Send them to [email protected] or Wheely Willy, P.O. Box 90993, Long Beach, CA 90809.

Visit Willy’s website and find out about his books and appearances.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
–Helen Keller (and Willy and Deborah’s favorite quote)

Random Clawings

Too early to breed discontent?

The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously (8–0) to receive supporting documentation for the Master Fee and Charges schedule, conclude the hearing, and adopt the resolution amending the fees and charges for certain city services. The Dog Breeding Ordinance (city code 6.16.080) is included under the umbrella of Health and Human Services; it essentially prohibits “backyard breeding,” or breeding dogs without a breeding license; limits the number of litters that a person may breed; and mandates spaying and neutering of cats.

There was some concern that the ordinance was going to be sunsetted; however, the voting was only for review and approval of fee adjustments and receiving the report on general fund programs that aren’t fully reaching cost recovery and that may require subsidizing from the city. Furthermore, text of the attachment for the agenda included a recommendation from Health and Human Services to subsidize the program, calling it “an important strategy for improving public health and reducing the costly flow of thousands of animals in the City Shelter.”

John Keisler, ACS Manager, restated the value of the program to the city and its animal population. He added that the adjustment of the fees for the first quarter of 2009 stemmed from an increase of $35 he made to the $500 breeder fee, which covered enforcement costs and which he subsequently corrected.

5th District Council Member Gerrie Schipske said that she’d received a number of concerns from people. Among the concerns were some that felt that the program is subsidizing breeders, and she was quick to say that it is not. The Dog Breeding Ordinance was created by the City of Long Beach and by Friends of Long Beach Animals, Animal Match Rescue Team, Pet Assistance Foundation, Justin Rudd, Actors and Others for Animals, AKC and a handful of independent hardworking animal advocates to restrict illegal breeding. The full text of the ordinance may be accessed here.

Keisler said in an interview that future discussions of subsidizing programs that don’t recoup their value could take place in the future. If the Breeding Ordinance is part of this discussion, we advise anyone who cares about the well-being of animals and public safety to familiarize themselves with the ordinance and take part in the discussion. Subsidy for this program is money well spent. Fewer animals will be born, leaving fewer to roam the streets or be dumped in colonies, which is a benefit to public safety as well as that of the animals. Fewer puppies available on the street or through the Pennysaver will send more people to adopt one from our overcrowded shelters and rescues. Best of all, shelter populations will decrease, saving the cost and heartbreak of euthanization.

It may be too early to worry about cancellation of the ordinance, but it’s always good to be vigilant.

Reward still in effect

A reward of more than $7,000 is still being offered for anyone with information about a Chihuahua that was suffocated in a plastic bag and then burned near the skate park area of Houghton Park on Harding Street and Atlantic Avenue around 4:30 p.m. It was in broad daylight—someone had to have seen something. If you have, or know anyone who has, call the Arson Hotline established especially for this case at (562) 570-2582 or contact ACS at (562) 570-7387.


Free Spay-Neuter Clinic for Feral/Undomesticated Cats, Feb. 15

All feral cats over 4 months old are welcome from both inside and outside the Long Beach area. Cats will be sterilized, vaccinated, treated for fleas, wormed and ear-tipped. Microchips are available to caregivers/trappers at cost—$11. All cats must be in humane traps—no exceptions. Location to be determined. Reservations required, volunteers needed. E-mail the Stray Cat Alliance at [email protected] for details.

National Bulldog Beauty Contest, Pug Pageant, French Bulldog Pageant, Senior Dog Pageant and Pet Adoption Fair, Feb. 15

Snuffly dogs everywhere. The Senior Dog Pageant is open to all breeds and mixes! $20 entry fee. 10 a.m.–3 p.m. at Marine Stadium, 5225 E. Paoli Way, Long Beach. Vet onsite. Click here for full details.